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Several developers have announced their departures from Skullgirls dev Lab Zero Games over the last few days, with all calling out the behavior and lack of accountability of studio owner Mike Zaimont as the reason.
“Mike Z creates an unsafe work environment for everyone,” tweeted departing artist Brian Jun alongside a longer statement on his exit. “He is the sole owner of Lab Zero Games, and removing him is difficult. He originally agreed to leave, but is unwilling to make a reasonable compromise, so I’m taking my exit now.”
Following Jun’s announcement, Indivisible creative director Mariel Kinuko Cartwright and Indivisible and Skullgirls animator Jonathan Kim have both followed suit under similar circumstances.
Zaimont was accused of making inappropriate sexual comments toward a Twitch streamer and a cosplayer earlier this year (via Kotaku), and came under fire around that same time for making an on-stream “I can’t breathe” joke shortly after a police officer suffocated George Floyd.
This prompted the community for Lab Zero’s Skullgirls game to publish statement and call for Zaimont to be banned from commentating or participating in Skullgirls events. This resulted in Zaimont’s ban from major events like Combo Breaker and also sparked internal conversations at Lab Zero about removing Zaimont from the studio.
“Our decision to enact and recommend these reprimands was based on Mike’s history of problematic behavior in public and private; including the callous ‘I can’t breathe’ reference while commentating a match and the reveal of additional inappropriate interactions with members of the Skullgirls community in private,” reads the community’s statement.
This all led to a conversation among Lab Zero Games staff, and Jun says they collectively realized that their own uncomfortable interactions with Zaimont weren’t isolated incidents, but were instead part of a larger pattern.
“What we realized was that there was a pattern of behavior that I don’t think we had fully understood until then,” writes Cartwright. “A pattern of hostility, insults, threats, lying, and harassment that many of our team had not openly shared with each other before.”
“Mike Z had sometimes made me feel unsettled at times, but I never knew how broad his actions were,“ writes Jun. “This was a clear pattern of systemic abuse and lack of empathy while himself refusing to accept feedback and not showing a willingness to change.“
According to the accounts of exiting staff members, the board of Lab Zero Games placed Zaimont on administrative leave as it worked to negotiate terms of his departure, but was met with unreasonable demands. Jun says Zaimont used his position to disband the board after negotiations fell through, then reneged his plans to depart the studio.
Kim adds that Zaimont proceeded to dodge responsibility for his actions and continued to intimidate staff, then “gave all employees until August 31 to leave if they’re unsatisfied, and so now we’re here.”
“Instead of leaving Lab Zero peacefully, Mike refused to listen and has decided that everyone in the company, including people he’s victimized, are wrong. His actions are insulting and unacceptable,” writes Kim. “Lab Zero has always been about the great team working together to create amazing work. But Mike has taken advantage of and hurt that team, and I can no longer stay in a company that includes him.”
Those departing staff members also add that Zaimont’s status as studio owner wasn’t intended to be permanent, and instead was originally planned as a transitional role before ownership would be transferred to the studio’s employees.