A new investigative report by Kotaku details allegations of sexism, harassment, bullying, and other allegations inside Undead labs. It is one of the latest investigations into a major game Studio that details some of these types of allegations. Undead Labs is the studio behind State of Decay, and is currently owned by Microsoft. Microsoft itself is awaiting approval of a major nearly 70 billion dollar acquisition of Activision Blizzard, a company that has also faced a series of similar allegations.
Undead Labs was founded by Jeff Strain, The co-founder of ArenaNet and former executive producer and programmer on Guild Wars. He founded Undead Labs in 2009 and left late in 2021 after several years employees say he was checked out, but Strain explains with his move to New Orleans and frequent travel back and forth to his family for having less pure time. Undead Labs established a multi-year agreement with Microsoft to publish on Xbox, and was later acquired in 2018.
The investigation centers around interviews with a dozen current and former employees, and many are describing Microsoft’s more or less hands-off attitude allowed some of the harassment and mistreatment to continue. According to one former employee, “We were afraid they would come in and change our culture but our collapse came from within, and we could have used [Microsoft’s] help.”
When Kotaku contacted him for comment, Strain himself decided to write up his own response so that it would be available to read in full and not angled within an investigative article. According to Strain’s blog:
“At both ArenaNet and at Undead Labs, in a very complex and troubled industry, I tried very hard to reduce and then eliminate crunch, offer generous vacation and PTO benefits, pay well, extend strongly supportive parental leave, provide world-class health care , and go to great lengths to care for my colleagues and create a positive environment for everyone. None of these efforts were perfect, but these issues remain high, meaningful priorities for me, including for my current studios.”
Philip Holt, who is Undead Labs’ studio head, responded to the Kotaku investigation via Microsoft:
“Since our acquisition by Microsoft in 2018, Undead Labs has been focused elevating the quality and ambition of State of Decay and increasing the diversity and inclusivity of our studio culture. Building an inclusive and supporting environment is central to our vision of our culture, how we enable our teams to do their best work, and how we build the best games. I recognize that some of our employees, current and former, have shared that their experiences at the Lab weren’t always positive. Our past culture does not exemplify who we are now, nor who we want to become.”
Holt continues with references to actions they’ve taken to improve workplace culture. While some employees said that the past few months have seen an improvement, there’s still a long way to go.
For more, head over to Kotaku for the full investigative piece.