Rubin: Metro: Last Light budget was 10 percent of competitors'

Former THQ president Jason Rubin claims developer 4A Games was "never playing on a level field," says devs worked in freezing temperatures when heat went out.

Former THQ president Jason Rubin has opened up on the challenges developer 4A Games faced during the development of the warmly received Metro: Last Light.

In a Games Industry International column, Rubin said the Kiev, Ukraine studio was at a disadvantage from the get-go and had just a fraction of the budget of its competitors.

"Let's be honest: 4A was never playing on a level field," Rubin said. "The budget of Last Light is less than some of its competitors spend on cut scenes, a mere 10 percent of the budget of its biggest competitors. Yet it is lauded for its story and atmosphere."

"It is built on a completely original and proprietary second-generation engine that competes with sequels that have stopped numbering themselves, with more engineers on their tech than 4A has on the entire project," he went on. "Yet its tech chops are never in question."

Compounding the struggles for 4A Games was the working conditions for the Ukrainian team at its office Kiev, Rubin said. He claimed the studio's office was undersized and that developers sat on folding chairs elbow-to-elbow.

"And all of this is compounded by the conditions this Ukrainian team works under in Kiev. The entire 4A studio would fit easily in the (underutilized) gym at EA Los Angeles' offices," Rubin said. "Yet Last Light's Metacritic score blows away Medal of Honor: Warfighter. As undeniably fantastic as competitor BioShock Infinite may be, the team was given whatever resources they needed to make the title. At the same time, 4A's staff sat on folding wedding chairs, literally elbow-to-elbow at card tables in what looks more like a packed grade school cafeteria than a development studio."

Rubin went on to explain that when 4A Games needed another development kit or a high-end PC, someone from the studio had to fly to the United States and sneak it back to Ukraine in a backpack or else it be "seized at the border by thieving customs officials."

He also said that the Ukrainian government's heating facilities break down a few times a year for a week at a time. This did not keep 4A Games staffers from coming to work, Rubin said.

"Then 4A works in their parkas and struggles to keep their fingers warm in temperatures well below freezing. That is unless it snows and they get stuck home for a few days at a time because snow clearing isn't up to Western standards," he said.

Rubin explained that it is not his intention to guilt gamers into buying Metro: Last Light with his report of the working conditions for 4A Games. Rather, he said much in the same way that sports fans may have been more interested in Jeremy Lin after learning he received no scholarships and went to the NBA undrafted, the same can be true for 4A Games.

"If you care about the art of making games then you have to care about more than the final product," Rubin said. "The struggle and the journey becomes part of the story. Like sport, you cheer when the underdog comes from behind, and triumphs in the face of incredible odds."

Metro: Last Light launched yesterday for Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, and PC published by Deep Silver, which acquired the franchise from THQ in January for $5.8 million. For more, check out GameSpot's review.

Written By

Want the latest news about Metro: Last Light?

Metro: Last Light

Metro: Last Light

Discussion

412 comments
Emraldo
Emraldo

I hope these men are paid their weight in gold. I had no idea they were so incredibly dedicated.

vinnypharmacist
vinnypharmacist

Now we have it. Many of our developers are spoiled. We need to take away their AC, cramp them in a small room, and no time off until the project is finished.

thorn3000
thorn3000

well, wonder what would happen if somebody came out with working conditions in customer support for any number of big companies, might make people less inclined to say their horrible

Chushingura
Chushingura

This is a great example of how ppl 's can achienve something great if they really love what to do... My respect to A4

buginajar
buginajar

I've been to the Ukraine, and I've had my iPhone and my laptop's extra batteries confiscated by customs. For the iPhone they said the didn't know what it was and that it looked "suspicious", I had ran out of juice and couldn't turn it on. As for the laptop batteries, they just said it looked "suspicious". I was told I could recover them on my way back to the states, which I tried to do but then of course there was no record of any items ever been taken away from me. Oh and when they are confiscating your stuff they speak perfect English  when you try to get it back they "don't speak English sorry". Bunch of thieves.

l777l
l777l

My respect for the men at 4A.

jinzo9988
jinzo9988

Like I've said before, most companies are spending an ungodly amount of money on their AAA games and it -can- be done for much less.  They're going to spend themselves into bankruptcy.  I realize that these guys probably get paid less than they deserve, but come on, it's not like they're getting paid 90% less.  For 10% of a competitor's budget they made an awesome looking game graphically, the gameplay is great, the story and atmosphere is great... I mean they hit it out of the park. 

