Métro de Montréal unravels below the surface of Montreal, Quebec, like so many spools of yarn. Introduced in 1966, the rapid transit system has grown from 26 stations to 68 that span over 43 miles. Service begins at 5:30 on weekday mornings; the last train on each line runs between 12:30 and 1:00 a.m. On average, 1,367,200 passengers ride the Montreal Metro across four lines that crisscross one another to serve the Greater Montreal area--the most populous metropolitan region of Quebec with a population of just over four million.
On March 6, one Quebecer boarded a train at Longueuil station, switched lines at Berri-UQAM, and arrived at Champs de Mars, a former military-parade-space-turned-public-park offering grassy banks and tourist attractions. The Montérégie public health department determined that this passenger had also taken the Metro earlier, on February 24, and had detailed information on where they had gone and at what times on that occasion as well.
Following a passenger's tracks was unusual, to say nothing of immoral. Releasing that information to the public was even more unusual and a flagrant violation of privacy, but necessary.
The passenger in question had exhibited symptoms of COVID-19.
Officials from Montérégie's public health department revealed that three other Quebecers displaying symptoms of the novel coronavirus had traveled the Montreal Metro between February and mid-March. Anyone could do the math. Of the 1.3 million passengers who rode the Metro every day, anyone could have crossed paths with the infected travelers and become vectors for the disease.
Montérégie public-health director Julie Loslier assured the public that the risk of contracting COVID-19 on public transit was low. The department shared the routes, she explained, so travelers "can be more vigilant about monitoring their symptoms, such as fever, cough, respiratory difficulties or chest pain."
At the time, Quebec had only "a handful" of confirmed cases of COVID-19 according to the Montreal Gazette. By early March, the total rose to 13. Quebec's government took steps to mitigate the spread of the disease. Organizers of indoor events with more than 250 people were encouraged to cancel. Quebecers returning from travel were asked to self-isolate for at least 14 days, a request for the general public that was made mandatory for anyone in the education, public health, and childcare fields. Bus drivers taped barriers around seats to promote social distancing, and asked passengers to enter from the rear door of the vehicle.
By March 23, the situation had grown more serious. The government issued isolation guidelines, and public transit groups limited their services to essential travel only. Game developers in Montreal--ranked among the top five game-dev cities in the world, and home to 40 of Canada's 100 or so studios--reacted much sooner.
Dave Richard, a creative director at Behaviour Interactive, had been keeping tabs on the situation for weeks. His routine most mornings back in February had been to rehearse the talk he planned to give at the upcoming Game Developers Conference, scheduled to take place at San Francisco's Moscone Center in March. As February wore on, his trip seemed less and less likely. Every day, it seemed, studios pulled out of GDC to prioritize the health of their employees as COVID-19 crept around the globe. Facebook was out. So was Blizzard Entertainment, Sony, Iron Galaxy, Electric Arts, Microsoft, Epic Games… On February 28, the organizers of GDC announced the show's postponement.
"This made it quite real for us; the anxiety spikes were real," Richard recalls.
As a creative director, Richard was just as responsible for the developers making games as he was the games themselves. Behaviour is one of Canada's largest independent games studios, employing more than 500 people across a range of disciplines. Richard and other directors went to Remi Racine, Behaviour's founder, and asked what options were being considered.
According to Racine, nothing was off the table. Behaviour would pivot as needed to keep its employees safe.
On March 12, as government officials revealed plans to reduce the spread of COVID-19, Racine distributed an internal communication to all employees. "The goal of this communication was to acknowledge the situation, and also share with all employees the various steps the company was talking to reduce the risks related to the pandemic," says Stefan Beauchamp-Daniel, producer on Behaviour's hit multiplayer game Dead by Daylight.
Management's goals were all-encompassing. Cleaning schedules were increased. Travel schedules for events and other business trips were cut back. And any employee who felt more comfortable working from home could fill out a form and submit it to their manager. That alone communicated the seriousness of COVID-19.
