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Stories about developers being omitted from game credits have been multiplying in recent months.
Prominent examples include former MercurySteam employees being left out of Metroid Dread's credits, 20 people from Striking Distance Studios forgotten in The Callisto Protocol's acknowledgements, or the original Metroid Prime developers omitted from the remastered version, among many others.
While the issue isn't new, there's a fresh movement highlighting discrepancies in game credits and devs of all persuasions campaigning for staff to be properly acknowledged for their work.
The IGDA has had a special interest group about the matter since the late 2000s, which is behind a one-page cheat sheet for proper crediting, as well as more in-depth crediting guidelines (which have been freshly updated). The group also experienced a new lease of life with a wealth of initiatives in the past couple of years.
"The two biggest first projects I worked on I still can't talk about. And I wasn't credited on either"Tarja Porkka-Kontturi
"At the moment, we're six [people]," says head of communications and localisation at The 4 Winds Entertainment Nazih Fares, recently appointed vice-chair at the IGDA Game Credits SIG, working alongside chair Katie Golden. "The majority of us fell into that – I worked on roughly 50 games before I got my first credit and it was just a humble 'special thanks'."
Tarja Porkka-Kontturi is a board member of the Game Credits SIG, as well as Global Game Jam's director of community engagement. She recalls her first experiences in the industry.
"The two biggest first projects I worked on I still can't talk about," she says. "And I wasn't credited on either. I didn't understand [I could] ask about it because it never crossed my mind that it could happen. I didn't know anyone in the industry, I came in from a weird angle after doing other stuff, so I realised these things too late, and now I want to ensure that those who are studying or thinking about having a career in games know that this is one of the basic things they need to demand."
Why are studios sometimes not crediting staff?
It's difficult to pinpoint one precise explanation to the issues with crediting; there are a number of reasons why work might sometimes not get acknowledged. On a very basic level, it often simply comes down to the fact no one thinks about it until it's too late.
"Crediting is the last thing to be thought about," Fares says. "The game has gone gold, and then the poor old producer is just [left] to figure out who worked on that game.
"If you're lucky and you're a big company, you might have some sort of HR, a list of names, of people that are active right now. That doesn't count the people that might have left six months or even one month ago, that potentially have worked for four or five years, but have left before the release. Then you have all the consultants, all this external workforce, that have played a part in this game."
One of the most common groups of game developers to be forgotten in credits is localisation and QA workers; a task which is often outsourced to third-party companies, which can make it more difficult for studios to gather all the necessary names if they don't allow enough time for it.
"What happens is that [the studios] don't really know who is working on that project," Fares continues. "They usually know the [product managers] that are in charge of that project and are sending the orders to individual translators, proofreaders and QA teams."
Klaudia Mower, QA manager at services company Testronic, explains that there aren't technical limitations to including everyone in credits but sometimes names can be left out if they only worked on a title very briefly.
"From my experience, when we were reached [out to] by our partners to provide them with a list of credits, they weren't giving us any specifics or limiting us in any way," she explains. "It was always from our side, if we try to moderate how many people we add to it, as to not expand the list infinitely. I like to use the rule of reason.
"For example, we may have someone that had [time] off and one person replaced them for a couple of days, but they might not have had enough impact on that project to really be considered for the credits. So we always try to consider that. But if someone was part of the project for a short time but they did something that particularly helped the testing process, then we would consider including them."
Fares says a lot of the issues with acknowledging staff – internal or external – in games is due to the industry booming without taking the time to implement formal processes.
"[Credits are] not about bragging rights, like a lot of people seem to think"Tarja Porkka-Kontturi
"Looking at why crediting isn't a norm is going back to compare the gaming industry to the closest thing that it is in the media entertainment industry, which would be the film industry," he says. "And the film industry did face that same issue back in the '50s, especially with those auteurs/directors who were kind of choosing who they wanted to credit and would just position themselves as God-like wielders of the magical creative wand.
"Because [film] has actual unions, [they] put pressure into building an actual policy and that got implemented pretty much at an industry level. So now there is a [crediting] norm with very clear guidelines."
It's worth mentioning that on-set and production workers are well protected by union agreements, but post-production and visual effects workers in the film industry encounter the same issues as game workers, for similar reasons.
Fares continues: "Fast forward a few years, the gaming industry starts blooming, [and] everything is just a chaotic rush. Everyone's kind of doing their own thing without really questioning the larger picture of how much the group, how much the entire community, is affected by certain decisions of certain publishers or studios. So, in this case, it comes in the hands of associations, non-profit or community-driven associations like the IGDA, to build this foundational guideline. "
Why is crediting important?
Porkka-Kontturi highlights that credits are "not about bragging rights, like a lot of people seem to think," and are particularly important for external contributors who very often can't disclose the specificities of the projects they develop, even after they're done.
Mower explains: "It's always nice to be credited, but for our people, it's mostly about being able to share that we worked on a specific game, because we are under strict NDAs and we're not really allowed to talk about who we are working with."
The industry increasingly relying on outsourcers heightened the issue in recent years, with junior workers struggling to be able to include in their CV the experience they do have.
