You probably don't know Elizabeth Tobey. She didn't voice an outrageous character or design an outlandish weapon in any video game you're currently enjoying. But she did, legitimately, have a hand in the creation of -- or at least stirring up the desire for -- two big 2K Games hitting shelves right now. And she didn't get the credit she deserved.
Tobey was a longtime 2K Games community officer (going back to 2006 -- basically when 2K Games was formed) and, full disclosure, her dog cameoed in a Kotaku 'Shop Contest earlier this year. In autumn, she moved on from 2K to Trion Worlds for a better gig, before the release of two big games she was working on for 2K -- Borderlands 2 and XCOM: Enemy Unknown.
Tobey ran through the credits of Borderlands 2 and didn't see her name where it should be.
This disappointment doesn't come from the narcissism of "Hey, I was in that show!" that most people associate with screen credits. "We all know that folks leave games before they are complete sometimes, but that doesn't negate the months and often years of work they put into a title," Tobey wrote on a personal blog. "I worked on Borderlands 2 since it was conceived and left just over three months before it shipped.
"As such, I am officially not recognised as ever having worked on the title," she says.
"Stripping people out of credits is wrong" Tobey writes, and not because of a single person's vanity. "Our industry lives and dies by official records. Whether you are a designer, a programmer, or a marketing person, if you have worked on a game for the vast majority of its production, you should be titled in the game as the role you served during the vast majority of development."
Kotaku reached out to 2K Games representatives for a comment and was told that, as a standard practice, all employees are listed in the credits by their title at the time a game is certified. "Elizabeth Tobey had left 2K before Borderlands 2 reached certification, which is why she is listed in the ‘Special Thanks' section."
So Tobey is in the credits but she is not listed by the title under which she contributed to the game during its development lifespan, as she feels she should be.
"Special Thanks" includes many of the people who worked very hard to make the launch of Borderlands 2 a success without an official title at 2K at the time of certification. We appreciate all of the hard work Elizabeth put into every game she worked on while at 2K."
That's kind, but it doesn't address Tobey's main demand. "The point of this blog post is not just to lament the fact I was taken out of the credits of a game I worked on for years. It's to shed light on the fact that in the gaming industry, it's standard practice to do this, and that has real and permanent effects on employee resumes and possibly people's futures."
I'm not an idealist. Gamers don't watch the credits unless they get an achievement or a trophy for scrolling them all the way to the end. And Elizabeth Tobey's name wasn't going to be the first on the list even if she stuck around.
But she's right. If you're a staff contributor to a creative work, you deserve to be listed by the title under which you contributed that work. If she's left out of the credits of a massive group project like a video game or, more importantly, her name and title in its official credits doesn't square with what she claims on her own resume, then there is no long-term benefit to her career for working on a video game. And video games fire creative staff after they ship, all the damn time.
I have, theoretically, long-term benefits to my career even from the stories I wrote 20 years ago about drunken lance corporals who broke into furniture stores in Onslow County, N.C., or potatoes that looked like Bill Clinton. My name is printed above those stories. If nothing else, they certify my experience in daily news writing that many employers demand -- or used to, anyway -- before looking at your resume in this line of work.
Without those bylines, I don't have anything to show for what I did between 1995 and 2004. Tobey's work wasn't printed every day on paper. But her knowledge and skill is no less a marketable commodity and she is expected to be her own brand in an industry driven by contract labour, with exceptionally high turnover. Her career, therefore, depends greatly on a line of code at the end of a three year video game project. Without that proper credit, the least of what is due to her, there's no real verifiable record of her work. Unless she kept the stubs on her paychecks.
The Issue of Credits [Elizabeth Tobey]