Behaviour has a reputation for enacting preventative measures to protect its employees from insidious industry practices such as unchecked overtime, known as crunch. A typical workday for everyone, management or otherwise, begins around 8:30. Employees begin filtering out at 4:30. By 6:00, the office is a ghost town. In the games industry, core hours, the time of day when all hands should be on deck to assist with production, roughly span 10:00 a.m. until 2:00. Being in the same building, preferably in the same room, during those hours facilitates rapid responses to requests for changes or fixes, and conversations about the state of projects. For that reason, work-from-home, or WFH, was atypical at Behaviour and most studios with hundreds of employees. Before the pandemic, the studio had no policy for remote work; employees were expected to come to the office.
Behaviour was not alone in taking unorthodox steps to protect its people. As of March 19, Poland's government had documented 325 confirmed cases of COVID-19 and five deaths; testing centers were shut down after personnel tested positive for the virus. Weeks later, the number of confirmed cases exploded to 4,400 with 107 deaths. Experts feared the pandemic would rampage through Poland unchecked. Testing was limited, and medical workers were battling shortages of equipment from face masks to gloves as assiduously as they were fighting to save patients. Their status on the front lines was taking its toll: one-sixth of the country's confirmed cases were among healthcare workers.
Like Behaviour, management at People Can Fly, the Warsaw-based creators of action games like Bulletstorm and Outriders, had been aware of COVID-19's deadly potential for weeks. "We were travelling for the Outriders reveal events in late January and early February," says Bartek Kmita, creative director on Outriders. "We were already discussing the potential implications of it then, as we were passing through several major transit hubs. I don’t think any of us imagined what was about to happen, though."
Techland, a fellow Polish studio located in Wrocław and known for its action-horror games Dead Island and Dying Light, was also an early adopter of safety measures. So early that management announced precautions before any confirmed cases of COVID-19 had been revealed. "Employees who traveled to different countries were put on quarantine before coming back into the office," says senior PR manager Ola Sondej. "We made hand sanitizers available all around the studio for those who decided to stay at work, and as soon as the situation progressed, nearly all of us were sent home."
The situation in the United States was, and continues to be, in flux. President Trump and his medical advisors argued over the severity over COVID-19 almost daily. Consequently, it was up to local and state governments to take charge. Stay-at-home orders were issued throughout February and March. For Relentless Studios, maker of team-based shooter Crucible to be published by Amazon Games, the disease hit close to home. A retirement center approximately 30 minutes away from the studio's Seattle location reported multiple confirmed cases in early March. Management at Relentless acted swiftly.
"We started by sending an early warning notice asking the entire team to ensure they were capable of working from home just in case," remembers Colin Johanson, franchise leader. "We followed that within a week by asking everyone to work from home if they possibly could. For those who couldn’t work from home, we told them they should move to working from home as quickly as possible."
At the time Behaviour Interactive offered employees a WFH policy beginning on March 16, roughly half signed up. Management knew that extending the option of WFH was a best-case scenario. Judging by the spread of COVID-19, things were bound to get worse, and fast.
"At that moment, while we were still only opening up an option for employees to work remotely, we were also considering the worst-case scenario where we would be forced to close out our offices," says Dead by Daylight producer Stefan Beauchamp-Daniel. "By the end of the day on March 17, almost every employee was able to work remotely, with only a small minority deciding to come in office on the 18th."
IT teams at Behaviour, Relentless Studios, People Can Fly, and Techland had spent weeks preparing for the inevitable. Some of Behaviour's employees made do by working on their home PCs. "It does get a little more complicated for employees who specialize in concept art, modeling, animation, gameplay programming, and quality testing," says Beauchamp-Daniel, who is able to work on his home PC. "In these cases, from a legal, security, and efficiency standpoint, they have had to move most of their work hardware at home."
All Behaviour employees connect to servers using remote-access options that grant access to all the resources they would have at the office. "For security reasons, we need people to work on Behaviour hardware, so we shipped PCs and console kits and monitors to the employees' homes," adds Mathieu Côté, product evangelist for Dead by Daylight and Behaviour's resident studio historian. "We even made sure to ship chairs to those who didn't have a comfortable setup at home. On that front, I was fine too. I take my gaming setup seriously."
"I was personally astounded by our IT team," says Behaviour's Dave Richard. "All this has been prepared in complete discretion to spare the easily anxious… like myself." Richard uses an iMac at home, a machine he described as "less than ideal" for playing Dead by Daylight, and much less so for testing the latest versions of the game. Fortunately, the IT department made it simple to connect his office workstation to the network, and ensured that all necessary programs were cloud-based.
