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Image: Nintendo / MercurySteam
The conversations around Metroid horror have been mostly positive since its release, but one hot topic that has sparked a lot of discussion and criticism from developer MercurySteam is related to the game’s credits. Several contributors to the game have raised the fact that they will not be credited and the developer has responded to clarify its internal guidelines. His statement is below.
The studio’s guidelines require everyone to work on the project [for] at least 25% of the game’s overall development appears in the credits … sometimes exceptions are made when exceptional contributions are made.
There are issues with this guideline, so let’s briefly outline some perspectives. Two contributors who present their cases online reported their time at the company as 8 and 11 months, so the latter is likely to be missed as the project has been in development for around four years or more.
The problem with a threshold like “25% of total development” is how vague and open to abuse it is – when does a development project start? Was it when MercurySteam first spoke to Nintendo about Dread, or maybe when they took the initiative to produce a pitch deck? Or maybe it is out of date if the essentials start with the conception and planning of the game. The point is that all of them are arguably “starting points” and can have a major impact on the definition of the development period.
The other problem is, you could be working on a project for 11 months if it is running at full speed in its most productive phase, has a lot of content contributing to the wider game, and is not recognized by that metric. It is also very common practice in game development to employ new employees and contractors on fixed-term and fixed-term contracts. Temporary workers are of course a factor in all areas of working life, but when producing large games, a studio size can swell dramatically for a relatively short period of time to move them forward, and then those contracts expire and many workers are then sought for the next opportunity. We don’t know if this was the case here, but it’s common.
Image: Rockstar Games has been criticized on this issue in the past
As highlighted in the Eurogamer article on the matter, this is the case in various companies, so it would be wrong to portray MercurySteam as the sole culprit in this regard. in many ways the company follows its own form of industry norms. It’s not just retail / triple-A either; Myself and Kate Gray on the NL team have worked in the indie game development and publishing scene in the past and discussed credit earlier this year. Even in very small teams, there is debate about these recognitions, and those who hold multiple roles or contribute but then move on are sometimes ignored or included in the general “Special Thanks” section. Discussions about the title of a loan can be as difficult as putting a name in the first place.
Why is that important? Well, for one thing, falling short of credit can be detrimental to a person’s career. For anyone working in the industry, every job, every contract adds to a portfolio that helps advance that career. It seems unfair for someone to be able to say they’ve been working on a game for almost a year only to have potential employers look up the credits and not see their names. To find an equivalency in the website section, it would be as if my articles removed their bylines from my first job at Nintendo Life when I moved into publishing for 3 years. That would be unfair (and of course it didn’t happen!).
The problem is how normal it has become for game publishers and developers of all sizes to ignore or downplay contributions to their games. This is happening in other creative industries (film, music, books, the same debates are going on in those areas too), but arguably worse in the gaming industry as it is still a young and in some ways immature industry. There are unions and agencies out there trying to defend creators of all kinds in other industries, but in gaming we are still at the stage where we mostly rely on organizations to provide advocacy and awareness but little solid influence to have. There is no real oversight or universal standards for how Contributor Credits work, so every company is an effective participant. The problem with this is that not all leaders in the industry tend to be fair about politics.
Image: Nintendo / Nintendo Life
What is the solution? Since there are no industry standards, we rely on company owners and project managers to “do the right thing”. As we pointed out above, the MercurySteam policy (as an example, it certainly isn’t the worst) is too vague and potentially unfair. Ultimately, a fixed time window should be sufficient, just like the probationary period works for a new job. Should it be 3 months or 6 months? Is that enough time to definitely make a contribution that deserves full recognition?
I think so, but I also think I should discuss it with some developers and project leaders and learn from their expertise. However, a fixed time frame and no detached guidelines seem more equitable for creators of all kinds. Whether you’re scripting, editing, programming, concept art, or whatever, there are too many contributors to games that we love that are overlooked.
Ultimately, it’s an industry concern. There are no doubt game developers and publishers out there who are giving people the right credits too, so the industry should learn from them. Everyone tries to make and enjoy amazing video games, it’s a passion and a way of life. When someone contributes to this wonderful medium, they deserve credit.