Bungie CEO issues public apology over report exposing crunch, racism, sexism, and toxic team leads
"I’m heartened by the progress we have made, but it is not enough, and it has taken too long."
Bungie CEO Pete Parsons has apologized for transgressions at the company after a report surfaced citing instances of crunch, discrimination, racism, and sexism.
In the report, IGN spoke with 26 current and former Bungie employees who revealed instances of the aforementioned iniquities occurring as early as this year, and as far back as far as 2011.
The narrative team at the studio, which sometimes worked up to 100 hours per week, was particularly set apart as being led by a toxic superior. Several sources spoke of a Destiny 1 team lead suffering from such severe burnout, that his noxious behavior created an environment so detrimental, employees kept a "countdown of days" on the whiteboard chronicling his last "explosion." There was even an instance where he threw a chair at a window because he felt team members were "ruining his creative vision of the game." The team lead eventually left Bungie after working there for several years, and despite such behavior, was welcomed back to do contract work on Destiny 2. Even after being away from the company for a while, staffers claim his behavior hadn't improved much upon his return.
Another team leader in the narrative department, who was eventually let go, was apparently a "sexist nightmare," yelled in meetings, threw papers across tables, and called one female staffer an "unmanageable bitch." His replacement wasn't much better, states the report, as he frequently made sexist remarks, complained about "reverse sexism," and at one point made homophobic remarks to an LGBTQ colleague. Another narrative lead was said to have frequently insulted employees who stood up for themselves, going so far as to corner one staffer and yell that them for daring to stand up to him. Multiple people stated he also made racist remarks.
There are other instances of unwelcome behavior made by narrative leads, and things became so intolerable, the writing staff tried to resolve issues with the leads through Human Resources. Instead of mediating, HR told workers they needed to work harder at trying to get along. Many employees even wrote letters to CEO Pete Parsons asking for help, but he never responded.
Eventually, multiple members of the narrative team threatened to quit as a group, including every woman on the team. It seems Bungie finally listened as it dismissed the leads responsible for making staffers miserable. Today, things have improved in the department as far as funding, and the hiring of more staff and new leads.
Narrative wasn't the only team that harbored an unhealthy work environment. The IGN report states adverse behavior and other unwelcome issues affected "every major team" at the company at some point. There are reports of sexual remarks, instances of deliberately misgendering a trans employee, belittling, and there were "unwanted hugs" doled out by a producer. Reports of women and marginalized employees being denied promotions for ambiguous reasons were also rampant. For instance, one writer was not given a promotion because she wasn't "good enough" at the game.
After the report was published and the various abuses and culture of crunch made public, Bungie CEO Pete Parsons responded with an apology.
In this public apology to current and former staff, Parsons acknowledged that sometimes the company wasn't "as swift" as it should have been to fire those who committed infractions, and said that the studio does not tolerate toxic behavior from anyone - even those with celebrated track records.
"I want to apologize to anyone who has ever experienced anything less than a safe, fair, and professional working environment at Bungie," said Parsons. "I am not here to refute or to challenge the experiences we're seeing shared today by people who have graced our studio with their time and talent. Our actions or, in some cases, inactions, caused these people pain. I apologize personally and on behalf of everyone at Bungie who I know feels a deep sense of empathy and sadness reading through these accounts.
"We have removed bad actors from our studio without respect to their tenure, seniority, or interpersonal relationships – an action we can take only when brave people come forward or when bad behavior is conducted out in the open. We have not always been transparent about what led to their removal or as swift as we should have been, but we will not tolerate toxic behavior from anyone. Being a “rockstar” is no excuse, no matter how celebrated someone’s track record is.
"We are now reading and digesting the full story for the first time today. We believe the people whose behavior warranted removal from our company have been terminated or are no longer working for Bungie, but if new information comes to light – whether through this story or by named or anonymous people coming forward – we will act on that information and investigate with integrity."
Parsons goes on to discuss how Bungie strives to foster a safe and welcoming environment for everyone and evoked the company's recent statement on how it is committed to being "the best place anyone can ever work" in the industry.
As of 2021, members of underrepresented communities comprise 50% of Bungie’s board of directors, four of the nine representatives of Bungie’s executive team are women or members of Underrepresented Communities, and it has hired a Chief People Officer and an experienced Diversity and Inclusion director.
The company, according to Parsons, will also be eliminating the mandatory arbitration clause in all employee contracts, will continue to invest in training and processes to help to avoid bias in performance reviews promotion, and compensation practices. It will add an anonymous reporting tool that will be hosted by an external organization to "further remove any hesitancy” Bungie employees might have to bring forward concerns.
While Parson says he is "heartened" by the progress the company has made, it does not "sweep away the bad experiences people have had" at the studio.
"As CEO, it is my job to factor both the past and the future and be accountable for all of it, here and now, he said. "Speaking with the team at Bungie, reading the stories, and seeing both known and newly surfaced accounts, it is clear we still have work ahead of us.
"I am committed to it. We are not yet the studio we have the potential to become, but we are on our way. And we will not rest or slow these efforts because we recognize that the journey of inclusivity, diversity, and equity is, in itself, the destination we all strive towards. This is critical to achieving our vision and fulfilling the potential of the welcoming, equitable home of creative and technical excellence Bungie should be."