Between painstaking growth, sexism, toxic management and hope for a better future

After becoming an Xbox game studio since 2018, Undead Labs is widely known for its licensing state of decay, The American studio is actually at the core of the franchise and is currently developing a new work, state of decay 3, But a new investigation by Kotaku shows a number of rifts within the company in recent years. According to several evidences, company management will have particularly significant organizational difficulties when practicing general sexism.

An Acquisition That Goes Wrong

These are the twelve developers, former or current, that Kotaku was able to interview. Those who testified on condition of anonymity and all presented Undead Labs’ management as the cause of professional burnout. a situation that arose shortly after release state of decay 2 and acquired by Microsoft. Because at the time, it seems that many thought the studio would remain independent after various speeches from Undead Labs founder Jeff Strain. “It was a roller coaster ride, and some early employees were shocked by the whiplash” Thus declares a former developer. But this is a priority, not just the fault of the leader.

Following the sale of his company, Jeff Strain remained in the position until the end of 2019. However, according to evidence gathered by Kotaku, the man had already been absent for several months, some refer to it as “Absent Father”, highlighting their runners-up from teams in the weeks and months before their departure. And above all, as a leader, relying more on logic than on your other: Philip Holt.


Recruited in early 2019, Holt is slowly taking over the management of the teams. It is he who ensures the succession of Strain and now captures the head of Undead Labs. Unfortunately, the head of the studio is presented as particularly toxic. He has been described as nepotistic and thus favors the hiring of close friends in important positions. The allegations were denied by Microsoft, which adds to the rigors of its hiring process, particularly with Kotaku.

Undead Labs has a rigorous and standardized recruitment process for all potential employees, with visibility and review by multiple studio members.

women keep silence

Undead Labs employees also claim that sexism was exclusively present on a daily basis. Thus women’s opinions have great difficulty in carrying weight during the discussion and many of them can be reduced. “Men were asking women to take notes during meetings, ignoring their expertise, and even saying ‘You’re not as beautiful as ever’ and ‘I’m surprised you have this job. There are sexist comments like that.” Can we study at Kotaku? Simple sexism that doesn’t allow women to flourish with their male partners.

When I Interviewed at Labs, I Was Sold [l’idée] a transitional studio that was building [la diversité, l’équité et l’inclusion] an absolute priority. In fact, studio executives painted a face of diversity, equality and inclusion for Microsoft, while women were consistently ignored, dismissed, interrupted, ignored and blamed.

The everyday circumstances of which many were able to condemn Anne Schlosser, who was responsible for human resources at the time. But still, it seems that the speeches were not heard or that COVID and teleworking were used as excuses. The meetings have been organized at the initiative of the employees to disseminate advice and training on the relationship between men and women at work.

The culture of the studio until recently was one of the most hospitable to someone who wasn’t a white male.

Without knowing why, Microsoft has conducted various interviews within Undead Labs. This affected dozens of employees and led to the departure of Anne Schlosser. However, the latter denies any connection between the two subjects and confirms on Kotaku’s microphone that his departure was already recorded as part of a “Planned reorganization of the studio”


A long and tedious pre-production

Also per investigation by Kotaku, we also learn that the development of State of Decay 3 must have been extremely difficult so far. The pre-production phase would have been particularly lengthy and attempted with compartmental teams and a lot of changes within them. Furthermore, although many ideas were central to the gameplay state of decay 3 Hardly shaped.

However, Xbox is looking to introduce its first party game before the release of Xbox Series X|S in July 2020. To this end, many teams are encouraged to give a demonstration of their title in development, although this remains optional. Philip Holt still wants to be present and then specifically puts pressure on his teams. Friction builds up and developers are forced to build trailers.


“We didn’t want to advertise the game because we didn’t even know what it was at the time” Says a developer is still in the office. Despite this, the status of December 3 is presented to the world. But it is not the only source of stress. The video highlights an encounter with a dead animal and then promises players to interact with the fauna and flora. Except that internally, nothing has been recorded yet and the idea is complicated to implement.

Towards a better future?

However, some employees believe that The studio is on the right track now. One of them also specifies that the reference “There has been an improvement in the last six months” while the other firmly believes in the ability of 3 state of decay. “It can be such a great game and we have so many great people working on it. I hope we don’t repeat the terrible habits of the past few years. ,

And moreover, if Philip Holt didn’t explicitly respond to Kotaku, he wanted to speak on the subject. Via a press release from Microsoft, he shares a speech that acknowledges past mistakes. He testifies as to the identity of the incidents mentioned by various developers and makes sure that the face is not covered. But above all, he underlines how much effort has been made recently. The effort may be late but we expect it to bear fruit very soon.

Since our acquisition by Microsoft in 2018, Undead Labs has focused on enhancing the quality and ambition of State of Decay and increasing the diversity and inclusivity of our studio culture. Creating an inclusive and supportive environment is central to our vision of culture, how we enable our teams to do our best work, and how we make the best games. I recognize that some of our employees, current and former, have acknowledged that their experiences in the lab have not always been positive.

Our past culture does not dictate who we are now nor what we want to be. We have seen many changes over the years: we have an entirely new management team, including a new HR director and a new department in 2021; We have hired approximately 75 employees since the start of the pandemic; And we’ve changed the demographics of our team. We’ve already seen that our ongoing cultural change creates a better place for the team to work, which leads to a better sport for our community. I am proud of the work we have accomplished, humbled by the work ahead of us, ready to learn from this experience and determined to do better every day.

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