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Ex-developers claim Firesprite's current situation is a 'sinking ship,' not helped by studio heads reportedly at the root of these problems.

Justin Carter, Contributing Editor

February 29, 2024

2 Min Read
Key art for Firesprite's Horizon: Call of the Mountain.
Image via Firesprite/PlayStation.

At a Glance

  • Former staff claim Firesprite has undergone a turbulent culture shift since Sony bought the studio in 2021.

Days after being hit with layoffs by Sony, former staff at Firesprite claim the studio has a toxic work culture. The alleged toxicity has resulted in an investigation and "high-profile" exits.

Sources speaking to Eurogamer accused two senior leaders of sexual discrimination and ageism. Both seniors, hailing from support studio XDev, are said to have 13 total complaints against them.

The investigation took place prior to the layoffs, which Sony later dismissed as a "misunderstanding." But Eurogamer alleges some Firesprite staff were exploring legal options, at which point they received financial payouts from the PlayStation maker.

Firesprite employees had already begun leaving in October at an "alarming" rate. Glassdoor reviews describe the studio heads as "horrendous" and having created a "culture of fear."

"The culture of the studio has completely nosedived over the past few months with many great experienced staff leaving," one review reads. "Real shame that what was previously a fantastic place to work has been so destroyed."

Equally blunt, sources told Eurogamer the newer heads were "an inadequate toxic mess. [They're] bullies who treat [the studio] like it's a factory."

Conversely, a separate Glassdoor review came to the heads' defense. While acknowledging how all studios are "fighting for their lives," they noted that Firesprite may not still be around if there wasn't some kind of regime change.

"The old way was lovely, but was disorganised," they said. "Morale has been hit during the changing of the guard, not least mine. But I genuinely believe in the project I'm working on."

Sony's meddling may send Firesprite up in flames

To some staff, the blame lies at Sony, which bought Firesprite in 2021. Nearly all of its founders have since left the studio, with one source saying "what made [this] a good place to work went with them."

Internally, staff have speculated that Sony forced out the founders, describing co-founder's Graeme Ankers' exit in May as "unbelievable."

In general, many Firesprite staff say Sony's acquisition has been a mixed bag. While the studio may have needed change to keep afloat, Sony has effectively doomed it to "death by a thousand cuts."

Worse, those who left the studio pre-Sony layoffs did so feeling "disillusioned and frustrated."

"Sony committed the worst possible mistake in buying a studio," a developer said. "[Firesprite is] meddled to the point where it may end up in a death spiral and unable to complete any of the projects it is working on."

Game Developer has reached out to Sony regarding the allegations, and will update when a response is given.

Eurogamer's full report on Firesprite and Sony's effect on the studio (particularly during development of Horizon: Call of the Mountain) can be read here.

About the Author(s)

Justin Carter

Contributing Editor, GameDeveloper.com

A Kansas City, MO native, Justin Carter has written for numerous sites including IGN, Polygon, and SyFy Wire. In addition to Game Developer, his writing can be found at io9 over on Gizmodo. Don't ask him about how much gum he's had, because the answer will be more than he's willing to admit.

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