Moon Studios, the developer behind Ori and the Blind Forest and its sequel, is reportedly an “oppressive” workplace that has myriad issues with crunch, verbal abuse, and poor organization. That comes according to a new report from Gamesbeat, which reports that Xbox is no longer working with the studio after what they say has been a “difficult relationship”.
The lengthy report contains a number of allegations, most of which relate to the studio’s founders, Thomas Mahler and Gennadiy Korol. These include reports of “constant bickering”, a crunch culture where developers were expected to be available 24/7 and on weekends, and a constant stream of racist, sexist, and anti-Semitic banter.
“It sure is a depressing place to work. But it’s hard to pinpoint one thing because, taken in isolation, all of these incidents, once they happen, would think they’re small things,” a developer is quoted as saying. “If you have anything to do with it [multiple] Years from now you will see the decline in people’s mental health. Personally, I can say that I was really done after we were done. I’ve never been depressed up until that moment. I lost my passion for my job because they drove me out of it.”
Another developer is quoted as saying, “Were the founders both belligerent? Yes. In my opinion. Was it limited to these two? Yes. Unprofessional on an hourly basis? Yes. annoying? Yes.”
The full report paints a picture of a studio with a “perfectionist” culture that rarely provided positive feedback and burned out developers. The story also addresses issues with bonuses and other issues. Developers reportedly compared Moon Studio’s problems to those of Bungie and Activision Blizzard, which have made headlines with their own problems.
Moon Studios originally found success with Ori and the Blind Forest in 2015, followed by Ori and the Will of the Wisps in 2020. Both games were great Metroidvanias and some of the rare bright spots in the Xbox One exclusive franchise.
But while Moon Studios has had close ties to Xbox, it has reportedly had a strained relationship with the platform owner, filled with missed deadlines, conflicts over funding amounts and ever-changing scope. Moon Studios’ next project is reportedly an action role-playing game it’s developing in partnership with Private Division.
IGN reached out to Microsoft for comment and will update this story with their response. Mahler and Korol responded to the allegations in a detailed statement to Gamesbeat:
“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 at our expense about the differences in our backgrounds—and there may have been times when our teasing of one another came off as 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.
The Moon Studios report is part of an ongoing reckoning with abusive work cultures across the gaming industry. On the same day that Gamesbeat released its report, investigative YouTube channel People Make Games released a new video focusing on abuse at three major indie studios. The growth of gaming from a hobby activity to a multi-billion dollar global industry has exposed the problems of crunch and abuse that have plagued game development for many years.
Outside of Moon Studios, Xbox is having to deal with the issues at Activision Blizzard, which it recently acquired. For more information, see our timeline detailing ongoing issues at Activision Blizzard.
Kat Bailey is Senior News Editor at IGN
https://www.ign.com/articles/moon-studios-xbox-report The Ori developer culture is reportedly “oppressive” and no longer works with Xbox