Lab Zero Games’ controversial owner Mike “Mike Z” Zaimont fired the studio’s entire staff last week following a series of high-profile departures, leaving several full-time employees and contract workers scrambling for support.
News of these mass layoffs became public yesterday thanks to former Lab Zero artist Jonathan “Persona” Kim, who helped promote fellow departee Marial Cartwright’s sketchbook sale to raise funds for the fired developers. As of this morning, Cartwright has sold through her stock, collecting thousands of dollars for her former co-workers.
“[For your information], Mariel has to do this because last week Mike laid off everyone who didn’t quit [Lab Zero], but hasn’t agreed to a severance for them yet,” Kim explained on Twitter.
Lab Zero Games, known for hit fighting game Skullgirls and the combo-heavy role-playing game Indivisible, was at one point meant to transition from being wholly owned by Zaimont to sharing equity with its employees. But after allegations of inappropriate sexual comments went public, a board comprised of studio staff asked Zaimont to step down. When a deal couldn’t be reached, however, Zaimont dissolved the board and assumed complete control of Lab Zero, prompting seven integral members of the team to publicly resign.
According to former employees who asked to remain anonymous, this left Lab Zero with 11 employees, Zaimont included, but the general feeling in the studio was that the company was over. While several talented developers were left, losing style-defining artists like Kim, Cartwright, and Brian “EU03” Jun left a hole too big to fill, especially as the studio’s reputation continued to sink. Work on a new project stalled, and many of the remaining employees apparently felt it was only a matter of time until either Zaimont or their publisher pulled the plug.
“Unfortunately, Lab Zero was forced into layoffs because we were no longer able to meet our payroll obligations,” Zaimont told Kotaku via email. “It is not a decision I made lightly. I personally know how hard it can be to find employment in a poorly performing economy, but we have more debt than cash, and the last thing I would ever do is not pay my hard-working colleagues or our partners for their work. We are exploring all funding options in hopes of bringing those team members back, but right now that’s the reality.”
It’s still unclear what kind of severance agreement, if any, Lab Zero included in the employee contract. In the August 25 email blast that announced the layoffs, Zaimont told his former employees to be on the lookout for an additional severance email of some sort and also promised to maintain health insurance through September.
Skullgirls property owner Autumn Games and Skullgirls Mobile developer Hidden Variable Studios have promised to keep the fighting game alive with the help of former Lab Zero Games staff for the foreseeable future. Annie, a long-awaited fan-favourite character, will be added to the mobile port this year before eventually heading to the main game in 2021, with more content to come later.