Moon Studios, the developer behind Ori and the Blind Forest and its sequel, is reportedly an “oppressive” place to work that has myriad issues with crunch, verbal abuse, and poor organization. This is according to a new report by Gamesbeat, which reports that Xbox is no longer working with the studio following what was said to be a “difficult relationship.”
The lengthy report details a range of allegations, most of which center on the studio’s founders, Thomas Mahler and Gennadiy Korol. They include reports of “constant arguments,” a crunch culture in which developers were expected to be available at all hours and on weekends, and a steady stream of racist, sexist, and anti-semitic banter.
“It’s an oppressive workplace, for sure. But it’s hard to pinpoint one thing because, in isolation, all of these incidents, if they happen once, you would think they are small things,” one developer is quoted as saying. “When you’re dealing with that for [multiple] years, you’re going to see the decline of people’s mental health. I can say that for myself, personally, I was properly messed up after we finished. I’ve never been depressed until that moment. I lost my passion for my job because they drummed it out of me.”
Another developer is quoted as saying, “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 burned out developers. The story also covers issues with bonuses and other problems. Developers reportedly compared the issues at Moon Studio with those of Bungie and Activision Blizzard, which have captured headlines with their own problems.
Moon Studios originally found success with Ori and the Blind Forest in 2015, with Ori and the Will of the Wisps following in 2020. Both games were gorgeous Metroidvanias, and were some of the rare bright spots in the Xbox One’s lineup of exclusives.
But while Moon Studios was closely associated with Xbox, it reportedly had a fraught relationship with the platform holder, filled with missed deadlines, conflicts over funding amounts, and constantly changing scope. Moon Studios’ next project is reportedly an action RPG that it is 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 lengthy statement to Gamesbeat:
“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.”
The Moon Studios report is part of an ongoing reckoning with abusive work cultures throughout the games industry. On the same day that Gamesbeat released its report, investigative Youtube channel People Make Games released a new video focusing on abuse within three major indie studios. The growth of gaming from a hobbyist pursuit into a multi-billion dollar global industry has laid bare the issues with crunch and abuse that has dogged game development for many years now.
Outside of Moon Studios, Xbox must deal with the issues at Activision Blizzard, which it recently acquired. For more info, check out our timeline outlining the issues at Activision Blizzard, which are ongoing.
Kat Bailey is a Senior News Editor at IGN