"Skullgirls" "Skullgirls"

Lab Zero Games, the L.A.-based developer behind the popular games Skullgirls and Indivisible, is the latest games studio to become embroiled in a controversy over its workplace culture. Multiple employees have resigned in response to behavior by the studio’s head, Mike “MikeZ” Zaimont.

What happened? A number of staff have announced on Twitter that they are leaving Lab Zero. They include creative director Mariel Kinuko Cartwright, senior animator Jonathan Kim, art producer Brian Jun, senior animator Jebus Matoi, and senior artist Jessica Allen.

Why the exodus? In a word: MikeZ. Many of the ex-employees tweeted similar statements detailing hostile and inappropriate behavior by their former boss. Cartwright gave some examples: “He doesn’t respect employees who don’t work at all hours. He gets hostile and talks down to people. He makes inappropriate jokes about his dick … I tolerated years of sexual comments about my body and clothes, uncomfortable jokes, unwanted hugs.”

The former staff say they started sharing their experiences of Zaimont’s behavior with each other this summer. They then confronted Zaimont, who refused to leave the company (which he owns entirely), while continuing to “intimidate” staff. They resigned en masse as a result.

Why did they start talking this summer? Zaimont was the subject of multiple controversies in June. During a live-streamed game of Skullgirls, he made a racially insensitive joke about the death of George Floyd, for which he later apologized. Meanwhile, a female Twitch streamer accused him of sending her sexually inappropriate messages, screengrabs of which she posted online. After these and other incidents, Lab Zero staff “started speaking up,” says Cartwright.

How unusual is this? A mass resignation by senior employees is pretty rare in the industry. But allegations of sexual harassment and abusive employment practices in games studios are becoming increasingly common. Ubisoft and Rocksteady are among the companies that have faced such accusations from staff in recent months.

What’s next for Lab Zero? Jun called on gamers not to boycott Skullgirls, pointing out that publisher Autumn Games owns the IP. Autumn Games and Hidden Variable, the developer behind a mobile spin-off of the game, released a statement confirming that they have severed ties with Lab Zero, and stating their plan “to work with the many talented individuals who are leaving” the company.

The bottom line: The games industry is facing what may be its biggest #MeToo moment yet.

Here are the ex-employees’ public announcements about their resignations:

(Image at top: “Skullgirls 2nd Encore.”)

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