Moon Studios Devs Report Oppressive Work Conditions, Microsoft Cut Partnership Ties

Moon Studios Devs Report Oppressive Work Conditions, Microsoft Cut Partnership Ties 1

Moon Studios, creators of Ori games, have recently received more reports of workplace misconduct and abuse of their employees amidst plans to release their third game.

Many gamers will best remember to associate the Ori games (Ori and the Blind Forest and Ori and the Will of the Wisps) with the developers, Moon Studios. The artistically crafted games with their enriching stories have recently been at the expense of alleged workplace misconduct to the employees at the studio. A number of current and ex-employees had shared their thoughts on the Ori studio being an oppressive place to work and would explain why Microsoft will not be publishing the studio’s upcoming third game.

GamesBeat published a thorough report on issues with the studio and conducted multiple interviews with developers that have worked at Moon Studios over the years since the debut of their first game in 2015—all of them noting the issues they had with the founders of the company, Thomas Mahler and Gennadiy Korol. The strange part of it all was this was a private, small company that worked remotely, yet there were still reports of racism, sexism and bullying behaviours that one developer called “death by a thousand cuts.”

Moon Studios Devs Report Oppressive Work Conditions, Microsoft Cut Partnership Ties 2
Moon Studios—Ori and the Blind Forest

Many developers even wondered whether their work was worth it as they saw how audiences were deeply moved by the games. One developer said, “We really created something special, and I know the only way I was able to reconcile it was I was able to watch people on Twitch and watch other people get moved by it, and that was actually part of my healing process…Because maybe my suffering was worth it because other people felt something. In the end, I mean, so many of us were burned out.”

More Moon Studios employees have been shedding their truth about the company, like @TigrMoth who stated in a tweet, “I worked at Moon Studios for two years. I was the only woman on the story team. I struggle to find the words to express what a soul-destroying experience it was to work with the heads of the studio, Thomas and Gennadiy.” The thread continued to explain how the studio boasted about how the high quality of the games came with hard work when actually the employees faced many oppressive actions against them.

One of the most interesting connections was that Mahler had previously worked at Blizzard Entertainment before starting Moon Studios with Korol in 2010. Of course, the past year and some had more reports of Blizzard Activision’s own workplace allegations coming out. So, the question that would be pressing with knowing this would be, how much damage did Blizzard Activision really have if ex-employees are having similar issues in their own companies? Is it related? And did Microsoft know about this after working with the studio for about 10 years?

The report continued to speak more about Microsoft’s departure in its involvement with Moon Studios with one developer who stated, “[At Microsoft], they knew what was going on. And to the degree that we need to clean up the industry. I want to see the industry get better.” The problem was that Microsoft could not see the problems as the workplace was remote and Mahler kept communication with Microsoft and Moon Studios strict. With Microsoft’s recent acquisition and attempts to improve the workplace culture at Activision Blizzard, it has been a major leap to correct the wrongs of a major gaming company.

One developer in the report summed up the big issue with Moon Studios, “And even though they would say they would change, the atmosphere just remains very aggressive. And you’re right, they do chase quality—and it’s proven in what they’ve released—but at the expense of a lot of people’s mental health.” The studio has already stated their plans to publish their new game with Take-Two Interactive’s subsidiary company, Private Division who had worked on games like Hades and OlliOlli World. Mahler and Korol have also sent out a response to GamesBeat’s report.

“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.”

Thomas Mahler and Gennadiy Korol

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