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Forza Motorsport Developer Shares ‘Exhausting’ Experience Making the Game

Microsoft's long-reported insistence on contract hires took its toll on the racing sim's development, one artist says.
Xbox Game Studios

Although a slew of post-launch updates have improved Forza Motorsport following the title’s October launch, it’s fair to say the franchise’s big reboot has fallen short of fan expectations. It had been six years since Forza Motorsport 7’s release, and the follow-up still hit consoles and PCs with glaring graphical and gameplay bugs, incomplete features, and an unpopular single-player campaign—not to mention the Nürburgring Nordschleife’s absence. A first-hand account of the game’s development published to YouTube by one of its artists may give us insight as to why the day-one product turned out the way it did.

Adrian Campos was employed by Forza developer Turn 10 Studios as a Senior Environment Artist on a contract basis from June 2022 to October 2023. Campos was tasked with building the terrain and scenery surrounding the circuits, “essentially everything not on the track,” in his words. His tenure began with work on Mugello and Spa-Francorchamps, but just a month and a half in, he learned that the other environment artist on the team who was showing him the ropes had to leave because their contract was ending. This, unfortunately, would become a theme of Campos’ employment.

In time, Campos says Microsoft hired three additional artists to assist him. His description of “crunch” to meet Turn 10’s target of 20 environments on launch day, particularly during the period when he was working solo, is regrettably all too common in the realm of triple-A game development. But the key here is what Campos describes as the “18/6 Rule.” Basically, the developers that Microsoft would hire on a contract basis—that is to say, for a fixed term without healthcare or benefits—could only work for a maximum of 18 months before being required to take six off.

Putting aside the obvious concern that this is generally a poor and offensive way to treat people and their livelihoods, particularly for the world’s richest corporation, the policy’s effect may also be observed in the quality of Microsoft’s releases as of late. The existence of the 18/6 Rule isn’t news—Bloomberg’s Jason Schreier reported on it way back in 2020. Halo Infinite, Xbox’s big first-person shooter tentpole for 2021, also suffered through serious problems in its first year. Not unlike Forza Motorsport, it was also known to rely on a lot of contract work. There have been reports of “steady attrition” at Halo developer 343 Industries, as the team consistently turned over contract hires and therefore couldn’t build institutionalized knowledge, which took a predictable toll on a once proud franchise. Now, the same appears to be happening to Forza Motorsport.

As for Campos, he stuck through his contract, hoping to transition it into full-time employment as many people in his situation do. “Fast forward to around June of 2023, I received an email from the contractor company that really stun-locked me. It said ‘hey, your contract is almost up.'” Campos thought he was contracted for 18 months rather than a year, and all Microsoft was willing to do for him was extend his term by a few more months.

“I feel bad—not necessarily for the system or the higher-ups,” Campos said. “But I feel bad for the coworkers I’m leaving behind. That’s one extra hand they don’t have. So much knowledge and niche things I found out about the [game] engine, gone, simply because I didn’t have time to write down documentation, because I had to finish a track.” He left a week before Forza Motorsport’s release last fall.

If you play Forza Motorsport, or even just video games in general, and want to understand how they’re made and what the people involved sometimes go through, I recommend listening to what Campos has to say in its entirety. It’s eye-opening and maddening, and also makes Forza’s remodeled tracks stand out as an even more impressive achievement.

The new environments were the only aspect of the game that especially stood out to me in an extremely positive way in my review last year, and I appreciate them more knowing the conditions they were created under—and continue to be created under. In January, Microsoft announced it had laid off 1,900 employees under its Activision Blizzard and Xbox gaming divisions. The Drive has reached out to Microsoft about Campos’ claims, and will update this piece with the company’s statement, should we receive one.

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