"There's been a large push by big corporations to really cut back on internal hires, and to almost solely rely on outsourced workforce," Fares says. "Which in this case does end up [with] a large amount of people that have worked in games be completely omitted from credits. And a lot of these people are relying on this credit as a form of official acknowledgement by the gaming industry that they've played a part in the game."
He continues: "There's a lot of people that are trying to break out of that vicious cycle of being this eternal ghost developer of many titles and really want to advance their career, potentially finding a job internally at a major studio. It's quite an important aspect of career advancement, to be properly credited for the work."
When should you start thinking about credits?
The pre-production phase is when you should start thinking about your credits and collecting names.
"You would then need to follow some sort of policy because, in the best case scenario, in this sort of utopia, everyone should be credited, whether they worked on the game for a week or many years," Fares says. "But it's also not really as fair as it should be, if we do that. You still need this sort of threshold of minimum work that you've done on the game, which is a bit difficult to calculate, especially when you consider external resources."
He recommends gradually building a list of names as you progress through a project.
"A lot of people are trying to break out of that vicious cycle of being this eternal ghost developer. It's an important aspect of career advancement, to be properly credited"Nazih Fares
"So that if someone left within six months, we still have a record that they worked on the game, and we know which position they are, and we can assign [an] attribution order based on how long they worked compared to someone else in the team," Fares explains.
"Especially these days where technology advancement is so wild, where we can really log so much stuff into Jira, Asana, and all these project management tools, it's not that complicated [to keep track]."
Looking at how crediting works on the outsourcing side of things timing-wise, Mower says that the general standard at Testronic is that they wait for the studios to approach them about credit inclusion.
"It's kind of a polite thing to do because it's their product," she says. "It also can depend on our relationship with a partner or their internal policies about crediting – there are various things to consider.
"Generally, the rule of thumb is that we wait for them to ask us to provide them with the names. But if we have a relationship with a partner that we know we are safe to ask for certain things and come forward with some requests, we can do that as well."
Whichever side of development you are on (internal or external), make sure you do communicate about crediting with the other party, as early as possible in the process.
Fares believes the responsibility for outsourcers' credit inclusion falls on both the studio and the vendor. Stories emerged recently about QA and localisation companies only including leadership staff in the credits rather than people who actually worked on the game. That was the case for the release of Persona 3 Portable and Persona 4 Golden on current-gen consoles earlier this year for instance, with senior staff from Keywords credited but not translators.
"There's definitely a little bit more responsibility on vendors to change that mentality, that it's not just about the company," Fares says. "We understand that the company needs to make a name [for] themselves so that more publishers come to them but also, it's that mentality of gatekeeping. Because most of these agencies do have this amazing talent pool, but they are not technically hired as [the outsourcer's] employees. They're usually freelancers. And they're trying to make a name of it themselves so they can grow, so they can boost their career.
"I think Hi-fi Rush was a good process, [it] actually credited every single translator and proofreader, and [grouped] them per language. So there is some change but it's not major because it's only going to change when big companies like Lionbridge or Keywords are setting the example, or when some big Fortune 500 publisher is mandating that if you want to work with [them], you have to credit your staff no matter what."
How should staff be credited?
When it comes to properly crediting staff, being specific about a person's job is crucial, whether it's for internal or external contributors. Fares mentions that things like "Special thanks" are not a solution, for instance. The work done needs to be accurately represented.
"['Special thanks'] doesn't really explain anything, it doesn't really say what that person has done. So the attribution part of the crediting is devoid of any sense of work value of what that person has brought forward to the project – especially when you realise you're tossed in a wall of text where they're thanking every single family member, and sometimes the studio's dogs and cats and whatnot!"
The IGDA crediting guidelines detail inclusion rules, which for instance indicate that 30 days working on a project should qualify a worker for credits inclusion. Then comes the attribution rules.
"['Special thanks'] doesn't really explain anything – especially when tossed in a wall of text where they're thanking family members, dogs, cats and whatnot!"Nazih Fares
"The attribution means that you have to name the person and their role, and their association to a role in any shape or form, whether it is a single role next to the name or grouped in a group of roles – so let's say communication all together, art linked together, technical devs linked together," Fares explains.
"And then [there's] the priority – who gets to be listed first versus last. And it's usually linked to the hierarchy of the company. So things like leads, seniority, etc, are applied. And that's how it would stack up.
"In a situation where [they're] doing three/four different roles at the same time, wearing multiple hats, they would be listed depending on the amount of work they have done based on their colleagues. So they would still be listed multiple times, but their attribution would be in the order of how many working days they've worked on the project in that specific vertical. That's pretty much the formula that we've noticed from the best practices that we've seen in the market."
What does a crediting policy look like?
Having proper guidelines in your studio about the crediting process can be a valuable tool. You can alternatively rely on the IGDA policy, with Porkka-Kontturi joking that they're "making it idiot proof [so] companies can't say 'we don't know how to do it'."
A good way to be transparent about how crediting works is to make it part of your onboarding process. Most companies don't communicate enough to staff about their crediting policy (if they have one), Fares says.
