Former THQ president details brutal working conditions at Metro: Last Light dev 4A Games
Former THQ president Jason Rubin, who joined the struggling company in 2012, has submitted a story to GamesIndustry International detailing adversities faced by Ukrainian developer 4A Games while developing Metro: Last Light, painting the team as underdogs who struggled against dreadful working conditions, a low budget, and unrealistic expectations.
"Let's be honest: 4A was never playing on a level field," writes Rubin. "The budget of Last Light is less than some of its competitors spend on cut scenes, a mere 10 percent of the budget of its biggest competitors." On top of that, Rubin laments the "irrational requirement of THQ's original producers to fit multiplayer and co-op into the same deadline and budget."
It gets worse. According to Rubin, the team "sat on folding wedding chairs, literally elbow to elbow at card tables in what looks more like a packed grade school cafeteria than a development studio." Dev kits and high-end PCs had to be smuggled into Ukraine in backpacks to avoid the sticky hands of "thieving customs officials." Pile on frequent power outages and broken government-run heating which frequently led to below-freezing working conditions, and Rubin says that 4A's success is equivalent to that of the Jamaican bobsledding team which finished ahead of the US in the 1994 Olympics.
It's a harrowing story if it's all true, and I doubt anyone outside of Ukrainian customs officials would want it to go untold, though Rubin oddly spends a good portion of his text justifying its telling. "If you care about the art of making games then you have to care about more than the final product," he writes. "The struggle and the journey becomes part of the story. Like sport, you cheer when the underdog comes from behind, and triumphs in the face of incredible odds."
Who doesn't love an underdog story, and why are we just hearing about it now, months after THQ dissolved? According to Rubin, 4A's story hasn't been told in as much detail until now due to "a combination of a complex and secretive industry, a press that lags the movie and music press in calling attention to the stories behind the games, a dysfunctional and ever-changing sequence of producers causing confusion, the inevitable anonymity that comes from being an Eastern European developer, and a new, last minute publisher that doesn't see the upside in doing your team's publicity."
That new publisher is Koch Media (known better to us as Deep Silver, its game publishing wing), which purchased the publishing rights to the Metro franchise after THQ's bankruptcy. Deep Silver Director of Marketing & PR Aubrey Norris reacted to Rubin's criticism, tweeting: "I love when @Jason_Rubin runs his mouth about things at other companies he knows NOTHING about. Solid guy."
Rubin responded, pointing out 4A's near invisibility on the official Metro: Last Light website, which Norris says is due to time constraints and the complexity of assuming control of THQ's assets over the past four months. According to Norris, Deep Silver concentrated on the critical task of "making the game live."
With Rubin's timing and criticism of Deep Silver, the press, and other developers, he clearly has motives beyond simply telling 4A's story, but Twitter bickering aside, the story ought to earn 4A a huge shipment of respect (as long as it makes it past customs). Have a read of our Metro: Last Light review for more on the impressive game, and read Rubin's full editorial at GamesIndustry International.
Update: Commenter Wildfire has pointed out this video, in which 4A's offices can be seen. While it does look cramped, especially compared to the offices of larger Western developers, there are more than a few non-folding chairs, adding some clarity to Rubin's picture. His claims of frequent power and heating outages, however, can be confirmed by other sources.