While the grand majority of the spotlight is being thrown on Activision-Blizzard for its past and ongoing poor treatment of its workforce, the games industry is still full of other examples of abusive, harmful, and inequitable churn for developers of different races, sexes, and orientations: There’s Riot Games, there’s Ubisoft, and now thanks to a massive expose from IGN, we can add Bungie to that dubious list.
The article spoke with 26 current and former employees who worked with Bungie over the last decade, with stories as far back as 2011 and as currently as this year of a work culture soaked with a number of awful yet far too familiar stories of mistreatment.
Many of the worst accounts come from Bungie’s narrative team behind the Destiny series, particularly in the development of Destiny 2’s story, where constant crunch and burnout prevailed and employees were under the boots of different narrative leads who would do things such as yell at meetings, throw a chair at a window during a temper tantrum, or make sexist and racists remarks. Other accounts point out one Bungie leader who took vitriolic Reddit reactions to the Curse of Osiris story – many of these singling out female writers – and spread them to other team leads in an effort to tear down the narrative team.
Narrative was not the only department in turmoil: The accounts of other employees further talk about similar “rock star” treatment for long-standing members of the studio’s staff who were apparently untouchable despite multiple filings to HR, along with other men in upper management harassing female employees, using racist slurs in reference to more diverse Destiny NPCs, and overall mistreatment of transgender employees including refusal to use correct pronouns or asking inappropriate questions.
The story drew forth a lengthy response from CEO Pete Parsons, who apologized for transgressions that led to harm for employees who “graced [the] studio with their time and talent,” and outlined several initiatives meant to stop abuses, including mentioning that most of the leads and upper management who were causing problems have already been fired or already left the studio. Parsons further promised a focus on better planning and more reasonable release dates for future updates to avoid crunch, outlined several internal diversity initiatives, and talked up reviews of the studio’s hiring, compensation, and promotion practices with help from a third-party audit to address inequities in pay.
“As CEO, it is my job to factor both the past and the future and be accountable for all of it, here and now. Speaking with the team at Bungie, reading the stories, and seeing both known and newly surfaced accounts, it is clear we still have work ahead of us.
I am committed to it. We are not yet the studio we have the potential to become, but we are on our way. And we will not rest or slow these efforts because we recognize that the journey of inclusivity, diversity, and equity is, in itself, the destination we all strive towards.”
Reaction to this missive from Parsons among employees speaking to IGN is mixed. Many believe there are positive steps being made, including one new Bungie project that features a truly diverse and caring team of developers, while many more feel the words and actions are too little too late. That said, those who left Bungie say they did so under such terms that they are largely able to find new positions within the games industry with ease.
Other employees challenge Bungie to act forward and not in hindsight. “Listen to your employees that have been giving this feedback instead of just saying, ‘Please give us feedback.’ Listen and act on it and tell us what actions you took,” one employee said.
Readers will recall that Parsons voluntarily did away with forced arbitration back in September and detailed continued expansion of Bungie’s diversity and inclusion efforts.