"They just don't think about it and it's not even clear. When I joined Blizzard, I didn't even know that this existed until my first credit email was sent out – they were updating the credits for people that worked on Overwatch. I did work on Overwatch in 2016 for the launch, but I was not credited then because I was an outsourced contractor. It was not until a 2019 update [that I was added to the] 2019 page of credits. And because I was a staff manager I also had to vet who was listed from my team and in which position. And if there was a problem, I could flag it so that they would update it."
Fares says Blizzard was the closest thing he's seen to a perfect policy, explaining that the studio's live games include yearly crediting.
"There can be situations where we are not able to ask someone – in that case, we cannot include them because that would go against the GDPR"Klaudia Mower
"So this is great, the system works somehow, but it has to be part of the onboarding," he adds. "I think people need to, when in an interview process, ask these serious questions the same way they should ask about work culture, because you want to understand how safe you're going to be in that company. Is this company run by a bunch of misogynistic, transphobic people? Or is it a chill environment where people can be [themselves]? It's the same thing. Do you credit your staff or not? And if not, then it should be a big red flag already that you should not pursue that opportunity because there is a chance that you're not going to be credited."
Testronic does have crediting guidelines, which include what Mower previously mentioned about waiting for the client to get in touch and/or being able to ask depending on the relationship. Sometimes the matter can be escalated to the business development department if there's any issue communicating with the client.
"Then our project managers – usually responsible for specific clients – oversee the process, [ensuring] that the credits are correctly delivered. And they make sure that we include people from different services. The project manager would also be responsible for choosing whether or not the higher management directors and so on should be included or not, depending on the team size, project length and various factors. We work from a template that's been devised to standardise how we deliver the credits to the client."
She mentions that when gathering names for credits, you should always be mindful of GDPR.
"We go by a simple rule: everyone has to be asked if they want to be included. If they do not wish to be credited for one reason or another, we simply just don't include their name. There can be situations where we are not able to ask someone – in that case, we cannot include them because that would go against the GDPR."
What are the challenges ahead?
Fares says the next step would be to get help from unions to really make crediting policies an official fixture of the games industry, and make it mandatory for games to have exhaustive credits to be able to release.
"That would be implemented at a level like ESRB, PEGI – all the governance bodies that regulate how a game should launch," he continues. "We have so many regulations about child protection, parental control, age rating and whatnot. But [credits] is a core element of creating a safe environment for employees; for people who work in gaming to feel safe about what they're doing and being acknowledged for [their] work."
But the road ahead is long. Mower mentions that standardisation could be very difficult to maintain and execute, but is hoping for more widely shared guidelines across the industry as well.
"We have so many regulations about child protection, parental control, age rating. But [credits] is a core element of creating a safe environment for employees"Nazih Fares
"I can see a lot of [cases] where you have to kind of review case-by-case. There might be some very difficult edge cases that require further consideration, like someone was working on a project for a long time but then they did something that [means] they had to be terminated or something like that. These are very complicated matters, how do you best approach that?" she ponders.
Fares points out that updating credits is "extremely hard and most of the time never gets honoured" and highlights other challenges, including the fact that crediting guidelines are looked at from a very Western perspective.
He adds: "Let's say someone transitioned and changed their name, the chances are that their birth name will always be in the credit versus their new legal name. So this whole dead-naming aspect is quite alarming and it happens a lot in the gaming industry.
"The other aspect is that it doesn't take into consideration the rest of the world. It's mostly taking into consideration the norms and expectations of, pardon my bluntness, the white Caucasian industry. Which is a very clear first name, last name. In most countries, a westernised name is pretty common and a combination of first name/last name might be everywhere. So, my name is quite clear. It's Nazih Fares. I'm of Arabic descent, there's not many Nazih Fares around. But if you are Ahmed Mohamed, chances are there's 700 of you in the games industry.
Porkka-Kontturi interjects: "So then what does it mean if you're working on the same game?"
"A crediting policy is not just about North America and Europe... This needs to become a global norm, and not just help the more dominant regional industries"Nazih Fares
Fares continues: "You have to take into account all these different cultural differentiations. If you are of Arabic descent, usually, in legal ways, you would use a triple name, which is usually your first name, your dad's name, and your family name. In China, for example, you would [include] the actual way of writing the name and its latinised, westernised version next to it in parentheses [when crediting].
"So you have to take into consideration that a crediting policy is really not just about North American and European policies, but worldwide, because this needs to become a global norm, and not just help the more dominant regional industries."
As our conversation comes to an end, Porkka-Kontturi mentions her wish to see crediting guidelines becoming more of a norm too, moving away from that "gatekeeping mentality" Fares mentioned.
"I've been thinking a lot about [creating] that kind of lobby, to have that common sentiment that you aren't a good company if you don't have a [crediting] policy," she says. "It's something people would expect automatically, and if you don't have those policies in place it would be outrageous and you would be called out immediately…
"But we're not there yet and that's why I want to be so vocal about it. Because we have to pressure and create that sentiment."
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This article was updated to better represent the members of the IGDA Game Credits SIG
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