It looks like even making some of the most important games of the last 15 years doesn't save you from capitalism. A new report from GamesIndustry.biz paints a picture of underpay and occasional overwork at FromSoftware, the studio behind (if you've managed to remain unaware) Elden Ring and Dark Souls.
The pay in particular leaves much to be desired. The average annual salary at the Tokyo-based studio hovers around ¥3.41 million (around £20.5K or $24.5K), an amount that an anonymous FromSoft employee described as "not adequate" for life in Tokyo, whose annual cost of living is estimated at about ¥4.1 million (£24.5K or $29.5K) a year for rent, bills, and keeping warm and fed, per Numbeo and Tokyo rental market research (via GI.biz).
Japan's capital was the third most expensive city in the world to live in according to Mercer's 2020 cost of living survey, so even a slight wage deficiency at FromSoft is going to be felt acutely by staff living and working there.
Meanwhile, Salary Explorer suggests that FromSoft only recently began to match other Japanese developers in terms of pay. While starting positions in Japanese game development begin at ¥231,000 (around £1385/$1660) a month on average, FromSoft's advertised roles began at ¥220,000 (about £1320/$1585) until last month, when the studio increased its base rate to ¥260,000 (approx. £1560/$1870). It's not an enormous discrepancy, but it is a curious one for a world-renowned studio with more than a few huge successes under its belt.
Some employees also reported occasional crunch at the company, with some FromSoft workers admitting that—in the two or three months leading up to a game's release—staff do have to come in early and work into the wee hours to get things done, although that experience varies across departments, with some reporting that they haven't had to do much overtime at all.
Perhaps more egregious, though, is that staff report being paid late-night overtime "that was half of [their] usual hourly rate". Employees say that's out of step with the rest of Japan, where "hourly wages are often increased" if you work past 12 am.
But despite grumbles about pay, several employees at FromSoft say they're still satisfied with life at the company, with one even comparing the experience to the satisfaction of defeating a Dark Souls boss. I can't help but think that the people who made games as significant as Demon's Souls and Elden Ring should have a little more walking-around money, though. Maybe we could save the satisfaction of defeating a Dark Souls boss for, you know, Dark Souls?