An exodus of employees at Lab Zero Games has occurred over the last few days. Developers from the studio behind Skullgirls and Indivisible are taking their leave, uniformly due to the actions of Skullgirls lead Mike Zaimont.
Lab Zero Games was founded by the original team behind independent fighting game Skullgirls. Part of that team is Mike Zaimont, a fighting game player and designer who led development on Skullgirls, and has stayed head at the company in the years since, as Lab Zero developed games like 2019's Indivisible and added more content to Skullgirls.
In a Twitter statement, artist Brian "EU03" Jun says they're leaving Lab Zero over the work environment fostered by Zaimont. Referencing inappropriate comments Zaimont was accused of making to a fan earlier this year, Jun says the board and Lab Zero employees decided to ask Zaimont to leave the studio. As the sole owner of Lab Zero though, separating Zaimont from the company was not simple.
Jun says the board entered negotiations with Zaimont while he was put on paid administrative leave, but his terms were "unrealistically high and even potentially illegal to force onto the company and the employees." After the majority of the terms were rejected, Jun says Zaimont reversed his plans to leave and removed all members of the board.
"We were all stunned at how the situation degraded so quickly," says Jun. Zaimont allegedly tried to resume negotiations with "essentially the same terms" a few days later.
The flashpoint for this seemed to stem from both the aforementioned fan comments and an incident where Zaimont made an inappropriate "I can't breathe" joke during commentary. (He later apologized for the remark.) As more developers came forward, however, it started to paint a picture of longer-running issues between Zaimont and employees.
"The reason Lab Zero never issued a statement about [Mike Zaimont] is because he hasn't let us," writes Mariel Cartwright in a statement on her resignation. Formerly an artist at Lab Zero, Cartwright says that after both situations occurred in June, the team started to speak up about Zaimont.
"What we realized was that there was a pattern of behavior that I don't think we had fully understood until then," says Cartwright. "A pattern of hostility, insults, threats, lying, and harassment that many on our team had not openly shared with each other."
Her statement goes on to note multiple occasions of mistreating employees, including a number of unwanted advances and inappropriate comments toward herself. When approached about it in 2017, Cartwright says Zaimont called her a hypocrite and blamed the way she dressed. Now, in 2020, after being approached about these behaviors and conditions, Cartwright says Zaimont initially apologized before turning around, echoing Jun's statement.
"I've helped build this studio from its start in 2012," says Cartwright. "I love this team and I love this job. I love what we get to make, and I think everyone at our small studio is wildly talented. I could not be more lucky than to work with everyone here. But I don't think any of us should work in these conditions. It's been years of behavior that was tolerated because we thought we had no other choice—but it's clear to me now that my choice is to remove myself and move on."
Other Lab Zero developers have similarly announced their departure from the company. In a joint statement yesterday from Autumn Games, the official IP owner of Skullgirls, and Hidden Variable Studios, the developer of Skullgirls Mobile, the companies confirmed they will no longer be working with Zaimont or Lab Zero Games.
"Skullgirls, in all its forms, has been a product of years and years of effort from dozens of dedicated developers, artists, designers, and more," reads the statement. "As such, Hidden Variable and Autumn are committed to ongoing development of Skullgirls without the involvement of Lab Zero Games or Mike Zaimont."
The studios also confirm they will be working with the developers leaving Lab Zero to build Skullgirls content moving forward. This includes both work on Skullgirls Mobile, as well as Skullgirls 2nd Encore development moving forward. "We hope this can serve as a fresh start for the next phase of Skullgirls development, unburdened by the events of the past," the studios' statement says.
We have reached out to Zaimont for comment, but did not receive a response prior to publication.