Logistics at Amazon Games-affiliated studios such as Relentless were a tad trickier. Amazon deploys strict security protocols that require IT specialists to make a few changes for home computers to sync with its internal network. Exceptions had to be made as everyone reacted to COVID-19 quickly yet carefully. "Many of our team did not initially have systems that could be safely used from home," says Louis Castle, co-founder of Command & Conquer studio Westwood and head of Relentless since March 2017. "In those cases, employees used remote solutions and eventually we will replace the systems with ones capable of use from home."
Amazon ensured that developers, who had never planned to work from home long-term because they never saw a need to, had all the comforts of the office. "We’ve ordered a full array of items to help folks work from home effectively, from headphones, mice, extra monitors, and even a few desks," adds Colin Johanson, franchise leader on Crucible at Relentless.
Johanson praised the studio's operations leader, who's done everything from order the equipment to keep employees comfortable at home to build custom machines suited to an individual's needs. "She’s also been able to coordinate onboarding new employees hired in the middle of the pandemic period while the office is closed, which has been amazing. I don’t know where we would be without her in this situation."
"We were all using online communications methods anyway, so communication has not suffered," says People Can Fly's Bartek Kmita, creative director on Outriders. "In many ways, WFH can be very practical."
Transitioning from on-site to WFH is a leap more than a step. Adapting to changing circumstances and keeping remote operations running smoothly is another hurdle, one that must be jumped continually. Over the first two to three weeks following widespread adoption of WFH policies throughout the industry, issues stemming from stability—running machines connected to software on a cloud instead of running locally, managing assets like artwork, sound, and code with everyone scattered instead of in the same room—cropped up.
Managers at Behaviour tighten screws as they go, while maintaining a steady stream of communication about events inside and outside their companies. "We do have a few official messages with procedure from HR or IT, but most of the communication is made in a very humble and transparent way," Behaviour's Côté says of studio leader Remi Racine's updates. "I think it plays a big part in making people feel that we are all in this together."
Not all issues are as easily fixed as technical hiccups. Behaviour's Dave Richard feels nuances of conversation are lost without face-to-face interactions. "We have marvelous tools to communicate remotely, but we're used to a rhythm and body language when talking in person that just doesn't work through a webcam or a text. It's easy to falsely interpret an emotion when you do not see the person you are exchanging with. This can create unhelpful tensions."
Brainstorming and decision-making doesn't always happen according to a schedule in creative industries. "We’ve found we need to over-communicate across multiple channels to keep people connected," says Johanson of Relentless. "One of the things we’ve found we’re losing is the little hallway conversations, the ad-hoc discussions around the play test lab, and the emergent discussions from people sitting near one another that happen naturally."
Ola Sondej says Techland's developers "now spend a great deal of time in online meetings, which won’t replace talking face to face."
Directors and managers are doing their best to fill the gaps left by in-person meetings with remote solutions. Many studios have a policy of daily standups, meetings where members of a team give updates on what they're working on, what needs to happen next, and which sub-teams within the larger scope of production they need to collaborate with to make it happen. Once Dead by Daylight's developers were set up at home, Beauchamp-Daniel carried over these events to voice calls. "I consider myself lucky and don’t feel too negatively affected by this, but with the social distancing currently in effect, these calls are also an opportunity for every individual on the project to directly interact with other human beings, which can be somewhat limited for some of us outside of work."
While Behaviour's developers text occasionally, Beauchamp-Daniel says that more frequent voice calls have resulted in decisions being made quicker. "The balance is still definitely in favor of text chat, having increased our text-based communication since the transition."
Frequent voice calls and video chats serve another need, one that many are struggling with all around the world regardless of their industry. Behaviour's Côté has seen daily standups transformed "into a 'daily stand-up and how's everyone feeling' meeting. On top of that, managers have been reminded that one-on-one meetings used to be very important, but have now been stepped up to critical" in order to stay connected to developers who are more keenly feeling the loss of daily interactions.
Johanson has seen meetings evolve at Relentless as well. "We’re attempting to compensate with team chat channels, more frequent team syncs and communications, remote team standups, and remote events for smaller strike teams to try and create more team bonding." Those standups usually take place in a conference room, and typically stick to business so developers can get back to creating Crucible. Now, developers have carved out chunks of virtual meetings to trade fun comments such as discussion over memes, and riff on what their peers are saying.
