Last week, Team17 announced Worms NFTs and then, amid an enormous backlash from their audience and business partners, cancelled them the following day. Now several staff at the publisher have spoken out about low pay, overwork, and management failures in a new report by Eurogamer.
Speaking under condition of anonymity, the staff allege that "the company has recently been shedding team members, as many are fed up by low salaries, long hours, and concerns around HR and upper management."
Part of their complaints relate to the company's plans for NFT. Staff say they weren't warned about the announcement before it happened, were left to deal with public harassment during the backlash, and haven't received an apology in the wake of its cancellation. "It was that the managers were doing something so monumentally stupid without a thought for those who would actually bear the brunt of it. They didn't apologise to staff, even the community managers who were subjected to a barrage of abuse because of it," said one.
The criticisms of the company extend much further than just this one incident, however. Several employees alleged low pay, particularly among QA staff. "There were people who would have to skip meals to save money, people who would have to go into the office during the pandemic to reduce their bills, people who couldn't afford new clothes, people who got an emergency bill and were in their overdraft. We took it to management, and the second time we took it to HR. Nothing came of it," one person told Eurogamer.
There is also criticism of the company's management and HR department, including allegations that HR minimised incidents of sexual harassment, gave perpetrators a slap on the wrist, and told victims to sort it out amongst themselves.
While some staff allegedly skipped meals due to low pay and had bonuses cut unexpectedly at the end of 2021, Team17 CEO Debbie Bestwick reportedly made $10.24m (£7.56m) last year. Bestwick was also criticised by staff for singling out employees in meetings to the point that they left the room in tears, as well as for asking staff to wrap family Christmas presents for her.
Staff were also frustrated that, in the wake of the NFT backlash, Bestwick expressed "shock" at the response in a Facebook post seen by Eurogamer. "I dare anyone to question my ethics tbh!" Bestwick wrote.
"Debbie posts so many things about being a woman in the games industry on Twitter, and yet harassment is going on in her company and people are being told, essentially, it hasn't happened," one woman told Eurogamer, having been inspired to speak out by Bestwick's post.
In a statement given to Eurogamer in response to these allegations, a Team17 spokesperson said that the company "takes its responsibilities to its staff extremely seriously."
"We constantly review our internal policies and practises and assess how we support our employees through our engagement survey and through direct dialogue with the team, including newly-established employee-led working groups. This encompasses compensation, workplace culture and environment, among other key areas, to continually strive to improve our employee experience. In January, as part of this, we announced new improvements to the way we pay and reward our Teamsters."
The full story is worth reading, with many more stories and details than I've pulled out here.