I'll translate the article itself:
In early 2020, Enric Álvarez sent a video message to MercurySteam's employees.
At the time, the studio was working on two different projects and several workers had expressed their concerns over the non-existant communication from the company in regards to their future. "We didn't know how the project was coming along, we didn't know what would happen afterwards or if we would get to stay." Enric, trying to calm people down, created a video in which he said, literally, that there was a place in the company for everyone, that they'd get to stay if they wanted to because the company was growing and a new project was coming. Although the founder of the company managed to assuage his employees, peace wouldn't last.
A few months after recording the video, MercurySteam fired all QA workers except two and a large amount of animators and 3d modelers. Project Hunter, now known as Metroid Dread, was still planned to be in dev for months. They would also have to face other internal crisis.
"Between April and June 2020, some Nintendo representatives checked progress and cut things because, as far as I know, the scope of the game was far too large. There were around 120 cutscenes left to do, there was a bottleneck in the art department, so they cut a large part of work from the art department, which harmed other departments like AI", says a programmer who left the studio soon after the progress overview. "I lived through two big cuts", confirms a fellow worker, who places the former between May and June 2019. "There were plans for twice the bosses in Metroid at first, as well as twice the cutscenes, and that was impossible, unfeasible". A programmer was in charge of negotiating this cut. He mediated with Nintendo because we couldn't meet the deadlines. There was no time because, on top of that, we don't crunch. This man was the firewall between Nintendo and us. He saved our lives.
These scope cuts are, for some, the best example of an unorganized development process, which reflects the messy way the company operates internally. "The development of Metroid Dread was quite chaotic. Several times my lead and the game's director would give me contradictory instructions and us workers would always pay the price", says a former programmer. "The talent is there, but most of the time it's not in the best position. They are pretty bad at managing people, and things take a ton of effort". A former artist confirms this and the hostile environment created by the poor management: "They don't trust the worker at all, and it's easy to tell. You don't feel appreciated. There are always bad vibes, and it's very tense in general". Speaking to some of the people involved in what's already the best rated Spanish game ever, if feels like its development was barely a satisfying experience.
"They often punish workers who don't do things the way the studio wants. It happens often and it creates a lot of tension. This constant control is reflected in the work environment and it's clear they dish punishment for mistakes or unintentional errors. I think they don't tolerate certain opinions due to some sort of company pride". points a former employee, who claims these "punishments" go from isolating workers or placing them on a different group to firing them suddenly overnight.
Another former employee gives us an example of these kinds of "punishments": "In Mercury they had two projects, Metroid and a different one. They wanted to change some of us from Project Hunter, Metroid, to the other team and they did so by offering us a smaller wage rise than our colleagues. So, the punishment was twofold: changing teams and a smaller rise". According to this employee, his colleagues and him were considered "problematic" because they "tried to negotiate conditions" and "debate" among them their salary bonus. "They threatened me I said I knew a colleague had received a bonus and I wanted the same thing because I had the same job, but they said no and on top of that, that my colleague was in hot water for talking about that.
This colleague, also considered "problematic", confirms his version: "Bonuses have an NDA and they don't want us to discuss them because it leads to complaints [...]. Salaries are very low, around €25.000 a year for juniors and €28.000 seniors. They were very confident that they had the most attractive game in Spain, because it was a Nintendo project.
One of the biggest challenges during the development of Metroid dread was the organization during an unprecedented global pandemic which has changed the way most studios approach their work philosophy. In MercurySteam, since working from home was an imposition rather than an option (employees have returned to the office nowadays), the effects of the pandemic have lead to fights with the leadership related once again with poor communication from the studio.
"The pandemic was not handled well. It was complete and absolute chaos", argues a programmer. "On Friday (March 13th), before closing the office due to the lockdown, we were sent an email at 5PM saying there would be 6 hour shifts and the rest of the hours would be saved to be made up for later. A lot of us complained because many left without reading the mail since they sent it so late, which they often do to prevent us from complaining. Ultimately, they took it back on Sunday (March 15th) and allowed us to stay home.
According to this programmer, the company promised the workers to pay the entire salary. However, they retroactively accepted the ERTE (Record of Temporary Employment Regulation) and attempted to pay nothing of the percentage they were supposed to pay. "We ended up getting our entire salary but many colleagues had to protest to get it because Mercury didn't want to pay the 30% that was their responsibility".
This former employee points out that, in his opinion, the studio rushed back to the workplace and thus safety measures were inadequate. "Since working from home was not an option for them, they put some anti-COVID measures in the workplace but they didn't do a good job. Stations were kept as they were with panes on the sides. Nevertheless, we were very close to the colleague opposite to us with no pane between us. That was not safe. They also took away the microwaves and we couldn't eat hot food because they said they didn't trust us to clean them. Always the same story, they don't trust us".
