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Former Skullgirls and Indivisible devs form new worker-owned studio

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New beginnings for former Lab Zero Games developers.

Future Club, “an employee-owned cooperative game development studio”, marks a fresh start for former Skullgirls and Indivisible developers after two months of turmoil at Lab Zero Games.

Last month the creative director Mariel Cartwright, senior animator Jonathan Kim, and artist Brian Jun publicly resigned from Lab Zero Games in protest of the alleged abusive and sexual behaviours of its owner, Mike Zaimont, and his subsequent refusal to leave.

It all started with unsavoury comments Zaimont made on stream about the killing of George Floyd. This led to a flurry of accusations of similarly inappropriate and sexual comments and behaviour within the fighting community. The studio then conducted an internal investigation that exposed the systemic nature of that behaviour.

More departures followed. A week later, Lab Zero Games laid off most of the remaining eleven employees with Zaimont telling Kotaku the studio was “…no longer able to meet our payroll obligations.”

It’s understandable given the lack of power in their former situation, then, that the former employees are opting for a flat structure with their new studio. This new chapter was explained in interviews with Kotaku.

“We really want to make sure that everyone at the company has an equal say,” Future Club CEO Francesca Esquenazi told Kotaku. “There isn’t one person at the top who can unilaterally make decisions for everyone else, because that model didn’t work out very well for us [at Lab Zero]. We really want to embrace a model where everyone is an equal owner and has an equal voice.”

The co-op studio model has been similarly adopted by the developers of Night in the Woods, Tonight We Riot, and Dead Cells. Although, Dead Cells’ new studio has now shifted away from this structure as they seek to expand. (And the new studio was given a perhaps too on-the-nose name, Evil Empire, to accompany the change.)

Future Club might differ from the former Dead Cells studio in establishing equal ownership for all workers but with a tiered payment structure. As well as a flatter structure, at Future Club they’re now looking at conflict resolution processes ahead of time.

“There are going to be problems, and you have to know how to deal with it,” said former creative director Mariel Cartwright. “I’ve learned it’s too late to figure out your conflict-resolution process when there’s already conflict. Figuring it out now while we’re still getting along is really, really important and hopefully we can come up with a plan that can carry us through years of working together.”

The new studio is also dedicated to battling crunch.

“I personally have had a lot of crunch in my life and I’m a little over it,” said Cartwright. “What I’ve learned is that the time I can get away from doing the work is where I get inspiration. I can’t become inspired and come up with new ideas when my head is down at the desk working. For everyone’s health but also for our long-term creativity at the studio, it’s important to achieve a good balance for everyone.”

The new studio has “a few pitches nearing a point where they’re ready to be sent to publishers.” Here’s hoping the new structure provides much happier days for the veteran devs.

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