Employees at Team17 have spoken out about several problems they consider to be endemic to the company. These problems include sexual harassment, long working hours, and low pay, as well as a presentee culture and dismissive or outright hostile management.
What problems are Team17 employees speaking out about?
Earlier this year, British developer and publisher Team17 declared it would be pursuing Worms-themed NFTs, only to back out of this project after widespread backlash. Now, a new report by Eurogamer includes anonymous interviews with Team17 employees who describe the culture that led to the widely-criticized NFT decision. The culture they describe is one in which sexual harassment is punished with a "slap on the wrist" and in which employees are routinely ignored and passed over when voicing concerns about long working hours or low pay.
In Eurogamer's report, Team17 employees say the current HR team is not fit for purpose. Employees attempted to alert HR to sexual harassment issues, including degrading messages and unsolicited photographs being sent to female employees, but were roundly ignored and "gaslit" by HR. Punishment would be minimal for the offending individuals, and one female employee said she was afraid to go to HR for fear of being "gaslit" and having her experiences minimized. This ties into staff saying they're afraid to express opinions or challenge any company policies for fear of being seen as "negative". Apparently, this atmosphere came about after Team17 went public, at which point the mission ceased to be simply "finding and publishing good games" and became "rather tense", according to one employee.
Pay and working hours are problems at Team17 as well, if the report is to be believed. QA testers are paid "low" or "terrible" wages, according to Team17 employees. The base rate is currently around £16,000 per annum, which is less than the UK minimum wage. Senior QA testers earn around £19,000, but that's only just above the minimum wage. Some employees who had recently departed Team17 said they were able to do the same job elsewhere for around £10,000 more per year. When employees attempted to ask for a pay rise, they were told their wages were "fine" and the idea was dismissed out of hand. Employees also complain of lengthy working hours, overtime, and a bizarre decision to slash staff bonuses despite Team17 posting record profits last year.
Who is Debbie Bestwick, and how does she fit into this Team17 situation?
In particular, the Eurogamer report references Debbie Bestwick, the group CEO of Team17. Bestwick is one of Team17's co-founders, having created the company from a merger of 17-Bit Software and Team 7 back in 1990. In 2010, as part of a massive restructuring operation, Bestwick bought out Team17's other bosses, making her the sole CEO of the company, a position she has maintained since then. Bestwick doesn't have many admirers at Team17; staff describe her as difficult and demanding, with her apparently asking staff to wrap her family's Christmas presents on multiple occasions, as well as passing on pressure from partners or underperforming shares onto employees who had no direct control over these issues.
Despite bonuses being slashed in 2021, Bestwick herself reportedly managed to make about $10.24 million last year, a fact she is apparently not shy about relaying, both within the studio itself and on her social media accounts. She's also apparently been heard to openly discuss staff members and external studio partners behind their backs. Team17 staff describe her as "formidable" and say that when games underperform (usually due to circumstances beyond employees' control such as low budget or too many games on the slate), Bestwick will hold meetings in which she is demanding and often upsetting to staff. Employees in the Eurogamer report also describe a house close to the Nottingham Team17 studio in which visiting employees, management's inner circle, and new staff "have been able to live rent-free".
How have former Team17 employees responded to this report?
Speaking via Twitter, a number of former Team17 employees corroborated the contents of the report and expressed sympathy for current Team17 staffers. Some former employees said they'd left the company for the reasons detailed in the Eurogamer report and other reasons that weren't mentioned, while another former employee detailed their battle with drinking and juggling family time with work during their final project at Team17. Freelance writer Jack Yarwood says he's been compiling a report on Team17 and can independently corroborate the contents of Eurogamer's report as well. All in all, it's not looking good for Team17's upper management; one imagines it's going to take a hell of a mea culpa to make things right here.
The talk of sexual harassment and indifference on the part of HR is sadly a refrain we're starting to hear more and more often in the gaming industry. Studios like Activision Blizzard and Ubisoft are apparently rife with toxic workplace culture, and various other indie studios and gaming industry professionals have also had accusations leveled against them for similar reasons in recent months. As such, the culture described in the Eurogamer Team17 report may not be particularly surprising, but it's upsetting nonetheless. We'll bring you more on this as soon as we get it.