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Report: Bungie has struggled with sexism, crunch, abusive leaders

Update: CEO promises investigations into future allegations after dozens of current and former employees share stories of mistreatment at Destiny studio

Original story, December 10, 2021: Despite Bungie's public stances against crunch and toxic studio cultures, the Destiny developer has tolerated both in recent years, according to an IGN report.

The outlet spoke with 26 current and former Bungie employees, some of whom described experiences of sexism, racism, abusive bosses, and systemic discrimination at the company.

Bungie's narrative team was singled out as particularly problematic in recent years, with stories of gendered slurs, homophobic and racist jokes, and abusive behavior from a group of white male senior leaders with a more diverse team of women and marginalized writers underneath them. In instances where people complained, they were told the senior person was just joking, that they needed thicker skins, or they were berated and yelled at.

The narrative team also worked up to 100-hour weeks during crunch periods, with requests for additional staff to handle the workload over years repeatedly denied.

When the Destiny 2: Curse of Osiris expansion received a lukewarm response, fans of the game on Reddit singled out women on the narrative team for harassment and death threats. IGN's sources said the women targeted were not supported by the studio or its community team, and one company leader used the backlash around them as a way to blame the narrative team for the expansion's poor reception.

A letter to Bungie CEO Pete Parsons from narrative team members went ignored according to the report, but a swath of the narrative team (including every woman on it) simultaneously quitting or threatening to quit led to the company beginning to address those issues.

IGN's report goes on to report issues both within the narrative team and in the studio at large with sexual remarks and unwanted hugs, deliberate misgendering of a trans employee, women and marginalized employees being denied promotions for specious reasons -- one writer "wasn't good enough at the game" -- nepotism leading to long-standing (frequently white and male) employees getting preferred assignments while marginalized developers were given assignments with a lower chance of success.

An internal diversity committed with white company leaders and more diverse employees was formed in 2015. Multiple sources told IGN those white leaders consistently resisted changes suggested by the others. Enough of the diverse employees quit the committee that Bungie shut it down in 2018.

"Our actions or, in some cases, inactions, caused these people pain"

Bungie CEO Pete Parsons

Various employees portrayed the studio as unaccommodating and inconsiderate with its treatment of employees with special needs or in difficult situations. One had stress-related issues requiring surgery. Others were depressed from their experience at the studio, and sought therapy, started drinking more, or contemplated suicide.

Parsons apologized to his employees in a comment to IGN.

"I am not here to refute or to challenge the experiences being shared by people who have graced our studio with their time and talent," he said.

"Our actions or, in some cases, inactions, caused these people pain. I apologize personally and on behalf of everyone at Bungie who I know feel a deep sense of empathy and sadness reading through these accounts."

While many of the abusive leaders referred to in the story are no longer with the company, Parsons acknowledged the studio took too long in removing some of them.

Many of the people IGN spoke with said the studio has made strides in recent years and they believe it is trying to improve.

Bungie said 20.5% of the company is made up of women, with people who identify as coming from an underrepresented group account for 18.6% of the company. It has also established a Diversity and Inclusivity director position who works with employee resource groups including Black at Bungie, Women at Bungie, Trans at Bungie, and Accessibility at Bungie.

Update, December 13, 2021: CEO Pete Parsons has expanded on his apology via a public blog post, which reiterates his statement to IGN and offers more details on what Bungie has been doing to improve its workplace over the last three years.

He once again emphasised that abusive leaders have either been terminated or left Bungie, but added: "If new information comes to light -- whether through this story or by named or anonymous people coming forward -- we will act on that information and investigate with integrity."

Parsons also made various claims about the current diversity at Bungie following changes made over the past few years.

He says the number of employees who identify as women represents 20.5% of Bungie's workforce, while people from underrepresented communities represent 18.6%. Both are said to be increases when compared to five years ago, but Parsons did not specify how much of an increase.

Similarly, he reports 22.5% of the studio's leaders -- defined as "decision makers who have serious impact on the overall success of major initiatives, who are responsible for the impact and careers of entire departments of people, and who drive the long-term success of the studio" -- identify as women. 20% are people from underrepresented communities.

Additional reporting by James Batchelor

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Brendan Sinclair

Managing Editor

Brendan joined in 2012. Based in Toronto, Ontario, he was previously senior news editor at GameSpot in the US.