The Lord of the Rings: Gollum will live long in infamy as a terrible game, but as is often the case, it seems there was more to the story than simple mismanagement. An investigative report into the title's chaotic development from German outlet Game Two describes "an atmosphere of fear" at Daedalic Entertainment. It claims the studio enforced uncompensated overtime and attempted to pay staff below minimum wage, as well as creating a toxic workplace environment.
Throughout a 40-minute video called Why Gollum Had to Fail (thanks, Knoebel), Game Two describes where it all went wrong for Daedalic, a studio perhaps best known for point-and-click adventure titles like Ken Follett's The Pillars of the Earth and State of Mind. The outlet spoke to 32 former and current employees, with IGN's sources at the developer backing up the report.
It revealed that the budget for Gollum was roughly €15 million, or around USD $15.9 million. Most of the staff at the studio had little experience in creating 3D action games, let alone AAA ones, which regularly cost many times that amount to make. With a minuscule budget, the studio could not secure talent with the necessary expertise, and additional funding could not be secured.
Staff were expected to crunch, which has allegedly been a common occurrence at the studio since its foundation in 2007. Employees said that particular pressure was applied to interns and junior staff, who were not as likely to "assess the level of stress as critical or unusual". CEO Carsten Fichtelmann and COO Stephan Harms were singled out as the principal instigators of this corporate climate. Accounts of Fichtelmann shouting at employees who afterwards "only spoke in whispers" were recalled. Daedelic denied these allegations when put to them by Game Two, claiming the company has a "friendly working atmosphere".
And then there was that apology letter post-launch; remember the one where publisher Nacon managed to misspell the title of the game, giving us the gift that is The Lord of the Ring: Gollum? Well, Game Two's report alleges that Nacon used the AI model ChatGPT to write the thing, which is perfect, and that it was published without Daedelic's prior approval, which is less so.