Moon Studios, the developer behind the excellent Ori series, has been accused of fostering a toxic work culture that has led to current and former employees labelling the studio as an "oppressive" place to work.
In a lengthy and detailed report from GamesBeat (which we highly recommend reading), many of the allegations are levied against Moon Studios' founders, Thomas Mahler and Gennadiy Korol. In the report, former and current members of staff say they had to deal with a crunch culture where they were expected to be available outside of normal working hours, on top of verbal abuse as well as having to deal with sexist, racist, and anti-semitic comments. Mahler and Korol also allegedly called for an "open and honest" workplace at the studio, which was then used as a "pretence for abuse" with the founders criticising developers in public chats.
"It's an oppressive workplace, for sure. But it's hard to pinpoint one thing because, in isolation, all of these incidents, if they happen once, you would think they are small things," one developer is quoted as saying in the report. "When you're dealing with that for [multiple] years, you're going to see the decline of people's mental health. I can say that for myself, personally, I was properly messed up after we finished. I've never been depressed until that moment. I lost my passion for my job because they drummed it out of me."
As it stands, GamesBeat reports that no former or current employees at the studio have filed a lawsuit against Moon Studios or its founders. Developers say they've chosen to speak out now "in part because of the conditions described at workplaces in other parts of the game industry, such as at Activision Blizzard, Riot Games, and Ubisoft in recent times," the report states.
The report also expands on Microsoft's relationship with Moon, saying Microsoft "had a difficult relationship with Moon Studios over the years, it was often over funding amounts and delays, as the project scopes kept changing and Moon missed deadlines."
Both Thomas Mahler and Gennadiy Korol responded to the allegations in GamesBeat's report with a lengthy statement reproduced here in full:
"We don't believe the experiences suggested by your questions are representative of the more than 80 Moon Studios team members who are thriving and doing great work every day — nor do we believe they are representative of the experiences of former members of our team. In fact, we are very proud of our history of making people happy, advancing their careers, and contributing to their financial success.
We built Moon Studios with a simple premise. First, we wanted to create a distributed studio that is not limited by geographic boundaries enabling us to draw the top talent from around the world. Second, we wanted to foster a vibrant culture where our team thrives and delivers the very best work in our industry. And finally, from day one we set out to share the profits and rewards of our efforts with the full team. We believe we have succeeded.
What makes our team so powerful is our global and cultural diversity — we have team members working from more than 40 different countries across four continents — and a flat studio structure that allows everyone to speak honestly and directly and to challenge and push each other to do our very best work. We purposely set out to create a different kind of studio — one that encourages creativity, open communication, collaboration, and performance.
The result has been two award-winning games — with more on the horizon — and a team of professionals who enjoy working together, are excelling and breaking new ground in our industry, while also sharing in the financial success of Moon Studios. If at times we are brutally direct in our critiques and challenges, we are also genuine and vocal in our praise. We are incredibly proud of everything we have built and achieved together.
Finally, we appreciate the irony that we — an Austrian and an Israeli Jew — started this multicultural enterprise. We view each other as brothers. And, like brothers, we sometimes argue and frequently tease each other. We have made jokes at our own expense about the differences in our backgrounds — and there may have been times that our teasing of each other has come off as insensitive and may have made others feel uncomfortable.
Moon Studios has prospered for 12 years. We have grown and learned so much over all of these years. We have been privileged to work with many, many great, and extremely talented people. We are truly grateful and proud of our team — those who are here today as well as those who spent time at Moon and have since moved to other ventures – and we are happy to have made a positive difference in their lives. We are not perfect but we deeply care about our talent and are constantly working hard to improve. If we have ever made anyone feel uncomfortable or let anyone down — we regret that and we will always strive to do better."