Metro Exodus – Working Conditions, Crunch Culture, Epic Games Exclusivity & Production Process

Metro Exodus

2014 was a year when video game developers couldn’t choose from the two potential choices they had in hand. Whether to develop new games for the then next-gen consoles PlayStation 4 and Xbox One or to port existing titles to these newly arrived machines was the question. “We are doing both. We have been working on a new game as well as Redux”, said 4A Games CTO Oles Shishkovstov in a 2014 interview with Digital Foundry. When Oles was asked how he and his team assessed what the consoles were capable of, he answered, “Well we just ported the games over and ran a lot of tests!”

The interview circled around the development of Metro Redux, the new generation of consoles and technological advancements. However, it also marked the first, although informal, tease of Metro’s latest iteration, Exodus.

Two years later, 4A Games posted two close-up pictures of a hand from their newest project. “For the game, we are working on now, our designers have shifted to a more sandbox-style experience — less linear but still hugely story-driven,” Oles commented. And thus begun the circulation of Metro Exodus trailers, gameplay reveals and developer walkthroughs.

During the four years of development, fans of the Metro series were confident Exodus would come out on Steam and the reasons were valid. PC pre-orders were fulfilled by Steam and every video uploaded on Metro’s official YouTube channel featured Steam’s logo alongside the logos of PlayStation 4 and Xbox One. The shift, however, was announced by Valve on January 30th on Metro Exodus’ Steam page, where the company wrote –

Notice: Sales of Metro Exodus have been discontinued on Steam due to a publisher decision to make the game exclusive to another PC store.

The developer and publisher have assured us that all prior sales of the game on Steam will be fulfilled on Steam, and Steam owners will be able to access the game and any future updates or DLC through Steam.

We think the decision to remove the game is unfair to Steam customers, especially after a long pre-sale period. We apologize to Steam customers that were expecting it to be available for sale through the February 15th release date, but we were only recently informed of the decision and given limited time to let everyone know.

Since January 30th, every official video has had the Epic Games Store logo replacing Steam’s. According to Deep Silver, the publisher made the move because of “Epic’s generous revenue terms” and to “invest more into content creation, or pass on savings to the players”. “By teaming up with Epic we will be able to invest more into the future of Metro and our ongoing partnership with series developer 4A Games to the benefit of our Metro fans”, CEO Klemens Kundratitz spoke to GameSpot.

Following the discussions and debates, I reached out to a current 4A Games employee to discuss the matter in detail. The source, however, has requested anonymity as they have discussed a few topics that go against their non-disclosure agreement, which includes comments on the working conditions at 4A Games and the Epic Games Store exclusivity, and we shall provide them with the same. What can be informed is that the interviewee is an existing employee at 4A Games and the information has been verified.

Prior to talking about the Epic Games Store exclusivity, we discussed the workplace conditions at 4A Games. When I asked them about their workplace, their immediate response was, “It’s about that old article about bad working conditions at 4A? Well, I’d say it’s OK”.

4A Games Studio
Courtesy of 4A Games

Working Conditions at 4A Games

They said the work PCs were “truly hi-end” and the studios had proper ventilation and lighting. “The only real drawback is the office being a little more cramped than our Malta office and than any IT office in general”, they commented. “We had to hire more people and we have a lot of special hardware on the place, so it looks like a mad scientist’s lab. You know, screens of different size all over the place, consoles and so on.”

“Still it’s very work-oriented, everything is at hand”, they added. I asked them if the matter of crampiness was discussed with the concerned authorities, replying to which, they wrote, “They know and they have been looking for a new office for a long time but it’s hard to find one for our special requirements. We need a lot of electrical power and surprisingly most office centres don’t have enough.”

My source took the liberty to explain the crunch culture at the studios of 4A Games as well. “Crunches are considered as a way of some geek party”, they wrote. “Beer, pizza, all that. It was hard but fun working. Crunches are compensated with extra vacations. Usually, the office is empty after crunch, people rest and then continue. Also, management is very liberal if you need a vacation or day off. Work hours are flexible.”

Following the aforementioned discussions, I asked them about the production elements of Metro Exodus. It was then when they demanded anonymity. However, I’ll lay down the Epic Games Store-related discussions prior to those of production.

Metro Exodus Epic Games Store
Courtesy of WCCFTech

The Epic Games Store Discussion

I asked them about 4A Games’ relationship with their publisher Deep Silver and if there were events when the former was forced to meet deadlines for the latter’s validation. “No, we calculate further deadlines ourselves and meet them. Never a problem”, they replied.

