Indie game stars exposed as workplace nightmares

Originally published at: Indie game stars exposed as workplace nightmares | Boing Boing


Stars in general tend to be workplace nightmares. The video game industry and its culture seems particularly prone to enabling these arseholes, though.


If only they could have made a large ball of the furniture, and rolled it over Robin…


Game and tech companies in general are pretty questionable work places, though abusive work conditions exist everywhere. Just glad i dont work at a gaming company, as cool as it might seem i think i would have a mental breakdown


Studios and individuals need to be called out for this bad behavior and called to account in the immediate, period. In addition though, leadership is such a strange thing that we as humans tend to handle to poorly. It’s still seen as an honorary promotion, a recognition of contribution, rather than a skillset. The assumption here is “Of course the artist who dreamed up a game or built a v1 that took the world by storm should lead the resulting studio!” They should get the big hat with the feathers.

In reality, they are often the least equipped to manage time, resources and people, and the passion that led them to solo success blinds them to the concept of work-life balance. Of course, these people are exhibiting cruel behavior, and I don’t mean to say their bad behavior is all “circumstancial” but proper organization management, and placing them in the correct place on the org chart or at least adding people with the proper skills and training would protect people from the worst of what bad leadership can unearth in people.


So much this. I get the feeling that workers got sucked into the myth that folks like the ones profiled here would be great people to work with or follow. Decentralized workplaces or hands-on leadership might seem cool, but this is the tale of the dark side. Researching the leadership team as well as the company is part of the process in pursing a career. That makes it easier for newbies and industry veterans to avoid toxic workplaces, as well as ones that are a bad fit for other reasons.

I have to wonder what, if anything*, was said/posted about these company founders/leaders and passed through the grapevine before the news was picked up by the press. It made me cringe that new employees in one company were warned by the victims so they wouldn’t be surprised by the abuse. That they were so cowed they didn’t just advise them to get out ASAP says a lot.

*Inability to find anything can be a red flag, too.


Leaders in a high-pressure industry being complete assholes to their team? Shocked.


I’ve noticed small developers can have the greatest cultures because they’re unencumbered by the baggage of large studios, so can easily move to trying out reasonable hours and working conditions, allow greater creative freedom of the people in it, etc. but conversely also can be the worst, as they don’t have even the most basic protections of a larger company (e.g. HR), even if those protections aren’t very effective when they exist; plus the informal nature of small companies can mean everything from all workers getting perfectly equal pay or half (or more) of the workers getting no pay at all. Small studios, even if they don’t buy into the auteur nonsense, are heavily impacted by a small number of key people, in terms of workplace culture and conditions (i.e. a few assholes can ruin everything; a few smart, sensitive people can make it great).

Relying on the publisher to fix broken indie studios feels like looking in the wrong place - they don’t have that kind of control, nor are they structured to provide that kind of support. Even with good intentions, they’re just not set up to effectively address, much less fix, most of the problems.

It’s so ridiculous in the game industry, which is so heavily collaborative - far more than with films, for instance. The “stars” more often than not are elevated for reasons that have nothing to do with their actual competence at their job. (Leaving aside the problem that “stars” often end up being promoted to management, i.e. outside their area of competence entirely.)

Yeah, people (at least in the game industry) don’t seem to fully recognize that management is its own skill-set, and even worse, tend to de-value those skills. (The general nature of the corporate environment is that people get promoted beyond their competence anyways.)

The sad bit is that in some of these cases, the public personas of the people involved, the things they talked about and advocated for, were the reason some people joined the company. The reality, which wasn’t publicly discussed, turned out to be quite different from what the research turned up. The problem with whisper networks is that you have to be plugged in to the network - even worse, in some cases, people think, “oh, they just had a problem with me,” and don’t say anything until someone else goes really public, so there’s not even the whisper network.

Unfortunately this goes way beyond that… though it certainly doesn’t help.


Office culture is fucking horrible in almost all cases. Though my education was largely directed towards office work, I ended up leaving with massive burnout, and have been working outside office life for 17 years now.

Peter Principle promotion is common in all work environments larger than a couple of people. However, in some workplaces the feedback loop is fast and efficient enough that the ill-fitted get pruned very quickly.

I worked as a treeplanter for over a decade. Top producing treeplanters tended to get elevated to management as obvious picks. It was a high pressure environment, and in the year I joined management at our company 3 of the 6 new managers were gone inside 2 weeks. The rest of us had some form of organizational or people skills that allowed us to make the transition.


I worked at one for a few years back around the turn of the millenium and I loved it, but it was driving me badly crazy. They demanded 80+ hour work weeks during “crunch time”, which back then meant the period leading up to the holiday shopping season. The first year it was a few weeks. The second it was more than two months, and the third started in mid July. The place was run as a personal fiefdom by one guy - he had been the owner when it was a small indie publisher and was president of the division when it got bought by Activision. 80% of the pay went to his management team and the sales guys, a total of about ten people. The year I was QA lead on the biggest hit the studio ever had at that time, I got a $200 bonus and the sales team all got new sports cars. I was fired not long after for “not being a good fit with the team” because I stood up to a new manager they hired.
From what I hear the industry as a whole has just gotten much much worse since.


Permanent crunch time: a hallmark of incompetent tech company management (basically all game development companies). It was the same 30 years ago.


Is there a text version of this? For me, a 40 minute video is not the best way of taking in information.


Same here. Setting the playback speed to 1.75 helps a lot! :wink:


From Rob’s post:

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