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Undead Labs employees accuse studio of misogyny, mismanagement

Allegations against the State of Decay maker include that its former head of HR also enabled a harmful studio culture

Today a new report alleged that State of Decay maker Undead Labs has developed a culture marked by misogyny, burnout, and mismanagement.

In an exposé by Kotaku, the publication spoke with 12 current and former staffers that describe the time following the studio's acquisition by Microsoft as a "period of crisis."

A current developer said bluntly, "The culture the studio had up until recently was not the most hospitable for anyone that was not a white cishet man."

"It's improved in the last six months or so. But the studio hired a lot of diverse talent that it did not adequately support [in the past]."

Some of the problems came with the departure of founder Jeff Strain, who left the studio in 2019 as ArenaNet head of development Philip Holt stepped into the role as chief of staff.

After Holt joined the developer, he and Strain brought on Anne Schlosser as its first head of people and culture to help the company. However according to sources, she didn't help resolve issues between staff and discrimination at the company.

"There was a guy on the [State of Decay 3] team who was being blatantly sexist, and Anne didn't do anything about him," a former developer told Kotaku.

"There was a manager of the tech art team who was awful that Anne sided with, and lo, nearly the entire tech art team quit."

In response to the allegations Schlosser told the publication, "As a woman whose career has been negatively affected by the kind of toxic misogyny alleged by the source of this article, I would never tolerate or excuse the kinds of behaviors the source alleges..."

Following a contested team meeting in August 2021, she requested a morale review of the company by Microsoft. HR interviewed staffers and a month later Schlosser exited the company. She told Kotaku that her departure however was a part of a planned restructuring within the studio.

Yesterday, Strain wrote a medium blog post prior to Kotaku's report which he said he wrote due to the fact he was given a short period of time to respond to questions.

"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," said Strains.

"At both of these early-career studios, through the start-up days to acquisition and growth into a larger company, I was always trying to learn how to do things better, every single day."

He went on to say that at both he attempted to reduce studio crunch and offer staff generous employee benefits. He noted that these efforts weren't perfect but asserts they were priorities for him then and now.

He proceeded to also share the questions the publication sent over to him and his full responses.

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Jeffrey Rousseau avatar

Jeffrey Rousseau

Staff Writer

Jeffrey Rousseau joined GamesIndustry.biz in March 2021. Based in Florida, his work focused on the intersectionality of games and media. He enjoys reading, podcasts, staying informed, and learning how people are tackling issues.

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