Ori Studio 'Oppressive', 'Sexist' Per Report

Moon Studios has made some of the best-regarded Metroidvanias of the last two decades.
Moon Studios has made some of the best-regarded Metroidvanias of the last two decades. / Photo courtesy of Moon Studios/Xbox Game Studios

Moon Studios, the studio behind the two Ori games, is the latest games company to have its toxic work culture revealed in a report, with casual sexism and racism a frequent occurrence.

Its founders, Thomas Mahler and Gennadiy Korol, are the source of the toxicity, according to a report published Friday by Venturebeat. Their attempts to create what they saw as a "no bullshit" studio culture enabled them to insult each other and other employees. Praise, on the other hand, is said to be a rarity at the studio. That culture thrived even as most of the studio's staff worked remotely from around the world.

"Were the founders both belligerent? Yes. In my opinion," said one developer. (Venturebeat's sources were all granted anonymity to protect their careers.) "Was it limited to those two? Yes. Unprofessional on an hourly basis? Yes. Harassing? Yes."

Moon is best known for its work on 2015's Ori and the Blind Forest, which it followed up with 2020's Ori and the Will of the Wisps. Microsoft published both games. Moon is now working on a new title, code-named Forsaken.

According to employees interviewed by Venturebeat, Mahler was committed to including a rape scene in the game to serve as motivation for the main character. Only after weeks of arguments with other employees did he back down.

"They have a mentality where they think they're not politically correct, they don't want to be censored, they don't want to be corporate," said another developer. "They don't want to belike these other studios. But it's just a justification to behave in any way they want to. Other studios attempt to make a comfortable work environment for everyone involved."

In a statement to Venturebeat, Mahler and Korol took issue with the outlet's characterization of the studio.

"We don't believe the experiences suggested by your questions are representative of the more than 80 Moon Studios team members who are thriving and doing great work every day — nor do we believe they are representative of the experience of former members of our team," they said. "In fact, we are very proud of our history of making people happy, advancing their careers, and contributing to their financial success."

The two founders said they "view each other as brothers. And, like brothers, we sometimes argue and frequently tease each other. We have made jokes at our own expense about the differences in our backgrounds — and there may have been times that our teasing of each other has come off as insensitive and may have made others feel uncomfortable."

"We are not perfect but we deeply care about our talent and are constantly working hard to improve. If we have ever made anyone feel uncomfortable or left anyone down — we regret that and we will always strive to do better."

The two founders also reportedly held an internal meeting with staff to discuss the Venturebeat story. They decided to open an anonymous feedback system for developers on the team.

Despite high turnover at the studio, Moon managed to keep its staff headcount up through aggressive recruiting tied to the success of its previous games and the promise of healthy bonuses.

Microsoft is not publishing Forsaken, and has yet to comment on whether or not it was aware of the working conditions at Moon Studios when publishing its previous games. It's in the midst of an acquisition of Activision Blizzard, another games company awash in scandal tied to sexual harassment and gender-based discrimination.