"Our weekly team meeting has effectively become a weekly Twitch stream for the team, and the discussions in the chat channel have been amazing and really added life to the meeting. It has given everyone a voice and a chance to ask questions easily, which has massively increased the audience participation for this meeting."
In fact, the daily calls have been so successful that Johanson believes their spirit will return to the office with employees. "It has simply made it a better, more collaborative, and more fun meeting for our entire team."
The game industry's transition to WFH has demanded changes on macro and micro scales. On a macro level, studio leads had to figure out how to keep development flowing. On a micro level, the developers who had to leave their cubicles or personal offices had to make the best of their personal lives colliding with their careers.
"You are free to shift time around the day, but you need to be available during core hours," says Remi Veilleux, technical director at Behaviour. "Of course we understand and accommodate with the daily family routine of people at home. All in all, my schedule remained similar, except that I can game more and wake up later."
Behaviour's Dave Richard sees bright sides to relocating. He's gone from a two-hour commute each way, to the time it takes him to walk from the bedroom to his home office where he's been working since March. "Some of my colleagues with young kids have more issues working during the day, so they shuffle their schedules around and do part of their hours during the evening. We find ways to accommodate individuals' situations and team needs."
Dead by Daylight producer Stefan Beauchamp-Daniel has tried to stick to his usual routine: work from 8:30 until 5:00 p.m., with an hour for lunch squeezed in where he sees fit. There are components of being in the office that he misses, such as being "on the floor" at Behaviour, which has an open floor plan so that anyone can see and talk to anyone. One of the benefits, however, is his ability to focus on a task or problem without being interrupted by someone needing to talk to him, or being unable to avoid hearing a discussion close by.
There are downsides. At the office, Richard's kids can't plop down beside him and share their opinions on the highs and lows of the game they're playing on Switch. External factors can add as much stress as work concerns. "We usually don't have to plan so much before going into the supermarket war zone," Richard adds. "It is essential to note that we are not merely working from home, we are working from home in quarantine. The stress levels of these troubling times affect productivity."
For all the technical magic worked by IT teams, some aspects of development fall short when working remotely, or disappear entirely. "The obvious issue is that we can’t get a crew together to do anything right now. Traditional mocap or voiceover productions are not something we can do at the moment," says People Can Fly's Bartek Kmita.
Cloud-based alternatives only reach so far. Behaviour technical art director Johnny Sabelli relished being able to bunker down on tasks he hadn't been able to concentrate on at the office. Nearly two months into WFH, he's seeing diminishing returns. "To some extent this is because of the amount of writing and discussion when connecting through Microsoft teams, which is essential for good communication within our production, but can be time consuming."
Behaviour's leadership has done its best to help its people stay connected. "We've seen a lot of little virtual game nights and movie-watching groups pop up on our social channels," says Mathieu Côté. "People stick together and show great empathy and support. It's kinda nice."
Colin Johanson, franchise leader at Relentless Studios, has two young kids at home. His wife works at a company that has transitioned to WFH as well, but that means one or both has to take time away from work to manage the little ones. "Every Sunday we print our schedules for the week and play a weird mix of meeting Tetris and scheduling Jenga to arrive at a plan that works for the week for each of us."
Johanson and his wife are among countless other partners who have struggled to find a balance between making sure their kids continue their education and keeping them entertained when they're not e-learning, all while squeezing in time to get work done. "One thing that’s varying day to day is what we’re drinking each night after we get the kids to bed," he says, laughing. "Though the wildly rotating schedules are challenging, I feel extremely fortunate to be employed right now and that our entire family is healthy."
Despite Herculean efforts by teams around the world, the WFH transition has caused production setbacks. Relentless Studios and Amazon Games slated Crucible's release for March. Days before COVID-19 escalated in Seattle, the team returned from a preview event where they had shown the game to members of the press, and acted quickly to move to WFH. They weren't quick enough. "We knew it would be hugely disruptive to our ability to close out the final parts of the game and be prepared to launch," says Colin Johanson. "We delayed two weeks to mid-April to give time to account for the shift."
When COVID-19 showed no signs of dissipating by April, Relentless pushed Crucible back until May 20 "to ensure the team, our friends/family, and our players were not potentially at the projected peak in the midst of Crucible’s launch," Johanson continues.
