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Report: Revelations emerge about toxic work culture at Bungie

Current and former Bungie employees are speaking out about abusive conditions at the company.

Bryant Francis, Senior Editor

December 10, 2021

4 Min Read
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According to a report by IGN's Rebekah Valentine, current and former Bungie employees are alleging that the company has been struggling to battle a toxic workplace culture for the last decade--one that has rewarded toxic leaders who regularly make hateful comments, protected employees who commit HR violations, and driven out talented workers who wanted to make Bungie a safer, more inclusive place for the future.

It's a report filled with daming--but some hope for Bungie's future based on improvements already made.

Sources speaking to IGN--including one former narrative team member who went on the record to describe how an abusive leader was allowed to make denigrating comments to her and other employees--go so far as to accuse members of the company's HR department of specifically protecting abusive individuals despite flagrant violations of company policy.

It's a long list of alleged abuses that feel sadly familiar after months of stories from places like Ubisoft, Activision Blizzard, and more (considering Bungie's former close ties to Activision Blizzard, one wonders what abuses transcended both companies).

And like at other studios, these abuses disproportionately impacted female employees, LGBTQ+ employees, employees of color, and autistic or neurodivergent employees. 

All of these abuses also apparently aided and abetted intense crunch at the company, with team leaders who spent more time insulting their direct reports or forcing the team into crunch because of last-minute rewrites to the game's script, or over arguments for the vision of the Destiny series. 

It's shocking how many stories in this report revolve around that last topic. Stories about Bungie's direction for Destiny have been journalistic fodder since 2015, as the company's grand vision consistently clashed with production realities.

What's revelatory about today's reporting is how many individuals at the company still apparently nursed wounds from those battles and took out their anger on new employees trying to make the world of Destiny a more inclusive place. There are darkly comical stories about a former senior narrative employee who continued to try and dictate the story's direction even after departing the company and re-joining as a contractor. 

Elsewhere, veteran employees angrily pushed back against attempts to introduce the fact that an in-game NPC was in a same-sex romantic relationship. This was flimsily held up as an attempt to make sure Destiny could be played in Russia and China (which have legislation restricting the presence of gay characters in media), but when said character was launched, his voice actor confirmed he was gay anyway and the company was allowed to celebrate the positive fan reaction without addressing instances of internal homophobia.

IGN's report on Bungie diverges from stories about Ubisoft and Activision Blizzard in some specific ways. First, employees speaking out about conditions at the company still expressed that the studio is "trying" to do better. The recent removal of forced arbitration and the hiring of a true D&I lead show good intent, but also are too late for some impacted employees. 

Second, Bungie CEO Pete Parsons in his response struck a more conciliatory tone than other company leaders like Activision Blizzard CEO Bobby Kotick (he also didn't draft angry e-mails for other executives to send. Low bar to clear.)

In his response to IGN, Parsons apologized to any employee who "ever experienced anything less than a safe, fair, and professional working environment at Bungie."

"I am not here to refute or to challenge the experiences being shared by people who have graced our studio with their time and talent," Parsons wrote. "Our actions or, in some cases, inactions, caused these people pain. I apologize personally and on behalf of everyone at Bungie who I know feel a deep sense of empathy and sadness reading through these accounts."

(Parsons' full statement shared with IGN has been posted here.)

Bungie's CEO apparently added elsewhere in his response that the company does not tolerate "rockstar" employees (talented individuals whose negative behavior is tolerated because of good performance). Multiple employees told IGN that statement doesn't line up with reality, as you could describe multiple senior individuals who were alleged repeat offenders for vile comments as being the traditional tolerated "rockstar."

Parsons also did not account for employees who e-mailed him over the years asking for assistance with toxic coworkers.

Even in recent years where the company was alleged to be improving, there are still glaring issues that remain. Several employees were apparently able to make derogatory comments towards Black Lives Matter or the employee resource group Black at Bungie at company town halls without pushback from leadership.

Some employees did end their conversations with IGN expression optimism about the company's future. Several incubation teams shaping new projects at the company are apparently more diverse than ever, and good-faith efforts from management and the departure of toxic individuals has apparently improved life at the company.

But it's still disappointing to read that a company which professes such noble values and publicly celebrates diversity and inclusion would stumble so hard, and fail to protect talented employees.

About the Author(s)

Bryant Francis

Senior Editor, GameDeveloper.com

Bryant Francis is a writer, journalist, and narrative designer based in Boston, MA. He currently writes for Game Developer, a leading B2B publication for the video game industry. His credits include Proxy Studios' upcoming 4X strategy game Zephon and Amplitude Studio's 2017 game Endless Space 2.

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