The ‘death by a thousand papercuts version of sexism’ engulfed State of Decay studio Undead Labs, according to new expose


Earlier today, Kotaku ran an expose of Undead Labs, best known for the State of Decay franchise and now housed under no less than Microsoft, its original founder having left to found another company, Possibility Space. That’d be Jeff Strain, well-known to MMORPG gamers as one of the original founders of ArenaNet and the Guild Wars franchise, though of course he left NCsoft and ArenaNet 13 years ago.

Kotaku’s sources suggest that Undead Labs’ management was a disorganized mess “compounded by patterns of discrimination against female, non-binary, and other marginalized employees.” Sources recount sexist comments and behavior even toward “women in director-level positions,” including stories about female devs being asked to take notes during meetings. An initially temporary replacement for Strain, former ArenaNet head of development Philip Holt is still running the studio and now stands accused of nepotism, pushing out female leads, mismanagement, and instructing workers not to discuss stories like this one. The former head of people and culture, Anne Schlosser, is accused of failing to address sexism in the company, to the point that “nearly the entire tech art team quit” and eventually Microsoft intervened. While some of the sources refer to incidents from several years ago, others are far more recent.

Schlosser denied these allegations; Holt declined to answer questions but issued a statement acknowledging past problems. Strain apparently also declined to comment to Kotaku, having been given what he characterizes as a short window for turnaround, but he did post a missive of his own on Medium to “to allow [his] full responses to be read outside the narrative angle of the article.” Notably, he denies ever vowing that Undead Labs would always stay independent and addresses claims that he’d “checked out” of Undead Labs before leaving. He also says no one raised concerns about Schlosser before he left.

“Both ArenaNet and Undead Labs were grueling, thrilling, draining, and exhilarating experiences where I learned in real time, made mistakes, matured, made more mistakes and hopefully a few smart decisions, and matured some more,” he wrote. “Leaving ArenaNet was wrenching, but ultimately the company moved beyond the shadows of its founders to have new leadership and new voices. Just like ArenaNet, Undead Labs will also find equilibrium in the next stage of maturity.”

Source: Kotaku, Medium
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