An investigation into working conditions at independent publisher Team17 has unveiled instances of poor pay, long hours and concerns about upper management spanning several years at the company.
The report saw Eurogamer speak to 12 current and former employees across both its Wakefield and Nottingham offices, who confirmed that the company has been rapidly shedding team members as a result of the company's failure to address concerns. It also detailed the fallout following Team17's MetaWorms NFT project.
The developer unveiled its MetaWorms project on January 31, which was swiftly cancelled one day later following a slew of criticism. Eurogamer reported last week that many teams within the company had no knowledge of the project prior to its public announcement.
Staff told Eurogamer that the cancellation was shared in a town hall meeting, with employees likening it to a "political apology" as they were told the project was planned as well as it could have been.
"If it was the people in the office who swayed them -- if it had been the employees -- they wouldn't have done it," an employee told Eurogamer. "Instead, they did it, and they left it for a day and a half to simmer and see what would happen... It wasn't even that people might lose their jobs [if developers pulled their games], or that the company was going downhill.
"It was that the managers were doing something so monumentally stupid without a thought for those who would actually bear the brunt of it. They didn't apologise to staff, even the community managers who were subjected to a barrage of abuse because of it."
Employees told Eurogamer that they felt Team17 had signed too many games over the last couple of years, with some adhering to strict shipping deadlines regardless of whether they're finished or not. Staff said that these concerns were raised towards higher-ups at the firm, but were not addressed.
Members of the company's QA teams also described pay as "low" or "terrible", with the base rate starting at around £16k, and up to £19k for a senior QA role. Staff reported that the figure used to be even lower, starting at around £13k, though that has improved over the last five years.
Recently, QA employees have asked for pay rises but have not been successful. A staff member told Eurogamer that 10 people were willing to put forward cases for a salary increase.
"There were people who would have to skip meals to save money, people who would have to go into the office during the pandemic to reduce their bills, people who couldn't afford new clothes, people who got an emergency bill and were in their overdraft," the employee said. "We took it to management, and the second time we took it to HR. Nothing came of it. We were essentially told 'the wages you are being paid are fine'. I can confirm they're not. People are struggling, badly."
The report also notes that annual bonuses had become "a point of contention" as employees had become accustomed to putting in extra hours in order to earn it. Bonuses were cut last year, some by more than £1,000, despite Team17 reporting record revenues in the recent years. Staff were told that underperforming first-party titles were the reason for the seasonal bonus slash.
"This is something greatly out of our control," another employee said. "A lot of people relied on that. Even those who put in extra hours or worked to the extremes got a substantially reduced bonus."
Another issue that the report highlighted was Team17's disparity when it came to encouraging staff to promote their work. One individual said that they'd been told their team couldn't promote the company because they weren't "photogenic" enough.
Staff also shared complaints regarding the company's HR department, and detailed several instances where action wasn't taken where it should have been. Incidents including sexual harassment were reported to HR, with victims allegedly told to sort it out themselves. Another employee said that staff are now scared to report further issues to HR for fear of being "gaslit."
The report gave insight into how staff view Team17 CEO Debbie Bestwick, and shared instances of how she treats employees. Some staff described Bestwick as "formidable", and that pressure from partners would trickle down to other departments at the studio.
"Things are going to get missed if you are that overworked," a staff member said, "and when they are missed, you're going to be called up by Debbie."
Part of that pressure has followed the company's decision to go public in 2018; staff have said that the change led to increased overtime, rushed releases and additional pressure on Bestwick to keep share prices up.
"It is humiliating at times," the employee added, "because your hand is forced -- you have bugger all budget, you have too many games, and then you're sat in a meeting being asked 'why the hell did this game not meet our expectations?' It can be a very pointed thing. It's not unheard of for people to go out of those meetings crying, which at a workplace is shameful."
The report also noted that despite pay issues and cut bonuses at the publisher, Bestwick was often heard discussing her wealth at the company's office around other staff members, as well as on social media.
Despite the reports, Team17 has an air of optimism when it comes to improvements. One factor of this is appointment of Sony veteran Michael Pattison last year, who promised to refocus on quality at the firm. However, staff remain sceptical as changes are yet to resonate through the ranks.
Update: A Team17 spokesperson issued a statement to Eurogamer regarding its report.
"Team17 Digital takes its responsibilities to its staff extremely seriously," they said. "We constantly review our internal policies and practises and assess how we support our employees through our engagement survey and through direct dialogue with the team, including newly-established employee-led working groups.
This encompasses compensation, workplace culture and environment, among other key areas, to continually strive to improve our employee experience. In January, as part of this, we announced new improvements to the way we pay and reward our Teamsters. We care passionately about our Teamsters and our aim is to ensure they feel connected, valued and have a sense of belonging and purpose, and that they continue to be proud of Team17 and the products we develop and publish."