Apex Legends developer Respawn Entertainment has defended itself against an anonymous employee's claims that the studio is crunching through the COVID-19 pandemic.
An anonymous employee posted a review of the company on Glassdoor, later shared on the Apex Legends' Reddit forum, claiming that while other firms have pushed back deadlines and game updates to account for the drop in productivity, Respawn and its parent Electronic Arts have not done so.
"I feel extremely stressed and burnt out trying to keep our seasonal releases on the same aggressive timeline as pre-shelter," the review reads. "I currently work 12 to 13 hours a day and there is no separation between my home and work life.
"We have no idea how to do a live service project, which means poor planning decisions and no sizing of work, means we actually have very little idea of how much we can accomplish in a given month."
The employee added that no attention has been paid to the team's health, exacerbated by conflicting messages of "please take care of your health" and expecting longer hours to meet the same deadlines.
"I am so burned out that I am considering leaving without a next job to go to just so mentally I can be in a better place," the post concludes.
Apex Legends director Chad Grenier responded below the image of the review on the game's Reddit forum, acknowledging this "falls on me as the leader of the Apex team."
He said the studio does keep its employee's health and best interests in mind, but acknowledges the transition to working at home as a distributed team has been difficult.
"We certainly didn't have the tools, tech, or systems in place to make a smooth transition to going from several hundred person team on the same campus to a completely remote studio," he wrote.
He claims to have been telling his staff every day "to only work as much as they can," a message he says was reiterated by the studio's leadership and that of EA as well.
He also reports both EA and Respawn put staff benefits in place to account for the change in working conditions, such as unlimited paid time off for those suffering physically and mentally or needing to take care of someone.
The companies have also reportedly been reimbursing staff for any purchases made to make remote working easier more comfortable, as well as offering flexible hours and additional pay to account for increased energy and internet bills.
Grenier insists he has been very clear with the team that deadlines are also flexible.
"Like a broken record I continuously asked that people speak up to their managers or producers if they will not be able to get their work done on time without crunching," he wrote. "Delays would be okay, we just need to know one is needed."
He emphasised that by revealing a previous two-week delay to the end of Apex Legends' Season 4 was because he had needed to push back Season 5.
"I'm definitely not trying to say this person who wrote the review is wrong, and I'm not defending myself against the review," he says.
"They're absolutely right in how they felt, and they were clearly working too much, despite being told it was ok to miss their deadlines. The problem is not with the intent of Respawn's leadership, we've got everyone's best interest in mind."
He suggests that members of the team are reluctant to inform their superiors that they won't meet their deadline, or don't want to let teammates down.
"Everyone wants to fix that bug, finish that cool new character, or get that new gamemode up and running, and will crunch themselves unknowingly to get it done," he wrote. "That's how dedicated this team is, they're amazing. Because of this, all of us leaders on the team have learned to better look for the signs, check-in more regularly with the developers, and push features back proactively after reading the signals, instead of waiting for someone to raise their hand.
"Are we perfect? No, of course not. Does Respawn and EA 100% care more about the health of the team than the game and its profits? Absolutely, even in non-pandemic times. As one of the original Respawners I can honestly tell you that Respawn (and EA) has been a great place to be over the past 10 years and is a place that puts the people first."
Last year, Respawn CEO Vince Zampella said that, despite the surge in popularity at launch, the studio was determined to update Apex Legends less frequently in order to maintain the quality of life for its developers.