Note: A version of this article was originally published in 2019.
Today, the games industry is still not giving credit where it’s due.
Despite the huge workforces required to create modern video games – typically hundreds, and sometimes thousands of people, spread across multiple, disparate disciplines – consistently companies are still not properly crediting those responsible for creating the entertainment which millions consume.
With no real regulation beyond International Game Developers Association (IDGA) guidelines – which crucially, are not enforceable – game developers are at the mercy of their employers as to how, where or even if they’re credited for their work. Today, whether you work for a blockbuster studio or an indie darling, an accurate credit for a game you’ve worked on is far from guaranteed. And if you annoy your boss, your name might not appear at all.
And so, confusion reigns. Even with the modern internet and the growth of LinkedIn, it can be incredibly difficult to track down ‘who did what’ on a given title. We should know, we’ve attempted to find out on this very website.
“Games are still in the Hollywood studio system from the 1930s, where studios want to be perceived as the creators rather than the teams.”
But the repercussions go beyond just the archival headaches; the crediting Wild West of the games industry affects the reputation of its creators and some sources have argued, contributes to the redundancy culture that has become ever too common in the industry.
“I definitely think that publishers have a vested interest in controlling how games are credited,” Typhoon Studios founder Alex Hutchinson, a veteran Ubisoft and EA game director, told VGC. “Whenever someone becomes known, they become potentially more expensive, and worse, they become someone who could wrest some of the control over a game or franchise away from the publisher.
“Games are still essentially in the Hollywood studio system from the 1930s, where studios want complete control of the product and they want to be perceived as the creators rather than the teams. It will change in the long run as more developers self-publish and hopefully publishers also realise that having a known person or team helm a game is a good thing for them, not a risk.”
Katharine Neil, a veteran programmer who has worked on the Test Drive and Alone in the Dark series, agrees that the regulation of game credits is long overdue.
“Some gamers don’t realise how important this issue is for us professionally,” she said. “Many seem to think it’s about bruised egos or something. No – like film and TV – it’s about getting hired for the next job and not looking like a liar on your CV.
“There are still no industry standards that developers can count on their employers adhering to. And I think the fact that many people still don’t even know that those IGDA crediting standards exist says something. And one thing I can say for sure is it’s something game developers do worry about – i.e. will I get punished in the credits by a vindictive boss, or will I be unfairly credited if I have to leave this project early.”
IGDA guidelines advise that anybody who has worked on a game’s development for 30 days (or 5%) must be credited. Names and job titles must be included, disciplines displayed in a set order, and names displayed in line with time spent on the project. However, only some developers are IGDA members – and even then, they’re just a guide.
The game developers we spoke to reported wildly different experiences of game crediting, from employers using credits for blackmail, to situations where almost anybody can get on the staff roll, regardless of contribution. Many developers, to avoid in-fighting or targeted recruitment of their staff, don’t list job titles at all: Fortnite, the biggest game in the world, lists its staff alphabetically, as do many Japanese studios.
“On Fable Anniversary I added Tim Teddins to the list of Special Thanks as it was a long running joke that people used to mess up the name of the designer, Ted Timmins.”
Many publishers have internal rules related to how long you need to be on a project to get a credit, which helps iron out situations like an animator working on something for years next to someone who only joined for the last few months, yet both ended up with the same credit.
Craig Oman, a veteran producer formerly of Lionhead, Ninja Theory and Media Molecule said that because of the lack of regulation when it comes to credits, every studio he has worked for has had a different approach to implementing them.
“In my experience I would say that there’s no regulation at all when it comes to credits,” he said. “I’ve worked for a wide range of companies in my time and everyone has a different way of tracking it.
“Sometimes the list is thrown together at the end of development and it’s very much a case of digging through emails and your memory of who has worked on the game. Other places have an excel sheet that gets updated on a regular basis but there’s still arguing at the end of a project about the order of everything.”
When it comes to properly reflecting a developer’s role in a game’s creation, Oman said from his experience it’s usually handled “poorly.”
“Credits can accurately reflect the job title someone has at the end of a project but at a large studio you could have multiple senior artists for example. Did they all work on the project for the same length of time? Which areas were they responsible for and how did their performance impact the project?
“You could have a senior artist that spent more of their time supporting other developers and less time creating assets – did they have more impact on the project because they helped multiple other people achieve visible results or less significance because they created less assets?
“We have had some fun with credits in the past. On Fable Anniversary I added Tim Teddins to the list of Special Thanks as it was a long running joke that people used to mess up the name of the designer, Ted Timmins.”
“LA Noire’s list of claimed omissions included one lead engine developer who had worked on the game for four years.”
The most egregious incident of game crediting censorship allegedly took place in 2011, when it was claimed that over 130 people who worked on Rockstar’s LA Noire had not been included in the game’s credits.
It was claimed that Rockstar’s policy was that any developer who left before the final game shipped would not be credited for their work. The list of reported omissions – which were posted in a “complete credits” list on a website created by former developers – included one lead engine developer who had worked on the game for four years.
Rockstar has since said that the policy revealed by the group of LA Noire developers is not only real, it’s practised at the company to this day. When several developers lamented not being included in the credits for Red Dead Redemption 2 in 2018, due to leaving before the final game shipped, Rockstar’s head of publishing Jennifer Kolbe told Kotaku:
“That has been a consistent policy because we have always felt that we want the team to get to the finish line. And so a very long time ago, we decided that if you didn’t actually finish the game, then you wouldn’t be in the credits.” Kolbe noted that Rockstar had later recognised many uncredited former employees via a list on the game’s website.
