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Credit where credit is due: Video game association calling for proper acknowledgement

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Some video game developers are calling on the industry to overhaul how it credits workers on games to give proper recognition where it’s due.

Warner Bros. Entertainment recently released its anticipated open-world, role-playing game Gotham Knights.

Developed by WB Games Montreal, several of those that worked sometimes hundreds of hours on the game were irked when the company released the credits, which were posted on YouTube.

While it recognized some workers with both a name and title (ie. producers, programmers, VFX artists etc.) , many are included in a long "special thanks" list – without any mention of their involvement in the game.

"It doesn't make sense to me that people who were hired last-minute during the last six months of development get a full credit, but people who gave years of their lives in this get pushed to 'special thanks/additional thanks' or are forgotten," said one Montreal-based designer on the game.

Another game designer who appeared in the special thanks section said having proper credit is important to prove a professional accomplishment and demonstrate experience.

"When you spend years of your life developing a game, putting your heart and soul into it, to not be credited is a disregarding of your contribution," they told CTV News. "It’s insulting and disappointing. It costs the studio literally nothing to credit all those who contributed. In fact, it’s more work to create a ridiculous tiered acknowledgement hierarchy."

CTV News is not publishing the names of those who spoke out for concerns over career repercussions.

Nazih Fares is the head of localization and communication at 4 Winds Entertainment and is part of the International Game Developers Association (IGDA). He said his first credit on a game, after working on about 30 of them, was in the "special thanks" section.

He’s part of a team trying to encourage gaming companies to improve policies and practices for crediting those who work on video games.

"Most companies tend to forget that it's a big aspect of proof [of what] you have done on that game," he said. "Imagine an artist painting a huge painting and putting it in a museum and it's unsigned. That is not something you would expect, right?"

Video games cost millions of dollars to produce, take years, and involve hundreds of workers.

The Gotham Knights credits, for example, included more than 100 people in the “special thanks” section, with five more in the "additional special thanks" section. 

Lack of credit runs far beyond the Montreal studio, some say.

A music designer on Sony's God of War Ragnarök detailed how they assembled pieces for scenes in the game.

"Unfortunately, my name is not in the credits, and apparently, it can't be added in a patch update," they said. "I was told that to be credited, my contribution to the game must hit some 'minimum criteria.' Still not sure what this criteria could be."

A Washington Post article from 2021 detailed how employees on Rockstar's Grand Theft Auto V were left off the credits after working on the game for months and even years.

NO UNION STANDARDS

The gaming industry, unlike film and television, does not have robust unions that negotiate terms to include crediting for their members. The employees who worked on Grand Theft Auto V were contract workers, who often find themselves off the credits.

"With film and TV in general, you have organizations like ACTRA and ones like that that effectively do collective bargaining, and there are industry standards as a result," said Relic Entertainment senior brand manager Raj Patel. "That industry has also had 100 years to perfect that."

Patel said companies are inconsistent, and, though the intent may not be malicious, not crediting someone who worked on a game can be frustrating, especially for those just starting out in the industry.

"To some people, it could make or break their career," he said.

Some companies, he said, have decent policies, but there is often no binding agreement in a company policy.

"Sometimes policies don't fully get followed through on," he said. "The game comes out, and you're like, 'I thought I was getting credit, and I didn't get it.'"

Montreal's Ubisoft studio is one of the biggest in the world that does have a crediting policy in place.

"The policy is shared with every production in the studio, and we do have a specific guideline and process that is asked to be followed for every game," said public relations manager Antoine Leduc-Labelle, adding that he could not share what the policy is, citing confidentiality.

CTV News reached out to Warner Bros. for comment and received no response.

THE CHAOS BEFORE LAUNCH

The final six months of developing a video game are chaotic, Patel said. There are bugs to work out, deadlines to hit, and a multitude of questions to answer before the game is shipped and ready to be played.

"It doesn't matter how organized and professional your studio is, there's a lot that goes into making a game and everyone's scrambling," said Patel.

Adding credits, he said, is often an afterthought and in many cases, no one is assigned to the task from the outset.

A producer, he said, is typically tasked with crediting and needs to work backwards to determine who worked on the game and how. And there are other considerations – contractors, fired employees, or those that quit to work for a rival company, for example, who can be left off the credits.

"When you don't have that policy in place, it ends up being a judgment call, and I think that's where things can fall off."

Once the credits come out, there can be other issues, he said. A movie file, like the Gotham Knights credits reel, is difficult to change once it's out, and the credits themselves can also include mistakes.

"I've had games where my name was wrong in the credits or my title was wrong," said Patel.

The errors, Patel said, are often not corrected for months, if ever, suggesting the need for a better system from the beginning of the game development process.

"One of the things we're working on is explaining to them [is] you need a system where you can update it easier so it doesn't take six months to correct this person's name," said Patel.

Fares added that the IGDA would like governments to get involved and include crediting as part of a workers' rights process, as unions are generally avoided in gaming.

"A union has always been a sort of taboo word in the industry because it's been an industry that grew so fast and so quick that a lot of flaws that you would expect from fast growth happened," he said.

AN OPPORTUNITY IN GLOBAL GAME-LEADING MONTREAL

Montreal has emerged as a national and global leader in the gaming industry.

If studios like Warner Bros. and Ubisoft lead the way in changing their crediting process, the IGDA said, others will follow.

"Some of the things that happen in the Montreal industry will cascade throughout the rest of the industry. They have such an impact," said Patel.

As an example, when the studio behind Tomb Raider, Eidos-Montreal, moved to a four-day workweek, other companies took notice.

"Sure, not all the studios are transitioning to a four-day work week, but all of them are talking about it; everyone takes notice," said Patel.

Improving the crediting system, Fares said, will improve the industry and the working lives of those building the games.

"Once you are really locked in and your credit and your name appear there, then you have this sort of power," he said, adding that it creates opportunities for career advancement. "You have this justification that you have done the work that you have, in most cases, you have bled for this game, and you're recognized for your effort and your involvement in that project, no matter what it is."

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