"Our other game teams made some scope adjustments, but more or less have stayed on schedule for the time being," adds Relentless head Louis Castle.
Behaviour's leaders reassigned staff and made short-term sacrifices to keep development of games like The Archives, add-on content for Dead by Daylight, and the release of Dead by Daylight Mobile on track. It was a struggle, according to product evangelist Mathieu Côté, but "the team has shown a tremendous level of engagement to make this work."
That engagement has paid off. Dead by Daylight Mobile was released in April. Behaviour also released Game of Thrones: Beyond the Wall, a defense game set in George R. R. Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire/Game of Thrones universe. "We're still in the thick of it, so we never know, we might need to postpone or modify the offering of scheduled releases to adapt to the situation," says Dave Richard, creative director.
Despite more fun transpiring over team calls, the effects of sticking close to home as much as possible are taking a toll. "We are in our fifth week of this lockdown," Johnny Sabelli, technical art director at Behaviour, tells me at the time of our interview, "and I believe we are starting to see that the motivation and inspiration that we require as individuals on a daily basis, that social interaction aspect of our work that we thrive on, is now lacking."
Stefan Beauchamp-Daniel noted that the first two or three weeks of the transition within Behaviour were the most stressful. Now that the dust has settled, he misses the little things. He lives 15 minutes from the office, and looked forward to that twice-daily walk as time to clear his head. It's not a great loss, he adds, but micro losses can add up. "Some people might have had to cut down on hobbies they love due to the situation. All of us have had to adapt our social habits and adjust to keep our relationships active during these strange times."
Over the last few months, medical experts and psychologists have disseminated information on the physical, mental, and emotional effects of social isolation. They warned, for instance, that longer periods of quarantine would result in anger and symptoms of post-traumatic stress; that the loss of normalcy would result in malaise and short tempers; that the fear of becoming sick, and of loved ones being infected, could be overwhelming.
Those symptoms have manifested nearly everywhere. As flights resumed over April and May, attendants had their hands full with passengers whose anxieties--over loved ones, over loss of employment, over their own health--boiled over when they boarded flights only to find them booked to capacity, necessitating that passengers sit dangerously close during a time when most countries still encouraged social distancing.
Game developers are as susceptible to the tolls of quarantine as anyone. The best thing you can do, cautions Dead by Daylight producer Stefan Beauchamp-Daniel, is exercise self-care. "In the current situation, I think it’s essential to listen to yourself, identify your pain points, and react as soon as possible if something is putting you in a bad mood or an unhappy state. If you’re unable to put the finger on it yourself, reach out to a friend, colleague or family and talk about it. Things are changing on a daily basis, and it’s really difficult for anyone to predict how long this will be going for, and what the situation going to look like in weeks or months from now."
The cancellation of industry events such as E3 and the Game Developers Conference was for the best, but caused widespread disruptions. GDC is an event where bright-eyed developers circulate their resumes and portfolios in the hopes of getting their foot in the door of the industry, and where indie developers can raise awareness of their games. For many, E3 is the one time a year when they can conduct business meetings with prospective partners separated by thousands of miles.
Manufacturing suffered as well. On April 2, Naughty Dog announced that The Last of Us II was near completion, but would be indefinitely delayed as a result of logistical problems caused by the pandemic. Later that month, major spoilers, including extracts of cutscenes from the anticipated game's ending, leaked online. Naughty Dog responded the same day, assuring fans that the game would live up to expectations.
Director Neil Druckmann responded the next day, stating he was "heartbroken for the team," who'd worked on the game for years, and upset for fans.
Fans and pundits speculated as to who might be responsible for the leak. At first, popular consensus pointed to a developer at Naughty Dog. The studio's infamous working conditions, such as crunches that stretch for months or years with little respite between projects and confirmed by former Naughty Dog director and writer Amy Hennig, made some guess that a disgruntled employee may have dumped assets online as a way to express their displeasure with the studio.
Others saw the rumor as a stretch. Logically, why would an employee who'd spent years working on The Last of Us II, one of the most awaited sequels of all time to one of the most critically and commercially acclaimed games ever, risk litigation from their employer, potential blacklisting within the industry, and severe blowback from peers by torpedoing their own project?
