The conversations around Metroid Dread have been mostly positive since its launch, but a recent topic that has caused a good deal of debate and criticism of developer MercurySteam has related to the game's credits. Multiple contributors to the game have raised the fact that they're not credited, and the developer has responded to clarify its internal policy. Its statement is below.
The policy of the studio requires that anyone must work on the project [for] at least 25% of the total development of the game to appear in the final credits... sometimes exceptions are made when making exceptional contributions.
There are issues with this policy, so let's briefly outline a couple of perspectives. Two contributors to state their case online have put their periods at the company at 8 and 11 months, with the latter therefore presumably missing out based on the project being around four years or more in development.
The issue with a threshold such as "25% of the total development" is how vague and open to abuse that is - when does a development project start? Is it when MercurySteam first discussed Dread with Nintendo, or perhaps when they took initiative to produce a pitch deck? Or perhaps it's dated when the nitty gritty begins of conceptualising and planning the game. The point is, all are arguably 'start points', and can greatly impact the definition of its development period.
The other issue is that you could work 11 months on a project when it's at full speed, in its most productive phase, contributing a great deal of content to the broader game, and by this metric not be credited. It is also very common practice in game development to employ new hires and contractors on fixed and short term contracts. Temporary staff are a factor in all areas of working life, of course, but in the production of major games a studio size can dramatically swell for a relatively short period to push it forward, and then those contracts lapse and many workers are then looking for the next opportunity. We don't know if that was the case here, but it is common.
As highlighted in Eurogamer's article on this topic this has happened across various companies, so it'd be inaccurate to portray MercurySteam as a lone offender in this regard; in many ways the company is following its own form of the industry norms. It's not just in the retail / triple-A space either; myself and Kate Gray in the NL team have worked in the Indie game development and publishing scene in the past and discussed the issue of credit earlier in the year. Even in very small teams debates around these acknowledgments happen, and those that perform multiple roles or contribute but then move on are sometimes ignored or put under the generic 'Special Thanks' section. Discussion around the title of a credit can be as difficult as having a name included in the first place.
Why does this matter? Well, for one thing, not being credited properly is arguably harmful to someone's career. For anyone working in the industry each job, each contract, is contributing to a portfolio that helps to advance that career. It seems unfair that someone can say they worked on a game for nearly a year, only for potential employers to then look in the credits and not see their name. To find an equivalence in the website space, it'd be like if my articles from my first stint at Nintendo Life had their bylines removed when I moved into publishing for 3 years. That would be unfair (and didn't happen, of course!).
The issue is how normal it has become for game publishers and developers of all sizes to disregard or downplay contributions to their games. This does happen in other creative industries (film, music, books, the same debates appear in those areas too), but is arguably worse in gaming because it is still a young and in some ways immature industry. There are unions and representative bodies trying to defend creators of all kinds in other industries, but in gaming we're still in the stage of mainly relying on organisations that deliver advocacy and awareness, but little solid influence. There's no real oversight or universal standards for how contributor credits work, so every company effectively wings it. The problem with that is that not all leadership in the industry is inclined to have fair policies.
What's the solution? In the absence of industry standards, we're stuck with relying on company owners and project leaders to 'do the right thing'. As we've highlighted above, the MercurySteam policy (as one example, it's certainly not the worst out there) is too vague and potentially unfair. A fixed window should ultimately suffice, in the same way that probation works when you start a new job. Should it be 3 months, or 6 months? Is that enough time for someone to definitely make a contribution that deserves full credit?
I think so, but also think I should discuss it with some developers and project leads and learn from their expertise. Either way, a fixed time period, and not woolly off-the-hoof policies, seems fairer on creators of all kinds. Whether working on scripts, editing, coding, producing concept art, whatever - there are too many contributors to games we love that are overlooked.
At the end of the day it's an industry-wide concern. There are undoubtedly game developers and publishers that credit people properly, too, so the industry should learn from them. Everyone is trying to make and enjoy amazing video games, it's a passion and way of life. When someone contributes to this wonderful medium, they deserve to be acknowledged.