DON’T NOD: Ascension or free fall?

Don’t Nod is known for its narrative games tackling issues of inclusion and diversity. Its official website goes even further, claiming that “caring about one another is at the heart of everything we do and is the central theme of our values”. Unfortunately, as often in the video game industry, these values are not put into practice despite being frequently highlighted in corporate communications and in the press.

On May 31, 2022, while revealing its new visual identity, Don’t Nod announced 6 new games were in development, of which 4 in-house production lines and 2 produced externally. Just over a year later, on October 19, 2023, Don’t Nod went further, announcing « a 10.3% increase in sales, a record balance sheet (€60M cash net of debt), and a pipeline of 8 games in production » (« une activité en hausse de 10,3%, un bilan record (60M€ cash net de dettes), et un pipeline de 8 jeux en production ») while unveiling its half-year results (“H1 2023”).

We’re sounding the alarm on the situation of Don’t Nod employees.

The STJV is concerned that the company will not be able to manage these multiple parallel productions:

  • deadlines change very frequently
  • information and directions given to teams are contradictory
  • employees are moved from one team to another with no long-term vision of projects
  • a grueling reorganization, which took over a year to be fully implemented, is leaving entire teams out in the cold.

In a studio where each project erratically follows another, time and long-term vision required for the employees’ welfare is disappearing, leading to more stress among workers and creating boreout/burnout situations by leaving us all waiting for decisions to be taken by management.

The STJV is concerned about the psychosocial hazards Don’t Nod’s workers are facing, in view of the significant number of reports of ill-being and sick leaves.

Tumultuous releases

Jusant was released on October 31, 2023.

A success with critics, the game apparently failed to meet the commercial expectations of the company’s management, who simply shut down its production line and dispersed its team members to other projects. No justification was given for this sudden decision, despite the Social and Economic Committee’s (CSE) insistence.

Jusant’s developers were left in the dark about their future, many without any work to do, for over 2 months.

Banishers, originally scheduled for November 7, 2023, was belatedly postponed to February 13, 2024, prompting strong questions internally, as workers learned of the change of schedule mere 30 minutes before the public announcement.

This postponement comes in a context of crisis for the international job market in the video game sector, with massive layoffs, especially at studios that have been looking for investment in recent years, such as Don’t Nod.

All our teams are understaffed, yet we let go people that were on temportary contracts, internships or work-study apprenticeships. Some are occasionally called back to deal with production emergencies, but always on precarious contracts.

This situation is a danger to the health of the workers, and imposes enormous pressure on teams who are increasingly struggling to meet deadlines.

A silenced union section

Management refuses any means of direct communication between our STJV section and employees. It has even gone back on the meager rights granted in the past when the section was not yet representative (an electoral milestone for unions in France). We have since won the 2023 CSE election by a landslide, making the STJV broadly representative, which should have led to more communication. Specifically, Don’t Nod management considers that a notice board hung at the studio’s office (the minimum effort to fulfill their legal obligations) is enough to inform 300 employees… despite 75% of employees being fully remote.

Since last autumn, we have been trying to obtain the organization of mandatory annual negotiations (“Négociations Annuelles Obligatoires”, or NAO) that are due. Dialogue is impossible, with management going as far as pretending not to understand emails to scupper the NAO, or force our hand.

A scoping meeting was held on January 16, 2024 but did not follow the procedure set out in the French Labor Code, and we couldn’t even bring up the topics to be addressed at the NAO or discuss the timetable of the negotiations. On top of this, we have been denied any means in terms of time, documents or information channels to prepare properly for the negotiations. This is the opposite of « fair and serious » (« loyales et sérieuses », French Labor Code) negotiations.

An obstructed CSE (Social and Economic Committee, or workers’ council)

These concerns have been observed and reported internally to the new CSE, elected in June 2023 under the STJV banner.

However, the CSE itself is in great difficulty due to the management of Don’t Nod, and notes :

  • the gradual disappearance of opportunities for discussion between workers and top management
  • numerous obstacles and obstructions to the exercise of their CSE mandate
  • workers in distress, leading to sick leaves and departures
  • a lack of legal means to inform employees of their rights, and of the situation of their colleagues in other divisions or projects.

Management’s response to this is to bury its head in the sand and mistreat the CSE’s elected officials, refusing to inform them of matters that do concern the CSE, and refusing to be held accountable. As it stands, « social dialogue » is non-existent.

In addition to these difficulties for the CSE, worrying testimonies from many employees have been piling up for months, echoing the survey on quality of life at work carried out in 2023.

Dissonance and stubbornness

In September 2023, Don’t Nod management presented the results of its Quality of Life at Work survey, to which two-thirds of employees responded. It should be noted, though, that the survey contained almost no explicit points on quality of life and working conditions.

It does, however, present overview of various topics, and employees can learn that :

  • 28% say they receive no recognition for their work
  • 30% would discourage acquaintances from applying to Don’t Nod
  • 39% feel the workload is too heavy (or that teams are too small)
  • 50% disapprove of corporate’s strategy

When presenting the survey results, some 6 months later, Don’t Nod management was full of praise for the studio (and therefore for itself) when the figures looked good.

However: the scores were averaged, making it impossible to study results by division or team, thus concealing potential disparities in perception, or even warnings. Faced with the figures, management shaped the results to only talk about what would be interpreted as positive.

Following the results, the CSE questioned management on its intended measures to address the apparent issues: rather than proposing real solutions, the company prefers to explain to its employees that they simply haven’t fully understood its ambitions, and that the company needs to explain itself better in its internal communications. When can we expect a toll-free number to explain Don’t Nod’s complex thinking?

We also note that 90% of survey respondents say they like their colleagues and enjoy working with them. The source of the problems is therefore systemic and structural.

Don’t Nod, but Do Better

The STJV is concerned about the future of the studio, of its productions and working conditions, and notes the absence of social dialogue.

Because Don’t Nod is one of the rare companies to offer full-time remote working and has been able to offer permanent contracts and defend a more progressive editorial line than its competitors, we urge management to take concrete measures to resolve all the problems identified in this press release, to listen to the legitimate concerns of its employees and its union section, so that the company’s values reach the height of its ambitions.

The Don’t Nod STJV union section

Comptes - Le Syndicat des Travailleurs et Travailleuses du Jeu Vidéo
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