On May 2, games journalist Jason Schreier tweeted that he'd spoken with two anonymous developers at Naughty Dog, who confided that hackers exploited a glitch in an older Naughty Dog game and gained access to the company's servers. The leaked videos reportedly came from an older version of The Last of Us II.
Schreier's report debunked rumors that a disgruntled employee was responsible for the act. He added that despite the game's crunch lasting for months, as was typical at Naughty Dog, the studio had extended pay and healthcare benefits to contractors as a way to provide some relief while they worked during the pandemic.
Even with the rumor debunked, discussion around it brought up a salient point. Setting aside the possibility that unhappy employees could lash out, does WFH make a leak of any sort more possible? Are studios more vulnerable now that employees are scattered far and wide, and accessing resources through connections that may not be as secure as in-office protocols?
"Security is obviously a major concern with game development, and a challenge when it comes to remote working," says Bartek Kmita, creative director on Outriders at People Can Fly. "It’s important that everyone involved are equipped with encrypted hardware and remain cautious and responsible with how they use it."
Leaks have occurred from within Behaviour, but producer and product evangelist Mathieu Côté denies that any were malicious. "They always came from a human error. These things happen but, fortunately, every time they happen, we learn something, and we improve our pipeline so that mistakes are less likely. Working remotely has forced everyone on the team to be more attentive and careful about how they handle assets."
Arthur Bruno, founder of Grim Dawn developer Crate Entertainment, had a different perspective. "I'm not sure a physical office is any more secure in terms of preventing leaks. I mean, unless you prohibit people from bringing portable storage devices or even smartphones into work and have security checkpoints where you search them coming in and out, you can't really stop a determined employee from leaking information or content."
In fact, Bruno continued, working remotely may be more secure than intranet and similar networks. "With a remote office, you're assured that people only have access to whatever you give their local machine access to."
Bruno would know. Crate has been a remote workplace since its inception, and Bruno made efforts early on to set protocols that would establish and maintain security without forcing employees to jump through hoops to get at those assets so they can do their jobs. (Author's note: Read my full interview with Arthur Bruno here.)
On that note, Bruno raised another point. "Consider why [internal] leaks happen. I imagine either a person is upset with the company or something happening with the development of a game and wants to draw attention to it. Maybe they feel overworked and underappreciated after months of crunch and resentment has built up to the point that they want to damage the company. That or maybe they just don't care about the company and feel like they have something to gain by leaking content and not that much to lose; which could be a higher risk if you have a lot of temporary workers who know they won't be staying on after the game ships."
Working from home seems like a dream come true. One can be in one's own space, able to play music as loudly as one wants, able to dress according to comfort rather than propriety. That dream is only half true. One concern ubiquitous across all industries that permit workers to do their jobs remotely is the blurring of the line that separates personal lives from professional obligations. It's akin to separation of church and state: work happens at work; relaxation, family time, and hobbies take place at home.
Working conditions remains a popular subject in the games industry and other creative fields, where individuals are expected, tacitly or explicitly, to work around the clock. Major studios like Naughty Dog and Blizzard Entertainment harbor a culture where the first person out the door is considered to be less passionate and less dependable than those who sacrifice their free time and personal relationships for the good of the game.
Naturally, many wondered if, or how, the transition to WFH during the COVID-19 pandemic would affect production. Would the inconveniences of the policy—spotty Internet connections, having to balance working in the same space as partners and children, downtime as IT crews prepared and deployed equipment, software, and fixes—result in an increase in hours to make up ground lost because of the transition?
"The one thing that may have changed is the easy access to your computer at any point in the day, which has led to certain people possibly working more hours than they normally would," admits Johnny Sabelli, technical art director at Behaviour. "But this has never been expected or mandated by the management team since we never schedule any type of overtime."
All leadership can do, many developers opined, is foster a people-first approach to WFH. "Shipping a chapter late because of this pandemic is not cool, but it's acceptable. People feeling crushed and isolated is not acceptable," says Behaviour's Mathieu Côté. "The biggest tests have already been passed with flying colors. We managed to ship our Archives quite literally on the week of our transition to remote work, and last week we launched Dead by Daylight on mobile on the exact date we had set for ourselves and we've just reached over one million downloads. I'd call that a pretty good success."