When it comes to detailing the company's communication problems, several employees point directly to the HR Department as one of the biggest sources of internal tension. "Communication with the company is nonexistant. HR doesn't want to negotiate or deal with any problem the workers have. In my case they told me to deal with their managers", says a former artist. "they came up with this subjective, very creative interpretation of the law. They didn't help me with my problem; if anything, it was the opposite, I lost a month's wage, but I didn't want to insist. The law means whatever they want it to mean". Explaining his case, this former employee highlights that other workers in his situation got much different results, so he believes "the general policy of the department is neither good nor consistent".
"They don't control what they pay. I think salaries depend on how much they like people because there's no rank by position or department or whatever", adds a former programmer when asked about HR management, "they don't have a career plan, you climb the company ranks depending on how much Enric or José Luis [Márquez, Metroid Dread's creative director and Castlevania: Mirror of Fate director] like you, depending on which project you're working on... And when you refuse to accept what they offer, it's taken as a personal attack, they won't negotiate salaries and I know of colleagues who were fired because of that. They called them up to sign and done, no more debates".
But for some workers and former employees, the problem with HR goes beyond poor management to reach, according to their interpretation, into manipulation, bad faith and control. "Elections for the Community of Madrid took place in a workday", explains a former programmer, "according to Spanish law, any worker whose workday overlaps over six hours with voting hours has the right to 4 hours to go vote. They knew that, but they told us that there was too much work to do in the game to take so much time off and no one neede so much time for such a simple process".
As usual in most studios, Mercury works with temporary contracts, agreements between company and worker which allow both parties to work together for a certain amount of time, never exceeding three years, in a specific project. This gives the company advantages such as an easier firing process, allowing them to staff up for peaks in workload and then fire contractors with minimal costs. "They always do contracts. You're supposed to get an open-ended contract after three years by default", says an employee who spent several years at the studio, "they do it in every department and then let people go for any reason. The contract allows it".
The most recent controversy related to MercurySteam and the development of Metroid Dread is related to an article published by Vandal in which several former employees express their frustation at being uncredited in the game. The studio claims that it's company policy to only credit employees who have stayed in the company for at least 25% of development time. with some exceptions for outstanding contributions.
In the article itself, the workers interviewed by Vandal are wary of the figure, and all the employees interviewed by AnaitGames agree. "I was never told of any conditions to be credited. I thought it was a given". I was surprised to read that percentage in Vandal". argues a former programmer. "At no point did they tell me how long I'd have to work or what the minimum time was to be credited. I was surprised to read it in Vandal because it wasn't written anywhere. I had assumed I would automatically be credited since I worked on the game, especially because I saw parts of my work were kept untouched in the final build. It's clear nobody modified that part of my work", points a former employee whose contributions to the game's art direction are evident even from the trailers.
For one of the interviewed artists, behind the decision of whether to credit some employees or not hides a "punishment culture", and other workers agree: "I believe it's a punishment not to credit those of us who contributed and had to leave the studio because our work is there. It's in plain sight. To me that's punishment culture. There is, and up to a point it's justified, a huge sense of pride and arrogance that ends up backfiring. It's obvious they've just made the best game ever to be created in Spain and now their ego is enormous, but I don't know why they punish those of us who did our small part, rather than sharing the accomplishment. It really sucks to see things I've worked on and it's not acknowleged.
A colleague describes his disappointment after discovering on release day that his months of contributions were not properly credited. "I believe my work has been relevant and it was enough to be credited. I get that I don't own the rights to my work because my contract says so, but I should still be credited because my work is in the game as I created it. Due to IP laws and NDAs I can't use my work as a letter of application to other companies, so the only way to prove is through the game's credits". He points out that the situation is not just damaging in regards to job prospects, it's also emotionally draining: "Being in the credits is exciting to us and it makes us proud. So when the day comes and you eagerly look it up, only to not find it, it's a big blow. It's been a few emotionally trying days for me since the release. Not just emotionally, since it in a way it makes you feel excluded from the project, but professionally as well (...) I just wanted to enjoy revealing that I worked on the game, as others have, that's something that's been denied to me and it makes me sad. It was something I needed".
Moreover, even though in the "team Metroid" picture (published through private groups) over 50 people are missing, these former employees argue that there's a general sense of fear of speaking publicly about the conditions within MercurySteam. "I think they're taking advantage of the fact that people are afraid to speak publicly. I know two other people who weren't properly credited but I understand they're afraid of speaking out because it feels like your career is over". A colleague blames the leadership as the source of this fear: "The main leaders know a lot of people and they can screw your career if they have a problem with you. They don't care about badmouthing you and destroy your career, so people don't talk". he says.
But even beyond company leadership, it's relatively easy to find accounts which praise the huge talent in the middle and lower job positions and the internal fellowship within the teams: "The relationship between colleagues and the day to day for the "foot soldiers" was amazing. I had a great time, I've never laughed more at any other studio. And even though there was a sense of competition, that's normal in creative jobs because we all want to be the best". They also have very kind words for Metroid Dread: "It pains me not to be in the credits because it makes me so proud. This game is already part of the history of game development in our country".