On July 3, Skullgirls developer Lab Zero Games said it would make a statement (opens in new tab) about lead designer Mike Zaimont, who had been accused of making inappropriate comments toward two people in the fighting game community. That statement never came, but according to multiple employees, an internal investigation took place which revealed a bigger pattern of inappropriate behavior from Zaimont. As a result of that investigation, at least three employees have resigned from Lab Zero.
Public criticism of Zaimont began in June after he referenced Eric Garner and George Floyd's last words (opens in new tab), "I can't breathe," to make a joke on a livestream, which he apologized for (opens in new tab) and said was meant to draw attention to the Black Lives Matter movement, not mock it. At the end of June, a different issue surfaced when model and Twitch streamer Bunny (opens in new tab) shared DMs from Zaimont (opens in new tab) that she felt were "creepy" and "demeaning."
Writer and cosplayer Carbon Gray said in a video (opens in new tab) that they weren't surprised by Bunny's experience. "Mike's been making weird sexual comments at me in and out of cosplay at fighting game events for actual years," said Gray.
Within a day of Gray's video, Skullgirls commentator and tournament organizer Sheila "DaPurpleSharpie" Moore (opens in new tab)—who had also been on mic when Zaimont made his "can't breathe" comment—brought together a dozen other tournament organizers to ban Zaimont from Skullgirls competitions (opens in new tab) for two years, and from commentary indefinitely.
A few days later, Lab Zero Games tweeted that a statement was imminent.
I've resigned from Lab Zero Games. pic.twitter.com/I0dazMz4XBAugust 24, 2020
Former lead animator and art director Mariel Kinuko Cartwright, who resigned today, said that the promised statement never came because Zaimont, who apparently now owns and completely controls the company, didn't allow it.
Though Cartwright says she considered Zaimont "a close friend and coworker for ten years," she also says that she "tolerated years of sexual comments," "uncomfortable jokes," and "unwanted hugs," and that when confronted, Zaimont blamed her for his behavior, citing how she dressed.
Had she been the only one subject to Zaimont's behavior, Cartwright says she probably wouldn't have done anything. However, the investigation allegedly revealed a "pattern of behavior" that included "hostility, insults, threats, lying, and harassment" directed at others in the company.
"It's not 'Well, Mike is kind of a jerk but he's not a bad guy,' anymore," said Cartwright. "It's 'Mike is not the person we thought he was.'"
Hey guys, I've resigned from Lab Zero Games. pic.twitter.com/9xlr3X0IHDAugust 24, 2020
Animator Jonathan "Persona" Kim, who also resigned today, posted a similar statement. According to Kim, the investigation revealed that "Mike's behavior wasn't just scattered incidents, but actually systemic signs of his overall behavior and attitude as an individual."
Specifically, Kim says that stories about Zaimont compiled from Lab Zero employees include "frequently mentioning his genitals, forcing unwanted physical contact, making sexual comments about himself or about employee's bodies, insulting coworkers privately or openly in front of other coworkers, or using very personal details to threaten or demean coworkers when they didn't go along with what he wanted or act in a way he wished."
The third employee who resigned is artist Brian "EU03" Jun (opens in new tab), who announced his departure yesterday. All three former employees say that their resignations come after an attempt to get Zaimont himself to leave the company. However, they would not agree to his terms (which were "absolutely unacceptable," said Jun), and because he owns the company, had no recourse other than to leave themselves.
I'm leaving Lab Zero Games.Short version:Mike Z creates an unsafe work environment for everyone.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. pic.twitter.com/Uk4GjMt62kAugust 23, 2020
"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," said Kim. "His actions are insulting and unacceptable."
According to Kim, Zaimont was only meant to be sole owner temporarily, because the company was on the way to becoming employee owned. It isn't clear whether or not that is currently the plan for Lab Zero.
The studio has not responded to a request for comment, and we'll update this story if we learn more.