Ori Studio developers claim toxic work environment from founders

Forest creatures from Ori and the Will of the Wisps overlook a busy landscape.

image: Moon Studios

lunar studios original games are some of the finest and most beautiful platformers out there. Some developers now claim that the same cannot be said of the founders of the studio that made them. According to a new report by VentureBeatcurrent and former developers say Moon could be an “oppressive” workplace where occasional sexism and racism were tolerated.

Content Warning: Rape.

Headquartered in Vienna, Austria, Moon Studios was founded in 2010 by Thomas Mahler and Gennadiy Korol. It has been released Ori and the blind forest 2015 to much acclaim and a similarly acclaimed sequel called Ori and the Will of the Wisps in 2020. Both were released by Microsoft. Despite a mostly decentralized workforce spread across the world, it’s developers told VentureBeat Mahler and Korol nonetheless managed to create a toxic work atmosphere that included sexist jokes and derogatory remarks.

A screenshot of a work chat shared in the report shows Korol writing, “Nobody really cares what you think,” followed by Mahler writing, “Lol you’re retarded,” though not clear is who the remarks are addressed to. VentureBeat also reports that after a long meeting, Mahler finally wrote, “I really need a woman.”

“The founders said they ran an open workplace where people were free to speak their minds,” she writes VentureBeat. “They could say anything and didn’t have to worry about being fired. It was a ‘no bullshit’ studio. But that left the door open for the founders to insult each other — and anyone else they wanted to humiliate, publicly or privately, according to nearly all developers we interviewed.”

“We do not believe the experiences suggested by [VentureBeat’s] Questions are representative of the 80+ Moon Studios team members who succeed and do great work every day – nor do we believe they are representative of the experiences of former members of our team,” Mahler and Korol wrote in a statement VentureBeat. “We’re not perfect, but we care deeply about our talent and are constantly working to improve. If we’ve ever made anyone uncomfortable or let anyone down, we regret it and will always strive to do better.”

The hero of Ori and the Blind Forest is being cuddled by another creature sitting on a log.

image: Moon Studios

Moon Studios is currently working on its next game, codenamed abandoned. Accordingly VentureBeatit will be much darker compared to original games, and at one point during the development process, Mahler insisted that the main character’s origin story be about rape.

“That rape scene would supposedly provide the motivation for the cute small town character to do the ‘nasty’ things they do in the rest of the game.” VentureBeat writes. It was controversial among the other developers, and Mahler is said to have finally relented, but only after “weeks of arguments”.

Moon Studios did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Mahler and Korol did not directly address any of the above allegations in a statement VentureBeatbut reportedly discussed it in a meeting with staffers before the story went public.

“Whether that was a good idea or not, well, that’s beside the point,” Korol said, according to the staff VentureBeat. “But obviously we’re trying to paint the narrative that there’s a deeper, bad thing going on. It’s a little unfair to be honest. The way this article characterizes things might be unfair. That doesn’t mean we’re perfect. That doesn’t mean we can’t or shouldn’t improve.”

Regarding snide remarks in work chats, Mahler reportedly said at the staff meeting that efforts had been made to “clean things up in chat,” although Korol added that he didn’t want the studio “to start walking on eggshells.” .

The allegations come as more game developers speak out publicly or through press reports about how they are treated at the studios behind popular games. As complaints about wrongdoing and crunch keep pouring out companies both great and small throughout the gaming industry are implicated.

Microsoft did not immediately respond to a request for comment on anything it knew about working conditions at Moon Studios when it was a publishing partner, or about systems it had in place to review them. It’s currently in the midst of finalizing a deal to buy Activision Blizzard, where lawsuits and media scrutiny began last summer alleged widespread sexual harassment and discrimination.

Here is the full explanation provided by Moon Studios VentureBeat:

We do not believe that the experiences suggested by your questions are representative of the 80+ Moon Studios team members who succeed and do great work every day – nor do we believe that 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, not limited by geographic boundaries, that would allow us to attract the best talent from around the world. Second, we wanted to foster a vibrant culture where our team thrives and does the best work in our industry. And finally, from day one, we made it our goal to share the gains and rewards of our efforts with the entire team. We believe that we have succeeded.

What makes our team so strong is our global and cultural diversity – we have team members working from more than 40 different countries on four continents – and a flat studio structure that allows everyone to speak honestly and directly and to challenge each other and to bring about our very best work. We consciously set out to create a different kind of studio – one that encourages creativity, open communication, collaboration and achievement.

The result is two award-winning games – with more on the way – and a team of professionals who enjoy working together, excelling and breaking new ground in our industry, while sharing in Moon Studios’ financial success. If we are sometimes brutally direct in our criticism and challenge, we are also honest and vocal in our praise. We are incredibly proud of everything we have built and achieved together.

Finally, we understand the irony that we – an Austrian Jew and an Israeli Jew – started this multicultural enterprise. We see each other as brothers. And like brothers, we sometimes fight and annoy each other. We’ve joked about the differences in our backgrounds at our own expense – and there may have been times when our teasing seemed insensitive and made others uncomfortable.

Moon Studios has been successful for 12 years. We have grown over the years and learned so much. We’ve had the privilege of working with many, many amazing 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 we are pleased to have made a positive difference in their lives. We’re not perfect, but we care deeply about our talent and are always working to improve. If we’ve ever made someone feel uncomfortable or let someone down, we regret it and will always strive to do better. Ori Studio developers claim toxic work environment from founders

Curtis Crabtree

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