Blue_Tomato
Blue_Tomato

All I can see here is slave labor making a company rich with their hard efforts, well done.

evil_snuggles
evil_snuggles

its not the size of the dog in the fight its the size of the heart in the dog in the fight 4a have LION HEARTS may GOD bless you 

Syphen_bast
Syphen_bast

I salute thee Jason Rubin and your team, for hardship and triumph above all odds! 

Mahsat
Mahsat

If they could do something like this under such conditions,wait to see what they'll come up with if they set their office at Chernobyl plant...masterpiece!  

Falzonn
Falzonn

So did they save all that money due to the lower salary/ cost of living in Ukraine or because  they're a talented and efficient studio?  Maybe both?  I can only hope that the employees got paid well enough compared to others in their area.

Here's hoping Metro brings in enough money that the studio can/will improve the working conditions a bit.

Motroucet
Motroucet

Life imitates art and they have my utmost respect!

charlieholmes
charlieholmes

Why is it these lil guys can make a great, immersive game like this while the big boys of EA, Activision, etc. can't? Is it because of the fact that 4A don't do MP tacking on a lackluster SP experience? I think maybe so, but they've got me hooked with the way they make games. I wish COD, BF3, and MOH could somehow grab onto some of what these guys can accomplish in their games. Very high quality and worth playing. Pretty sure BF4 is going to only be about the MP leaving me out of the mix.

DPadio
DPadio

big like for my fellow slavs of 4A Games, keep doing the great job you've done so far, really loving both metro games, the gaming industry would lose it's heart without devs like you!

jhonMalcovich
jhonMalcovich

Sounds like they have a scrooge dev studio owner. They certainly don´t sell their game for 5 rubles, but for 50 us dollars. So to where all the money goes. Last time I checked, chairs didn´t cost a fortune in Ukraine. And in Russia we have this wondeful thing called an electric heater we use when government's water-based heaters break down. You can buy them in any electric store.

Sheik2
Sheik2

These are the guys who deserve my money, not EA and their shitty medal of honor.

powerdesignkid
powerdesignkid

The number of people that have to "sign off" on a project is one thing can drag the project down. The truly talented people at a company are those that actually create the game, not the execs or upper management or the marketing department. Those talented people would probably rather sit in a cold room and build what they want than have to get approval from management.

santinegrete
santinegrete

Now I feel like shit for using the 37.50 coupon on dealzon :(

MAD_AI
MAD_AI

Wish Deep Silver would buy GSC, another Ukranian dev and in deep financial trouble. Then 4A and GSC can make S.T.A.L.K.E.R 2.

Evil_Rage
Evil_Rage

As a PC gamer I wholly appreciate attention to visuals especially since I play all my games using Nvidia 3D Vision and think its truly amazing, but wish Nvidia would support their 3D solution more. Visuals are not everything and throwing millions and millions into graphical development for stale franchises, like Call of Duty, doesn't make it a better game just because my graphic card can't "max" the settings out, which I don't care for, I don't enable high amounts of anti-aliasing because I can, I rather play at a high resolution and get free anti-aliasing.

Too many studios/publishers/developers are spending way too much money marketing the game, I see nothing bad about them wanting exposure, but when you spend massive amounts of your budget that could have gone into the game development I disagree.

DinoBuster
DinoBuster

Both Metro games, and consequently, the Stalker games as well come off as projects the developers "wanted" to make, rather than merely working on a game for a paycheck. The collective passion of these guys has come across in all of their games I've played so far, and while it is unfortunate that they had to work in such conditions, it's also inspiring to hear that it didn't hamper their vision one bit.

Gankstar_VX84
Gankstar_VX84

not out in the uk yet, have to wait till tomorrow. getting PC version though :d


Lord_Python1049
Lord_Python1049

This is terrible! Talented team deserves better pay and work environment. 

omnimodis78
omnimodis78

@Chushingura When I got hired into my first management position, I was grateful, and truly so - I didn't care that I had to work in an office that was originally a staff kitchen (with pipes still sticking out the wall) or that I got paid crap - I was passionate about what I did and where I was and I got satisfaction out of it.  Fast forward some time and I got a different job with better pay and higher profile company, but it was just a job - and you couldn't have made me work an extra hour without paying me, and I did only what I had to, not a gram more!  Passion is everything.  Fuck the companies that don't get this...