Alex Hutchinson, who was the creative director behind Assassin’s Creed III and Far Cry 4, claimed the policy of removing those who quit from the final credits is likely more common than the public realises.
“If you quit the company, your credit is in serious jeopardy,” he said. “And if you join late you’ll probably get an inflated credit relative to how long you worked or what you did. But leaving before a game ships is still considered one of the great sins of development, especially as the last stretch is often the hardest and most brutal parts of the dev process, so I know of many times that a person would just be deleted from the credits.”
In the movie industry, thanks to strong unionisation in Hollywood, the crediting climate is markedly different to how it is in video games. Strict framework and powerful guilds ensure that the names seen at the end – and more often, the front – of movies are usually well earned, coherently described and transparent in their application.
Moviegoers are used to sitting through lengthy opening segments featuring the most important production credits, a requirement mandated by the Writers Guild of America. George Lucas famously had to pay a $25,000 fine to the Guild for omitting his own personal director and producer credits from the opening of Star Wars, replacing them with the now iconic typographic scroll.
There are plenty more anecdotes about the strength of crediting regulation in Hollywood, such as an incident when The Terminator had a retrospective story credit forcibly added, after James Cameron admitted in an interview the movie’s opening was inspired by an episode of the Outer Limits TV show. Meanwhile, Ridley Scott has claimed he came up with the majority of Blade Runner 2049’s script, but receives no writing credit because he could not prove to the Writer’s Guild with tape recordings that he was involved in the process.
The Writers Guild also offers protection to directors and their control over production. According to its regulations, if a director is removed after completing more than 90 percent of a film they must be given a director credit and thus, a say in post-production.
This is why movies such as Rogue One saw Gareth Edwards – who wasn’t involved in the film’s re-shoots – retain his director credit. Similarly, Ron Howard is credited as director for his mid-production takeover of Solo from Phil Lord and Chris Miller, which offers some indication of who contributed the most work to the final movie.
The game developers we spoke to had differing views on whether similar unionisation in the games industry could solve the credits issue. Some pointed out that as the movie industry is heavily built around freelancing, crediting is far more important to those in that field (games, however, are increasingly moving towards a freelance model).
Oman, who is CEO of Fable Fortune studio Flaming Fowl, argued that it might not be a direct fit for his company. “As a small independent studio, [the Hollywood model] sounds like unnecessary regulation and paperwork for something that should be a celebration of the end of a project,” he said.
“George Lucas famously had to pay a $25,000 fine to the Guild for omitting his own personal director and producer credits from the opening of Star Wars.”
On enforced prominence, such as the idea of mandatory key credit placement in games, he said: “If you can make that happen then why not. We had intro credits when I worked on Silent Hill Shattered Memories because it started with a lengthy cinematic and it fitted the style of the game. I don’t know how we would make that work with our current project Gloomhaven – maybe we should display a random credit on every loading screen!”
However, Katharine Neil argued that the benefit of unionisation to game crediting would run deeper than simply making it clear ‘who did what’ on a given title.
“This isn’t about a developer proving they worked for 12 months on a project and that being disputed,” she said. “It’s our bosses being able to say, ‘yes, I know you did all that. But you know, what? I don’t care. I’m not putting you in the credits, because you left before the end of the project’ I think let’s get to the place where we have standards, and we legally bind employers to those standards.”
For established developers such as Oman, one of the biggest benefits of regulation would simply be the end of an often chaotic part of game development.
“The number of arguments over the credits is ridiculous,” he said. “Different departments arguing about who should appear first (art, design, programming, production?). Should the lists be alphabetical or in order of length on the project? Should a job title be the one at the end of a project or should if reflect your role for the majority of a project?”
Donkey Kong Country artist Mark Stevenson, who started at Rare during its early days, echoed Oman’s comments. He said that the often blurred roles of work life in a small team could lead to disagreements about how staff should be credited.
“When I started out at Rare you would get a single credit for what was your primary role on the title,” he said. “Although game development on smaller teams means people can wear a few different hats and often people wanted to be credited for everything they thought they contributed to.
“This kind of attitude started to get out of hand, creating credits lists started to cause friction and endless debate turning what was once deemed to be a quick simple task into a more time consuming and convoluted hassle, so management decided the teams from that point on would be just listed in alphabetical order with no attribution to their actual role or work they’d done on the game.”
It’s clear that however the regulation of game credits is solved – if it’s solved – it will not be a simple fix. Working on a game frequently sees individuals affect work beyond their own disciplines, making job roles difficult to define. Then there’s the argument of who should be included in the credits, with the biggest blockbusters often employing hundreds of individuals who almost certainly didn’t touch the game itself.
For Austin Kelmore, a developer at Ustwo and chair of the union Game Workers Unite UK, the answer is simple: everyone should be included in the staff roll – even the cleaners.
“My thoughts on who should be included in game credits have changed quite a bit over the years,” he said. “Early on, I thought only people who checked into source control should be in the credits. I was so very, very naive.
“I now believe that anyone paid by the game company or who helped out while the game was being developed should be credited. This includes HR, Finance, IT, contractors, open source developers, and cleaning staff for the building. Yes, the cleaning staff.
“Would large game teams be able to focus on development just as much if they didn’t have cleaning staff for their buildings? The easy answer is no, which means the cleaning staff contributed to the success of the game.
“If we exclude everyone that doesn’t check into source control or isn’t on the game team, we erase the additional emotional and physical labour that it takes to make games. The games wouldn’t be the same without those additional people and we should acknowledge that.
“If you already have credits, adding more people is one of the easiest things you can do, so why not do it?”