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.