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Ex-MetroGames staffers plan legal action against studio management
Ex-MetroGames staffers plan legal action against studio management Exclusive
January 16, 2012 | By Kris Graft

Former staffers with struggling Argentina-based social game studio and Coco Girl developer MetroGames told Gamasutra late last week that their fight against management is continuing into the new year.

Employees with the studio last month accused management of "extortion," alleging that company heads were "pressuring" employees to quit, as opposed to firing them, so that workers would be ineligible for severance pay that is required by labor laws.

Some employees quit, while others waited for management to fire them. Now, former staff are planning to start legal action next month. "The group of employees which didn't give in to the extortion perpetrated by both [studio owners Julian] Lisenberg and [Damian] Harburguer, were fired without compensation," employees said in a statement sent to Gamasutra.

"Until this day, we haven’t received our salary corresponding to the month of December, our bonuses and our compensation for sudden layoff," the statement continued.

"The stipulated date for them to pay this sum is long overdue, but we have to wait until February to begin legal action against MetroGames, because of the judicial recess that takes place in January here in Argentina. Many of the former MetroGames’ employees have been left in a dire situation: without money, job and in debt."

The former staffers also accused studio co-owners Lisenberg and Harburguer of "shady maneuvers" during the course of the layoffs. Lisenberg told Gamasutra in late December that the studio is "facing serious financial problems, and have had to make several layoffs." Prior to the layoffs, the studio employed around 80 workers.

Ex-staff also claimed in the new statement that management is keeping a small staff on board in order to maintain operations of the games Coco Girl and Texas Grand Poker, despite, according to former employees, telling workers that the studio would close down. Lisenberg also told Gamasutra last month, "Our games remain online, and our operations will continue as usual."

Lisenberg and Harburguer did not immediately reply to a request for comment from Gamasutra.

MetroGames' move towards layoffs last month was surprising, as Coco Girl had previously seen an upward trend in monthly active users, and the studio received a $5 million funding injection from Disney-owned Playdom less than two years prior.

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Patrick Dugan
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This reminds me of a situation with a former employer in Argentina, who shall remain nameless - to play devil's advocate the labor laws in Argentina are not realistic towards the flexibilities of a company not succeeding, and make more sense for older industrial business models where low margins and high capex requirements meant that even if profitability suffered the cashflow would usually be sufficient to satisfy employee liquidation requirements during a layoff. For a company selling virtual goods with income variable to the whims of the audience, it's pretty easy to just flat run out of money. How Metrogames managed to do so within two years of taking 5mm plus what I estimate were seven-figure revenues from their low-7-figure DAU count, that probably merits another article altogether.

Having said that, a contract is a contract and the tactics employed here are not unique or even unusual; the legal proceedings should be relatively straightforward (as far as Argentina law goes) in favor of the plaintiffs.

Pedro Mancheno
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I am one of the many ex-employees of Metrogames caught up in this terrible mess that could have been avoided if it weren't for the owners' negligence. Here's the link to our full statement:

Naida Jazmin Ochoa
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I worked in Metrogames too. I am part of those workers who are advocating for their rights and still waiting and waiting, to February to the end of the judicial recess. Thank you all for spreading the news.