Kotaku - Allegations Of Sexism, Bullying, And Burnout: Inside The Microsoft Studio Behind State Of Decay 3

Kotaku interviewed 12 current and former employees for this article, all of whom requested anonymity because they feared sharing their concerns publicly would doom their careers in the video game industry. Many felt very positive about certain aspects of the studio. A few said it still has room to improve but has overall been a very good place to work. Most considered the last few years since the acquisition a period of crisis, and are worried management hasn’t learned the right lessons.

At first, some employees were worried the Microsoft acquisition would change the indie studio for the worse. Now they worry the $2 trillion company’s incredibly “hands-off” approach allowed dysfunction to fester, leaving some of the studio’s more vulnerable employees to fend for themselves. As one former developer put it, “We were afraid they would come in and change our culture but our collapse came from within, and we could have used Microsoft’s help.”

“The culture the studio had up until recently was not the most hospitable for anyone that was not a white cishet man,” said one current developer. “It’s improved in the last six months or so. But the studio hired a lot of diverse talent that it did not adequately support [in the past].”

“When I interviewed at the Lab, I was sold [the idea of] a studio in transition that was making [diversity, equity, and inclusion] a top priority,” said one former developer. “What it was in actuality was studio leadership painting a DEI face for Microsoft, while women were consistently ignored, dismissed, interrupted, talked over, and blamed.”

One former developer recalled men asking women to take notes during meetings, ignoring their expertise, and even making sexist remarks like, “You don’t look as pretty as normal today,” and “I’m surprised a girl like you has this job.”

Current and former employees recalled a number of incidents in which they were having issues with various people on the team, to the point of dreading having to be in meetings with them. “What happened on a daily basis at the Lab was the lower-key death by a thousand papercuts version of sexism,” said one former developer. “It wasn’t ‘this one interaction was bad,’ it was, more often than not, ‘interactions with specific people were infuriating.’”

About State of Decay 3:

Undead Labs hadn’t planned to announce State of Decay 3 in 2020, let alone show it, but Microsoft requested trailers from many of its studios in the lead up to the Xbox Series X/S launch, three sources familiar with the decision said. Despite reservations from the team, they said pressure came from Holt to show off the game early. (In its comments to Kotaku, Microsoft wrote that participation in the showcase, which included early teases for Fable, Forza Motorsport 7, and Everwild, was optional.)

“We didn’t want to announce the game because we didn’t even know what it was at that point,” said one current developer. A zombie deer in the announcement teaser became a focal point for fans. Would the new game include undead fauna? It caught some developers by surprise as well, who didn’t recall ever settling on whether that would be a feature or not.

State of Decay 3 was supposed to have two internal demos last fall, according to three sources familiar with the plan. The first in September would primarily be a presentation composed of images of GIFs followed by a second in December featuring gameplay. Holt decided in late summer he wanted both to show gameplay, a move that would have put a lot of pressure on teams to work overtime to meet the new milestone.

Those who have stuck around are more optimistic, and feel like the 2022 incarnations of Undead Labs and State of Decay 3 have finally turned a corner. “It could be such a cool game and we’ve got a lot of great people working on it, and I just hope we don’t repeat the terrible habits of the last few years,” said one current developer.

Link to the article. It’s a long one.

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Hm, Microsoft need to step up and be more hands on when issues such as this arise.

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Link to the full set of questions and answers of the former studio creator:

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That doesn’t give me any hope about the handling of ABK :face_with_open_eyes_and_hand_over_mouth:

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I understand that they want to be hands off but they need to have one hr person at each company who reports on this stuff so they can nip this when it starts

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@Butters had some relevant points posted in the community thread about the article @ XboxEra Community Hangout |OT7| Define "AAAA" - #1200 by Butters

The diversity is increasing, the salaries got adjusted and the HR director got the boot.

Some people say that Microsoft is too hands of with milestones and development, but the studio head is pushing that too much?

