Even with the Submit button plastered near the top of the page here at PRC.net, it can often be difficult to convince those in the know to both publicly come forward with sensitive information, and allow it to be posted in a lengthy article. Truth be told, there are a lot of reputable individuals that have hit up my inbox as of late, either confirming things that we’ve posted, or offering extra tidbits assuring us we’re on the right track, but when the question of “can we publish this?” is finally launched from my end, most of the time, I get a pretty big no for an answer. And while it’s unfortunate that there are some really hilarious things I’ve learned about the world of sim racing we can’t publish, there are other things we can, which act as alternative variants of passing along the same information. Today, we’ve been pointed to one of those alternate routes, as anybody with five minutes of their time can check it out for themselves – the information isn’t exactly hidden.
By now, you’ve all heard of Yelp! – the popular online service functioning as a Metacritic for businesses. Basically, if you purchase an expensive bedroom set from your local over-priced furniture store, and upon taking everything out of the box, it’s all busted to shit, Yelp! is the place you go to express your dismay when customer service representatives inevitably hang up on you. I can’t say Yelp! is big in Canada, but when it comes to small businesses and hole-in-the-wall restaurants, Yelp! reviews mean the world to both owners and managers. Right now, the platform has obviously moved to Facebook reviews, but it’s the same thing – online feedback.
Someone has actually expanded upon this idea, and created GlassDoor, once again taking the concepts made popular by Metacritic and Yelp, but applying it to your former employers. Functioning as a spin-off of LinkedIn, but better, GlassDoor allows you to review the various jobs you’ve worked at – stating the pros and cons of each employer, as well as offering advice on how to improve the workplace experience. Obviously, teenagers are going to use this as an outlet to rage at their incompetent power-tripping manager from McDonalds, but upon some creative digging, there’s a world of information pertaining to sim racing just begging to be discovered. While iRacing and Electronic Arts performed extremely well and appear to be held in quite high regard by former employees, other sim racing developers are ripped apart.
Despite blowing the sim racing community away with the surprise release of DiRT Rally during the spring of 2015, Codemasters appears to be struggling behind closed doors. Two unique individuals draw attention to the exact same cluster of problems currently plaguing the development team – money is tight, barely anyone is left, and things are looking grim for the company that once brought us the wildly popular Colin McRae Rally series. Both former employees note the roster of staff members was fantastic, drawing attention to the on-site cafeteria, yet ultimately cite management issues as the studio’s biggest problem. The recent acquisition of the entire staff from Evolution Studios may have been an attempt at turning things around, but that’s one thing we won’t learn until the restructured team’s new IP launches at some point in the future.
One interesting comment to make note of, is that the individual responsible for the review on the left side of the screenshot believes many pieces of positive feedback left on GlassDoor have been the product of Codemasters’ PR team themselves, working to counter-act the numerous harsh truths dragging down the company’s overall rating. Sim Racers like to pretend viral marketing doesn’t exist, and some believe it’s all just this big conspiracy invented by obsessive video game nerds with too much time on their hands, but former employees from a prominent racing game developer treat this as a seemingly normal tactic in this situation.
Judging by this feedback, it’s easy to understand why F1 2015 was a mess, and why DiRT Rally needed to go the route of Steam’s Early Access program. The studio was more or less dying a slow, painful death.
Slightly Mad Studios
You knew these guys would appear in this article; that was the easy prediction. What nobody could have guessed was the exact feedback these two anonymous individuals would have to offer – so let’s get the easy stuff out of the way: The pay, according to the first review, was horrible, and you essentially worked as a freelance artist with little time for holidays. And considering the team revolved around hiring as many freelance individuals as possible, there didn’t appear to be much room to grow – you were essentially working on an rFactor mod for Ian Bell. The lack of holidays and reliance upon each employee setting their own timetable… That’s something only the employees themselves will be bothered by. As a customer, this won’t have an effect on anyone, nor does it directly relate to the quality of titles such as Project CARS.
However, the two reviews above explain exactly why Slightly Mad Studios continue to push out unfinished titles after numerous delays, titles which feature a plethora of truly embarrassing bugs. The “work from home” approach taken by Slightly Mad Studios, a concept Red Bull Gaming deemed to be revolutionary, is said to be “frustrating,” “disorganized,” and “extremely slow” in execution. Former employees note that due to the extreme difference in time zones, problems take days, not minutes, to get solved, because the guy you need to ask for help, simply isn’t at his computer or even awake when you need him to be. Another former employee describe the situation being so bad, you more or less had to leave your PC on 24/7, and always be prepared to work – again, thanks to time zones throwing everybody off. The second review also notes certain upper level staff members at Slightly Mad Studios could communicate to their employees in a more positive manner, though he doesn’t specify which superior this comment was directly intended for. Anybody want to take a guess?
A final tidbit that may shed some light on what appears to be a strange way of doing things over at Slightly Mad Studios, is the second review’s subtle nod towards the tendency for the company to pick up random projects at a moment’s notice. At least five different titles were all supposedly under development by the team throughout the past year or two, but apparently this approach was simply too much for employees to handle, and it became genuinely confusing for them to constantly be switching tasks.
It all paints a very interesting picture of how Slightly Mad Studios operates. The generic PR babble boasting about the revolutionary way of doing things has turned out to be a complete fabrication – their own employees hate it, and it’s the biggest source of stress because basically nothing gets done. And of course, when nothing gets done, the product suffers.
How will these companies recover? Only time can answer that question.
Codemasters appears to be on the rise once again, as F1 2016 looks to re-implement features which were strangely absent in last year’s title – and this is thanks in no small part to the acquisition of Evolution Studios staff members. Not only is there another DiRT game on the way, a brand new IP will soon be unveiled, and nobody has any clue what it might be – the sky is the limit, and after DiRT Rally surprised the shit out of everybody, maybe it’s best for Codemasters to randomly drop an awesome title on us, all over again.
On the flip-side, I personally can’t understand how Slightly Mad Studios continues to operate without many individuals asking key questions – from what I can discern thanks to the insight of the two reviews above, the team more or less raised a bunch of money to hire as many freelance individuals as they could, and operated like a giant rFactor modding team rather than a cohesive studio. This approach may have worked in the early 2000’s, when the GTR titles were more or less payware mods powered by the isiMotor engine, but you can only do this for so long in the modern video game landscape before it all comes crashing down.