That success came with no expectation on the team to make personal sacrifices. "There are many challenges in these unusual and difficult times, and it is a time when leaders are tested and cannot help but show their true colors," Côté continues. "It's true in government, and it's true in smaller teams too. In our case, the leaders we have are showing great organizational skill but most importantly, they are showing a lot of care and empathy."
Montreal's leaders wanted life to return to normal, but cautiously. Businesses were scheduled to reopen on May 11; schools would follow on May 19. Those and other dates are fluid. If citizens don't follow public health orders, or if COVID-19 continues to worsen, the trickle of re-openings will stop.
Quebec has reason to be optimistic. Medical specialists perform roughly 6,000 tests for COVID-19 every day; by the time this article is published, daily tests are expected to have more than doubled to 14,500. Still, officials warn that caution is paramount. As of April 30, over 1800 people have died from the disease in Quebec alone.
Elsewhere, the process of reopening businesses has proven volatile. As of May 11, Poland documented over 16,000 confirmed cases and 800 deaths among its population of 38 million. In the United States, President Trump and his team of experts hold differing opinions over when to open and how. State and local governments have once again taken matters into their own hands, with some re-opening more carefully than others.
Around the globe, game developers continue to watch the situation. People Can Fly has locations in Warsaw and New York, among other areas, and different procedures may need to be followed based on each location's policies. Management is in no hurry. The teams come first. "As restrictions ease, we want to make studio work possible for some of us. We are going step by step," says Outriders director Bartek Kmita.
Behaviour's Mathieu Côté says the studio has no timeline on when developers will return to the office, and that's fine by him. "I want everyone to be safe. I do believe our company will allow people to return to work once the government and their experts announce that it is safe to do so. I also think Behaviour will allow some people to continue working remotely in a certain measure afterwards. But none of that is clear yet."
When Behaviour opens its doors, creative director Dave Richard expects that more recent policies may remain in place, perhaps indefinitely. "It is planned to respect individual choices to stay home for quite some time in the future. The studio has been doing everything right so that we can focus on our family health."
Richard believes that returning to the office could be as jarring a transition as leaving it was back in March. Still, he continues, "at least we'll be able to see other human faces."
At Relentless, the Crucible team is still adapting to WFH, but will be ready for what comes next. "We are not quite back to full efficacy, but most of our team are close or even better," says studio head Louis Castle. "The bigger challenge—which isn’t unique to us—is the need to deal with educating from home and having multiple people in the same home who need to spend a lot of time online. We are fully supportive our staff having to manage the realities of life at home, and we are so appreciative of the hard work they are doing in the midst of all this."
For Behaviour technical director Remi Veilleux, the plan for today, for tomorrow, and as long as the world needs should be simple. "Play games, stay safe, save lives."
This article was written based on new interviews with Bartek Kmita, Louis Castle, Colin Johanson, Ola Sondej, Dave Richard, Stefan Beauchamp-Daniel, Mathieu Côté, Remi Veilleux, and Johnny Sabelli. Special thanks to Marie Claude Bernard, Liz Roland, and Steve Ruygrok for facilitating these interviews. Another thank-you to Square Enix, Behaviour Interactive, Relentless Studios, Amazon Games, Techland, and People Can Fly for agreeing to participate in this feature.
On March 6, one Quebecer boarded the metro: "Coronavirus: Quebecer with COVID-19 travelled by métro and bus," Montreal Gazette, https://montrealgazette.com/news/local-news/coronavirus-quebecer-with-covid-19-travelled-by-metro-and-bus/.
had also taken the metro earlier, on February 24: Ibid.
can be more vigilant about monitoring: Ibid.
By early March, the total rose to 13: "COVID-19 updates March 12:: Quebec starts shutting down to slow spread of coronavirus," Montreal Gazette, https://montrealgazette.com/news/local-news/live-updates-quebec-doctors-want-limits-on-travel-gatherings-to-curtail-covid-19/.
indoor events with more than 250 people: Ibid.
taped barriers around seats to promote: "Montreal-area public transit agencies step up COVID-19 safety measures following bus drivers’ lead," Global News, https://globalnews.ca/news/6690903/montreal-area-public-transit-agencies-covid-19-measures/.
ranked among the top five: "Greater Montréal – 5th video game hub in the world," Montreal International, https://www.montrealinternational.com/en/news/greater-montreal-5th-video-game-hub-in-the-world/.
