A major new IGN report into workplace toxicity at Destiny 2 studio Bungie has prompted an apology from CEO Pete Parsons, who acknowledged that while the studio has made positive changes in recent years, “it is not enough, and it has taken too long.”
In September, Parsons released a statement affirming Bungie’s commitment “to fostering a safe and welcoming environment for everyone, and to making conscious and constant improvements through listening, self-awareness, improving our workplace and our systems, and by acting on behalf of our people.” The statement was prompted by the events of “these past few months,” he said; no names were dropped, but it was a clear reference to the allegations of widespread misconduct at Activision Blizzard.
Parsons’ statement painted a very positive picture of life at Bungie, but according to the IGN report it didn’t go over well with many employees, who had their own first-hand experiences with toxicity in the workplace. Interviews with 26 current and former employees reveal a culture rife with overt sexism and a “boys’ club culture,” heavy crunch, and protection of abusers.
Members of Bungie’s narrative team would sometimes work up to 100 hours a week during some expansions, according to the report, while requests for more full-time team members were repeatedly denied. When Bungie told the narrative team not to crunch because the studio was trying to eliminate the practice, some writers continued and simply didn’t report the overtime hours in order to avoid having features cut. It’s not clear when this was happening, or with which expansions: The upcoming Destiny 2: The Witch Queen expansion was delayed into early 2022 to help ensure “the health of our teams,” but Halo: Combat Evolved art director Marcus Lehto said in 2020 that he left Bungie in part to get away from “extended crunch periods.”
Multiple interviewees also complained about Bungie’s HR department, and one long-serving employee in particular, which appeared more inclined to protect abusers than to address their abuses. “It’s a well-known fact, if you talk to HR you’re putting your own job on the line,” one employee said. “HR has never been there to protect employees. They’ve always been there to protect the company. I’ve watched it happen a few times at Bungie, where someone went to HR and things went completely sideways for them.”
There are also plenty of examples of more insidious behavior. Casual sexism at Bungie had a real impact on women characters in Destiny 2—”I could go on for a long time about all the ways women have been made to stand by as the men on the team have written characters in baffling, unrecognizable ways,” one source said—but the lack of diversity among studio leadership is perhaps best highlighted by a story about Devrim Kay, a human NPC players meet in the early stages of Destiny 2 who is gay.
That fact was originally brought to light through a reference to his “partner” in a single line of dialog, but management eventually demanded it be removed so the game could be sold in countries like Russia and China, where same-sex romances wouldn’t be tolerated. Following an internal uproar at Bungie, the reference was softened, but it was still explicit enough to be recognized, and Bungie leadership ended up earning acclaim for a narrative feature it tried to remove.
There is acknowledgement from many of the sources that Bungie has improved, and is continuing to move in the right direction, but it nonetheless prompted Parsons to speak out publicly.
A message from Bungie’s CEO, Pete Parsons.https://t.co/LsBrYmZCyU pic.twitter.com/nYmGXuEt1pDecember 10, 2021
“I want to apologize to anyone who has ever experienced anything less than a safe, fair, and professional working environment at Bungie,” he wrote. “I am not here to refute or to challenge the experiences we’re seeing shared today by people who have graced our studio with their time and talent. Our actions or, in some cases, inactions, caused these people pain. I apologize personally and on behalf of everyone at Bungie who I know feels a deep sense of empathy and sadness reading through these accounts.”
Parsons listed changes made at the studio over the past several years, including the removal of offenders “without respect to their tenure, seniority, or interpersonal relationships,” a focus on more manageable release dates, and greater efforts to increase inclusion, diversity, and equity. “I’m heartened by the progress we have made, but it is not enough, and it has taken too long,” he wrote. “It also does not sweep away the bad experiences people have had at our studio.”
“As CEO, it is my job to factor both the past and the future and be accountable for all of it, here and now. Speaking with the team at Bungie, reading the stories, and seeing both known and newly surfaced accounts, it is clear we still have work ahead of us.”
The Bungie Foundation, the studio’s non-profit charity arm, announced that it will be suspended its annual Game2Give charity event indefinitely, “while we digest this news and support our employees who are hurting.” The website will remain open for donations through December 15, while fundraising streams will resume in 2022.
We are devastated by the news that came out today. We will be pausing #Game2Give indefinitely while we digest this news and support our employees who are hurting. We are truly grateful for this community – your support has enabled so much good around the world December 10, 2021