Avni Yerli responds candidly to criticisms of company ethics
When a developer publishes a hate-fuelled assessment of their former employer – one filled with libellous comments about layoffs, lawsuits and crunch – the decision in the director’s chair is a thorny one.
Stay silent? Wait for the news to die away? That didn’t exactly work for Australian studio Team Bondi, which has now (quietly, of course) entered administration with its reputation in tatters.
Respond to the claims? Challenge them and assure staff? That didn’t work for THQ’s Kaos, whose team feared the studio would close down, whose manager was given assurances that it wouldn’t close down, before it closed down.
History has shown it’s a lose-lose situation. The reputation of an entire company can be thrown into disarray from a single blog post.
Crytek is the next studio to be ambushed by a blogger, one who appears to be ex-staff, armed with severe allegations and accusations, of which a few seem to be accurate.
While these claims begin to circulate across social media sites, the studio’s co-founder Avni Yerli has decided to respond to them, candidly and without stipulation, in an exclusive interview with Develop.
There are a vast number of allegations to get through, but before we do is there any general statement you would like to make?
These are completely misleading accusations. One thing that will always be the same is that Crytek respects and values its employees very highly, and equally – that’s very important. Whether it’s an intern, whether it’s a director, it doesn’t change; everyone is important.
That isn’t something that goes away just in employment, that’s also in post-employment. Whether there are some people who depart who feel they have not been treated fairly, this is the first time someone has tried to harm us. I think we maintain excellent relationships with ex-employees, and we always try to.
The fact that we can make strong games and technologies is entirely down to the skill and passion of the people that we work with, and a reflection of the harmony and the competency of our team.
It is very distressing for us to think that an individual thinks we have been treating them unfairly. It’s very disappointing.
Have you lost many staff in Frankfurt since Crysis 2 finished?
The current number of employees in the new Frankfurt office is equal to the peak number of employees we had during the production of Crysis 2. That’s the thing; in the normal way that projects work, people will leave during a long production or during the end of it. People have families, have job offers, are offered interesting projects, or just want to move to a different country.
So of course people have left Crytek, but people have joined as well, and most people have left on their own actions.
So you have asked people to leave?
In some cases we ask people to leave, because going forward there are different projects and different people needed. But in this case, we always, always comply to German labour codes. And we are always supportive to those staff in ways that are far beyond what is legally required.
We offer a reasonable severance package that usually beyond the legal requirements, or at least meets the requirements. For us it’s important that people who leave the company go on good spirits.
This blog has listed numerous positions which had allegedly been targeted for redundancies, such as a global talent manager, a level designer, a senior level designer, a producers, an executive producer, a lead researcher, a community manager, and so on. Is this accurate?
Well this is interesting, because of all those positions, nine of them had left on their own accord.
Before talking to you we thought about telling you everything in the fullest detail or not, but the most important thing to say is that nine resigned, one was a contractor, and four were released. Two of those ended in court cases which we won. So never have we lost a case in accordance to labour cause.
It’s important to know, by the way, that those sixteen people listed left from a period in 2010 and to the middle of 2011.
I mean, this is the nature of the business, you have 300 people in Frankfurt, in multiple teams across multiple offices, so the positions listed on that blog were not all specifically related to the Crysis 2 project.
Why do you think there were lawsuits?
Well in Germany it is common sense, if you release someone, sometimes they get bad legal advice and basically think they can make unreasonable requests like huge severance packages. What we offered them they clearly didn’t like but it was more than legally required. So they go to court and ask for much more, but in the end they end up getting less or what we offered in the first place, and just go through the pain [of the whole legal process].
‘Won’ the lawsuits isn’t the right term. I don’t want to make glory out of this. We are not proud of ‘winning’. This is something sad that happened between us and people we used to work with. We haven’t been found to have unlawfully fired these people, but we don’t want to go to court with our co-workers either. Respecting our staff is crucial at Crytek.
The blog gives the impression that people in crucial positions, such as a senior level designer, were removed from the company and replaced by juniors.
No, the senior level designer wasn’t released, he left the company to look for a new challenge. He was here for a couple of years, worked on a few projects and moved on.
You have to understand, there are people of forty different nationalities in Frankfurt alone. So a lot of people come to Germany for a new challenge, and they of course want to move on, go back to their homeland, fall in love, anything.
There was an implication that Crytek was releasing these experienced, high-profile people as a cost-saving measure.
Rob, I can assure you, we have hired some very, very high-profile people recently.
It was strange to read the list of people on that blog, such as the chief finance officer. We don’t have one. We had a guy in finance, and he resigned, and we have just hired a high-profile chief finance officer.
That’s the thing, this blog is very misleading. I think it was written to purposefully harm us, actually.
Do you know who wrote the blog?
No, and I have much more important things to do than guess about it. What I want to do is offer clarity of what it is like to work in Crytek. It could be anyone who wrote it. It could be someone who works here now, someone who left the company, a friend of a friend. It’s a very inaccurate article, so it could have come from anyone.
The article does appear to have insider knowledge. It says that Crytek is moving office, in fact it says to one with seventy fewer seats.
I mean, exactly, that’s absolute bullshit. The new Frankfurt office is larger and has more desks than the old Frankfurt office.
It was selected by all employees together. We all together made a call about what part of the city it should be located at, and then we selected the best place we could – which by the way is much more expensive – but we wanted to find a place that was best for our teams.
Our new office is laid out for growth and not for reduction as Crytek itself is also growing and evolving.
Do you think that people at Crytek are nevertheless uncertain of their futures?
I think there was uncertainty, and it was due to the new office, people assuming that there was less space in it, which led to uncertainty. We are growing though, we evolving from a typical game developer to other… other things I can’t disclose yet [laughs] but the point is we are growing and we want to grow.
In a few months though, when we announce something, I hope you’ll remember this conversation about us growing and evolving as a company. Crytek was built to grow not just from the team size but also its… well, for now let’s say ‘competency’.
These changes might have led people to believe we were getting smaller but it is by no means the case.
There were targeted layoffs at Crytek Budapest recently; perhaps this was also a factor in people feeling nervy?
But again, Crytek Budapest had nothing to do with Crysis 2. That studio’s focus has much to do with our company’s evolution. This studio is working on mobile technology and mobile content, and this is part of our strategy for the studio going forward. This was the best studio for this task, looking at their collective past, their strengths.
Are there any more lawsuits approaching, are you expecting any?
No, none at all. And rarely have we released people in the past; it’s not part of how we build the company. It’s so important that we retain talent, but obviously we don’t want to get in people’s ways.
To be honest, it was just really surprising and disappointing to read something like this blog.
Are there any regrets?
Well, not necessarily. Well, yeah, I wish some of the people who left would have stayed, but that’s life. But there’s nothing we can do if, say, one of our staff falls in love with someone who lives in a different country. But we don’t want people to feel bad for not staying.
Let’s move on to working practices. There were allegations of six months’ crunch time.
Crunching, yes; like any game Crysis has phases of crunch. But we had not enforced weekend work – during crunch people were given the choice to work one weekend day, but only if they chose to.
How long did this go on for? Six months?
No, no, no, no, that’s ridiculous.
For how long?
I would guess, three months, maximum.
This blog associates what it calls a ‘polluted atmosphere’ with the resignations and layoffs.
I know, but these resignations that were named began in 2010, when there was no crunch work. We crunched at the end of November last year, and we offered huge compensation for this.
Thank you for responding to all the questions. Is there anything you would like to add?
Yes, I think the blog is unfair to the people who are working here at Crytek. It harms the great work they’ve done.