home to 40 of Canada's 100 or so: "Best Cities for Video Game Development Jobs," Game Industry Career Guide, https://www.gameindustrycareerguide.com/best-cities-for-video-game-development-jobs/.
the organizers of GDC announced: "Blizzard and Amazon are the latest to cancel GDC plans. Here’s who’s not going.," The Washington Post, https://www.washingtonpost.com/video-games/2020/02/25/gdc-cancellations-coronavirus-kojima-sony-ea/.
government had documented 325 confirmed cases: "Polish coronavirus testing lab suspends work after employee tests positive," Physician's Weekly, https://www.physiciansweekly.com/polish-coronavirus-testing-lab/.
testing centers were shut down: Ibid.
confirmed cases exploded to 4,400: "Poland’s Shortchanged Health Care System Is Already Straining," Foreign Policy, https://foreignpolicy.com/2020/04/06/poland-underfunded-health-care-system-straining-unprepared-coronavirus-pis/.
one-sixth of the country's confirmed cases: Ibid.
anger and symptoms of post-traumatic stress: "What Are the Psychological Effects of a Quarantine?", Psychology Today, https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/head-games/202003/what-are-the-psychological-effects-quarantine.
only to find them booked to capacity: "Passengers flying different airlines report lack of social distancing, packed flights amid COVID-19 pandemic," ABC News, https://abc7news.com/is-it-safe-to-fly-social-distancing-flights-united-coronavirus-airlines/6171166/.
heartbroken for the team: Druckmann, Neil. Twitter post. 27 April 2020, 2:32 p.m. https://twitter.com/Neil_Druckmann/status/1254840830944112642.
popular consensus pointed to a developer: "The Last of Us 2 Spoilers Leaked by Disgruntled Employee," CBR.com, https://www.cbr.com/last-of-us-spoilers-leaked-employee/.
studio's infamous working conditions: "As Naughty Dog Crunches On The Last Of Us II, Developers Wonder How Much Longer This Approach Can Last," Kotaku, https://kotaku.com/as-naughty-dog-crunches-on-the-last-of-us-ii-developer-1842289962.
confirmed by former Naughty Dog director: "Electronic Arts’ Amy Hennig Talks About AAA Crunch," PlayStation Lifestyle, https://www.playstationlifestyle.net/2016/10/07/amy-hennig-crunch-aaa-talks-uncharted/.
spoken with two anonymous developers at Naughty Dog: Schreier, Jason. Twitter post. 3 May 2020, 6:28 a.m. https://twitter.com/jasonschreier/status/1256893466564603906.
hackers exploited a glitch in an older: Ibid.
from an older version of: "The Last of Us 2 Leaks Apparently Released by Hackers, Not Affiliated with Naughty Dog," Push Square, http://www.pushsquare.com/news/2020/05/the_last_of_us_2_leaks_apparently_released_by_hackers_not_affiliated_with_naughty_dog.
the studio had extended pay and healthcare: Schreier, Jason. Twitter post. 3 May 2020, 6:28 a.m. https://twitter.com/jasonschreier/status/1256893468263305216.
were scheduled to reopen: "'I won't hesitate' to push back Montreal's reopening if COVID-19 crisis deepens, Premier Legault warns," CTV News Montreal, https://montreal.ctvnews.ca/i-won-t-hesitate-to-push-back-montreal-s-reopening-if-covid-19-crisis-deepens-premier-legault-warns-1.4918868?cache=%3FclipId%3D104069.
perform roughly 6,000 tests for COVID-19: Ibid.
daily tests are expected to have more than double: Ibid.
over 1800 people have died from the disease: Ibid.
Poland documented over 16,000 confirmed cases: "Poland holds ghost election with 0% turnout," The Guardian, https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/may/11/poland-holds-ghost-election-with-0-turnout.
David Craddock posted a new article, Work From Quarantine: How COVID-19 Has Upended Game Development
I'll have to read this when I get a minute.
That's good stuff Craddock. Seems to be hitting it similar to a lot of other industries where WfH is a possibility.
post-covid you wonder how many of these changes will stick.
Well that was not the start I was expecting :)
Nice article. I’m surprised nobody mentioned the devkit problems and how console manufacturers allowed devs to take them home for the first time.