Current and former developers of Moon Studios have alleged that the company is an "oppressive workplace", citing offensive language, harsh feedback and inconsistent direction by its founders. Several developers also alleged that the founders encouraged crunch. Moon Studios are the creators of Ori And The Blind Forest and Ori And The Will Of The Wisps, both critically lauded and commercially successful platformers published by Microsoft.
CW: The report includes mention of anti-semitimism, rape, use of the r-slur.
"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 game developer told VentureBeat. "When you’re dealing with that for [multiple] years, you’re going to see the decline of people’s mental health."
Moon Studios is a fully remote studio with 80 employees. Face to face meetings and video calls were said to be rare, with almost all company communication conducted via text chat.
Most of the criticisms from employees, speaking anonymously, are directed at Thomas Mahler and Gennadiy Korol, Moon Studios' two founders. For example, in a transcript from an internal chat channel shown to VentureBeat, Mahler "joked" about "devious plans to kill the Jews by making them work to death through game development." Mahler's co-founder Korol is Jewish.
"Were the founders both belligerent? Yes. In my opinion. Was it limited to those two? Yes. Unprofessional on an hourly basis? Yes. Harassing? Yes," one game developer told VentureBeat.
Much of the criticism concerns the way feedback is delivered within the studio, with Mahler reportedly rejecting work by saying it is "shit" without explaining why. "It’s not helpful," said one developer. "It can create animosity in the workplace and a bit of a power dynamic where you have somebody calling your stuff shit in a group chat of 50 people."
The report also contains details of an upcoming Moon Studios game, an action RPG in which Mahler wanted the main character to be raped as motivation for the revenge story that followed. Other developers banded together to convince him this was a bad idea over the course of a month. "If Thomas said he wanted something, it would take like half the team to band together and persuade him to not do it," said one developer.
"The casual racism and sexism are bad. The rape scene is bad, but there’s no real incident that just jumps out as being truly terrible. It’s just like this kind of stuff happening on a daily basis. I would say it’s death by 1,000 cuts, rather than an execution with an ax, which, frankly, would have been preferable."
Developers also allege that the harsh feedback, off-colour language, and long hours led to burnout, high staff turnover, and mental health issues among employees.
In a statement, founders Mahler and Korol said that they "don’t believe the experiences suggested by [VentureBeat's] questions are representative" of experiences of current or former staff.
"Finally, we appreciate the irony that we — an Austrian and an Israeli Jew — started this multicultural enterprise," says the statement. "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.
"If we have ever made anyone feel uncomfortable or let anyone down — we regret that and we will always strive to do better," it ends.
The full report on VentureBeat is many thousands words long and contains many more developer quotes, examples, and tales of mismanagement.