Moon Studios, the developer behind Ori and the Blind Forest and its sequel, is said to be an “oppressive” workplace that has myriad problems with crunch, verbal abuse, and poor organization. That’s according to a new report from Gamesbeat, which reports that Xbox is no longer working with the studio following what has been said to be a “difficult relationship”.
The lengthy report details a series of allegations, most of which relate to the studio’s founders, Thomas Mahler and Gennadiy Korol. They include reports of “constant arguments”, a culture of crisis in which developers had to be available around the clock and on weekends, and a constant stream of racist, sexist and anti-Semitic jokes.
“It’s an oppressive workplace, that’s for sure. But it’s hard to identify one thing because, taken in isolation, all these incidents, if they happen once, you would think that they are of little things,” one developer said. “When you deal with it for [multiple] years, you’re going to see people’s mental health decline. I can say that for me, personally, I was properly messed up after we were done. I have never been depressed until this moment. I lost my passion for my work because they messed me up.”
Another developer reportedly said, “Were the founders both belligerent? Yes. In my opinion. Was it limited to those two? Yes. Unprofessional on an hourly basis? Yes. Harassing? Yes.”
The full report paints a picture of a studio with a “perfectionist” culture that rarely provided positive feedback and burnt-out developers. The story also covers bonus issues and other issues. The developers reportedly compared Moon Studio’s issues with those of Bungie and Activision Blizzard, which made headlines with their own issues.
Moon Studios initially found success with Ori and the Blind Forest in 2015, followed by Ori and the Will of the Wisps in 2020. Both games were gorgeous Metroidvanias and were among the few bright spots in the lineup of Xbox exclusives. One.
But while Moon Studios was closely associated with Xbox, it reportedly had a strained relationship with the platform holder, filled with missed deadlines, disputes over funding amounts and an ever-changing scope. Moon Studios’ next project would be an action RPG that it is developing in partnership with Private Division.
IGN has reached out to Microsoft for comment and will update this story with their response. Mahler and Korol responded to the allegations in a lengthy statement to Gamesbeat:
“We don’t think the experiences suggested by your questions are representative of the 80+ members of the Moon Studios team who thrive and do great work every day – nor do we think they’re representative of the experiences of former members of our team.In fact, we are very proud of our tradition 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 allowing us to attract top talent from around the world. Second, we wanted to foster a vibrant culture where our team thrives and delivers the best work in our industry. And finally, from day one, we decided to share the benefits and rewards of our efforts with the whole team. We believe we have succeeded.
What makes our team so powerful is our global and cultural diversity – we have team members working in over 40 different countries on 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 best work. We deliberately decided to create a different kind of studio, a studio 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, excel and innovate in our industry, while sharing in the financial success of Moon Studios. While at times we are brutally direct in our criticism and challenges, we are also authentic 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 consider ourselves brothers. And, like brothers, we sometimes argue and tease each other frequently. We made jokes at our expense about the differences in our backgrounds – and there may have been times when our teasing with each other turned out to be insensitive and perhaps made others feel uncomfortable. .
Moon Studios has flourished for 12 years. We have grown and learned a lot over all these years. We have had the privilege of working with many wonderful and extremely talented people. We are truly grateful and proud of our team – those who are here today as well as those who have spent time at Moon and have since moved to other companies – and are happy to have made a positive difference in their life. We’re not perfect, but we care deeply about our talent and are constantly working hard to improve. If we’ve ever made anyone uncomfortable or let anyone down, we regret it and will always strive to do better.”
Moon Studios’ report is part of an ongoing consideration of abusive work cultures across the games industry. On the same day that Gamesbeat released its report, YouTube investigative channel People Make Games released a new video about abuse at three major independent studios. The growth of gaming from an amateur pursuit to a multi-billion dollar global industry has laid bare the issues of crisis and abuse that have plagued game development for many years now.
Outside of Moon Studios, Xbox has issues with Activision Blizzard, which it recently acquired. For more information, check out our timeline outlining ongoing Activision Blizzard issues.
Kat Bailey is Senior News Writer at IGN