Chushingura
Chushingura

@buginajar yup balkans and north area of the balkans is a mess.. especially Skopje and Romania..

philMcCrevis
philMcCrevis

@Blue_Tomato that is the most ignorant statement i could possibly have read.  these are employees that are passionate about the game they are making, willing to endure such conditions to get their work done!  It is pride, commitment, passion and dedication not something ugly as you suggest.  fool

thorn3000
thorn3000

@Falzonn as to improving, the salary I wager will not be raised, simply because it matches salaries there, so if those people do not want to work normally there are loads of other waiting in front of the door

thorn3000
thorn3000

@Falzonn the salaries for developers in Ukraine when compared to US are 1/10 perhaps, same reason why many big companies have development studios all over India

philMcCrevis
philMcCrevis

@Falzonn the employees are chained naked to heaters, eat ramon noodles for lunch and each others feces at night like human centipedes.  water was not wasted on employees.  if one could no longer perform, he or she was fed to the remaining programmers.

And this is how this beautiful game was made.

CaptWaffle
CaptWaffle

@charlieholmes  

Chemistry.  A small, talented group with chemistry can out-produce a large, monolithic group that has a large portion of it's workforce simply there for a paycheck.  Simply collecting paychecks is completely cool in a lot of areas of employment... but when it comes to something requiring large amounts of creativity.... I'll take the smaller, high-chemistry group that has lots of talent.  There are quite a few game designers that fit the 4A mold... and most of them tend to produce "Cult Hits".

CaptWaffle
CaptWaffle

@jhonMalcovich  

It's not like they got rich off Metro 2033.... it sold decently for a long period of time... hopefully "Last Light" gets them over-the-top, financially.  And remember: they only get to keep 50% of their money anyways due to taxes

Falzonn
Falzonn

@jhonMalcovich I wondered a bit about that myself.  Just how small was this budget?  Now I can't quite make a judgment call without more to the story, but the cynic in me worries that management just didn't care about their employees at all.  I wonder how many hours the employees had to put in.  Major kudos to them for persevering through it all.

philMcCrevis
philMcCrevis

@santinegrete you piece of chit....you should kill yourself out of respect for the gravity of your mistake.  may you roast in hell

Nodashi
Nodashi

@santinegrete No need to - if they had 10% the budget, they'll break even with 10% the cash. They'll probably gain a TON of money with this title if it was SO cheap to make.

ryanreynolds
ryanreynolds

@MAD_AI 
But GSC are not in a fnancial trouble,let alone deep one. Lack of funds was not the reason S.T.A.L.K.E.R 2 was canceled. I wish people could understand that already.

Blue_Tomato
Blue_Tomato

@philMcCrevis @Blue_TomatoI talk from experience, game companies routinely exploit peoples passion for making games, sucking them dry and taking all the profits. Go work a few decades in the game industry, then come back and tell me who is ignorant. I do not care much for your personal attacks, not classy at all.

CaptWaffle
CaptWaffle

@thorn3000 @Falzonn  

I strongly disagree:  Deep Silver will have to pay these guys to keep them..... Metro 2033 was more of a Cult Classic.... but it appears that Metro Last Light is having more of a wider appeal.  4A has shown that 2033 was not a fluke....

decebal
decebal

@Nodashi

@santinegrete

I've been working for the past 6 months on a game which I plan to release soon. My budget for the game was 0, as I did not pay myself. According to your theory, if my customers pay 0 for it, I will break even. Would you want to live in a world where that's considered fair?

If they had 10% of the budget, it means the rest of 90% came at their own personal sacrifices. Compensating them with only 10% of the cash, means that the other 90% of their efforts were in vain. 

philMcCrevis
philMcCrevis

@decebal what in gods name are you talking about.  talk about randomly working self-interests into your own remarks.  I have a feeling no matter the subject, you would find a way to tie in your upcoming release.  i can't wait to read KVO's review of thisone!