“Regarding the Epic Games Store exclusivity, whose prime decision was it?”, I asked although the answer was obvious. “Don’t know for sure but definitely a surprise for 4A. But we are just developers. It’s publishers business”, they wrote. They confirmed that 4A Games was informed about it as soon as the decision was made. However, the developer wasn’t allowed to discuss such matters in public. In my first attempt of asking them when exactly was 4A Games informed about the decision, my source denied a comment. They only agreed to comment after I repeated the question several times.

“For how long were you informed about the decision?”, “While you can’t comment on the exact date you were informed, tell me how long has it been. A year? Five months? Two years?” and “Was it before E3 2018?” were all sorts of questions I asked.

It was after E3 2018 when 4A Games was informed about the Epic Games Store exclusivity. Metro Exodus was still a game for Steam in terms of development before that time of period. “Well after that(E3 2018), that’s all I can say”, my source confirmed. The reaction of the employees at the 4A Games studios was mixed. “People are not concerned about money”, they stated. “Everybody [at 4A Games] was sure it(Metro Exodus) was worth it. It’s more about reputation. And people are blaming us [for the decision] though we had nothing to do with it.”

I even went on to ask if they think the disappointment among fans would affect the sales of the game. “No, or not noticeably”, they commented. “We are still publishing on Steam, pre-orders are not affected by anything.”

Another matter of concern was one of fellow 4A Games’ employee’s comment on dropping PC as a platform if players boycott Exodus due to the Epic Games Store exclusivity decision. “Never heard about dropping PC, that’s for sure”, my source replied. Metro’s official Twitter account also released a statement regarding the issue, in which, they wrote –

The recent decision to move Metro Exodus from Steam to the Epic Game Store was made by Koch Media / Deep Silver alone.

The recent comments made by a member of the 4A Games development team do not reflect Deep Silver’s or 4A Games’ view on the future of the franchise. They do reflect the hurt and disappointment of a passionate individual who has seen what was previously nothing but positive goodwill towards his work turn to controversy due to a business decision he had no control over. We respectfully ask that any and all valid feedback over this decision is directed at Koch Media / Deep Silver, and not the developers at 4A Games.

The future release strategy of the Metro series lies with Koch Media / Deep Silver. Our decision to partner with Epic Games was based on the goal of investing in the future of the series and our development partner at 4A Games. We have every intention of continuing this franchise, and a PC version will always be at the heart of our plans.

Metro Exodus
Courtesy of CGMagazine

Metro: Exodus & Its Production

Officially, Metro: Exodus was in works since 2014. However, the game has been through a long period of pre-production and lots of talks with a variety of options laid down for the scenario of the game. “Tech guys needed time to make a step forward”, my source commented. “I can say, technologically, Exodus is light years from Last Light.”

Dmitry Glukhovsky, author of the Metro novels has contributed a lot to the production process, they claimed. “The scenarios are based on his books, and he is very supportive on the adaptation of his text into games. Also, he is very easily reached out.” Glukhovsky has never interfered in the development process and never demanded alterations or changes in certain scenes or gameplay sequences to fit his vision of the Metro world. “It’s more the other way. When we are not sure we ask him which option fits the lore”, they wrote. “He’s a really easy guy”.

Metro Exodus was built with a budget that never limited the various departments, say art, level design, sound etc in terms of production. The team barely came across situations where things had to be laid off, cut or completely dropped due to financial/technical limitations. “Everybody was trying to make everything in a smart way to not lead to excess expenses”, they claimed. “We really never had a situation where money was an issue. You see, the crew is experienced and people understand the business side well and don’t need any management. People are self-motivated and self-managed. Nobody supervises anybody.”

When asked about the number of talents, both veteran and fresh recruits, working on Exodus, they wrote, “Don’t know if I may say about the total number. As for proportion, I’d say maybe three out of four are veterans. With more than one triple-A title shipped.”

Metro Exodus has progressed as planned. 4A Games is confident the game’s ready and at a level they visioned. Every aspect of the game has been improved significantly, be it the visuals, size, depth, quality and the overall Metro experience. “Are you confident the game’s ready?”, I asked.  “Yes, otherwise we wouldn’t ship it”, they answered.

Coming to post-release content for Exodus, they commented the details are “classified”, but told me not to worry as they are “busy” working on certain plans.

Another question I asked was, “Were you provided sufficient time to prepare the game? Or could you say, if you were given more time and budget you could have done better?”

“It’s as good as it could no further time or money needed”, they replied.

Metro Exodus is releasing on February 15th for the PS4, Xbox One and PC, via Epic Games Store. Players who pre-ordered on Steam would still be able to download the game when it releases.

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