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What kind of comment is this? Leave this kind of shit at the door please; there’s a single mention of Matt Booty, and given that the acquisition wasn’t completed until near the middle of 2018 and the turnaround occurred after the dust settled, assuming he didn’t do anything is a pretty shitty swipe. In fact, if you actually read the article, the issues started getting resolved when devs reached directly out to Xbox, so the blame falls more on the direct leadership of the studio.

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I think Matt Booty might need more help, they should hire another person to help out it must be hard for him to manage this many studios. I hope MS fixes the issues which it seems like they are on track of doing but use this as a lesson to do more and continue to do more. Also not saying this is Matts fault at all, far from it but I do think trying to manage that many studios will be stressing for one person to shoulder.

It reads more of insight behind the scene than this is exclusively to this studio, let alone Xbox. I’m certain every studio will have their ups and downs, small or large, but it’s about going to the public and tell your tale on it. Does it suck that it happened? Yes, it does, but this is business and in business, there’s going to be complications.

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oh i thought the allegation is recent like the TI stuff.

The “TI Stuff” had nothing to do with anything other than development disagreements… this is about the treatment of people.

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It’s probably why the new branch (Microsoft Gaming) is now a thing, because they are getting huge. Therefore, it’s time for its own division and not act like a side job. For that, I do hope everyone is ready and flexible for whatever challenge it comes.

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I do feel like this is bit of a scavenging hunt for Kotaku to be honest not to dismiss anything in the article but the fact he is tweeting about how it calls into question about the Activision deal. I also don’t like the whole they fixed a lot of things but it was too late, it’s never too late to fix these things and there shouldn’t be a narrative that if you change things not in a timely matter they don’t matter. Obviously it would be best that it is done fast and without delay but I don’t think change even if it is late for whatever reason is ever ‘too late’ but at the end of the day Microsoft needs to put in some sort of program that’s yearly or something to weed this stuff out.

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This is everywhere. Because capitalism is everywhere and humans are capable of easily being shitty. It still doesn’t make it better. I’m tired of this industry. My escapism from shittiness of the world is now also reminding me of said shittiness and making me feel guilty about it too. I just, ugh.

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How is this the fault of capitalism? You sound too sensitive buddy

Why….? Most of this article reads as more of a hit piece on Xbox’s announcement of SoD3 in 2020 and taking potshots at Phil/Xbox’s stance on inclusivity and diversity as some sort of “gotcha” by pinpointing a single point of failure… and then they barely spend any of the article on allegations of sexism and mistreatment (seriously, it’s less than a third of the entire article). What is important and counterintuitive to their intent to blame Xbox is that by all accounts the issues have been resolved are in the process of being resolved once having said issues reported to Xbox. There’s a reason this was delayed and haphazardly rewritten.

This statement is not a statement of denial or mitigation of the actual sexism (including sexual harassment, abuse, discrimination), racism, and general bigotry that exists in the gaming industry. It is a statement that people should be wary of articles from certain outlets with a known spin; given that workers across all of Microsoft voted it to be the best place to work (which includes employee treatment), I’d say this article doesn’t imply anything to the greater effects of resolving ABK’s issues.

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I wonder how much of this article Kotaku added thier own flair to? I imagine if Phil was really excited about state of decay 3 then things would be going well at the studio

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A system that enables some people to have power over others, to be shitty and indecent to the less fortunate, without much consequences, is without a doubt at fault. Stop it with the fantasy of capitalism, it’s an ethical failure on a grand number of levels.

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Capitalism isn’t the only system that humans are shitty…

Some humans are just by nature, shitty and exploitive… whatever system it is.

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When the sources are anonymous and the outlet is a tabloid I take everything with a pinch of salt.

I do think Xbox should work harder on integrating their studios into Xbox/MS but I’ve always said that, too much hands off is not great. There needs to be a balance. That way things like this can be adressed sooner and nipped in the bud. Like you say, Microsoft is a great place to work at according to the people working there, that should go for all the Xbox studios as well. Creative freedom is not the same as independent.

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