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Windows Central
Windows Central
Brendan Lowry

"Everyday I walk in afraid that I or my friends are next." Destiny 2 Bungie devs describe 'soul-crushing' mood after layoffs as worries of a Sony takeover mount

Destiny 2.

What you need to know

  • A new report details the "soul-crushing" mood at Destiny 2 developer Bungie following the recent wave of layoffs that saw roughly 100 workers cut from the studio.
  • Developers have spoken of significant cost-cutting measures, including the slashing of bonuses, benefits, and other morale-boosting programs. 
  • Meanwhile, management is described to be surprisingly hostile, resulting in an erosion of trust between staff and leadership.
  • This is happening as the threat of a Sony takeover looms in the background. Should Bungie fail to meet revenue goals, Sony reportedly has the ability to take full control of the currently independent developer.

After a large wave of layoffs affected approximately 100 developers from its workforce of 1,200 in late October, workers at the Destiny 2 and Marathon studio Bungie have said the atmosphere at the company is "soul-crushing." Staff have experienced significant cost-cuts and disrespectful treatment from management, with the threat of Sony — the publisher that acquired Bungie in July 2022 — taking full control looming in the background.

According to a new report from IGN, Bungie's board of directors (its members include Head of PlayStation Studios Hermen Hulst, Sony Senior VP Eric Lempel, Bungie co-founder Jason Jones, Bungie CTO Luis Villegas, and Bungie CEO Pete Parsons) is currently structured so that an executive from the studio serves as the tiebreaker vote. However, several former and current Bungie employees have said that should the developer fail to meet revenue targets, Sony can install a new board and take over the company.

This is ultimately what led to Bungie's staff cuts at the end of October, though a significant number of additional cost-cutting measures have gone into effect as well. These include a full hiring freeze, lower travel budgets, the removal of holiday bonuses, the end of market-driven adjustments to employee compensation each year, and employee donation matching. The studio is also keeping its annual Bungie Day celebrations digital-only, has delayed its yearly "Pentathalon" event into December 2024, and has either paused or axed various morale events and its hire lunch and peer recognition programs, as well as the giving of gift cards on birthdays. Annual performance bonuses are also being limited to the contractually obligated amount of 80%, rather than the 100%+ bonuses many staff members have enjoyed in previous years.

Reportedly, staff feel that if Destiny 2's upcoming The Final Shape expansion doesn't perform well, more layoffs will come. (Image credit: Bungie)

All of this has led to a major loss of morale in the company — and according to existing employees, leadership and management have been unexpectedly irreverent about the situation. Management is also said to have emphasized that more layoffs may still come, and two staff members recall Chief People Officer Holly Barbacovi referring to layoffs as a "lever" that may be pulled again. Several employees say that when they asked if leadership had considered taking salary cuts to prevent layoffs, a department lead told them Bungie is "not that type of company." Other developers have indicated they've been discouraged from talking about the layoffs and cost-cuts at all.

“We know we need Final Shape to do well,” said one developer. “And the feeling at the studio is that if it doesn’t we’re definitely looking at more layoffs.”

Staff are particularly frustrated by the fact that many of the developers cut were regarded as community leaders, and that many of them led Bungie's diversity, equity, and inclusion (DE&I) pursuits. Specifically, several members of DE&I clubs such as Pride@Bungie, Women@Bungie, and Accessibility@Bungie were laid off, leading to studio-wide concerns that these may be closed.

"I’m angry. I’m upset. This isn’t what I came here to do,” one staff member said. “It feels like many higher ups aren’t listening to the data and are like, ‘We just need to win our fans back, they still like us.’ No. They don’t...We got rid of some of our most knowledgeable beloved folks who have been here for 20+ years. Everyday I walk in afraid that I or my friends are next. No one is safe."

There are also concerns that the recent cuts will lead to a shift towards outsourcing, which has already begun in the studio's Quality Assurance (QA) department. A large portion of Bungie's QA teams have historically been in-house, though developers say more and more outsourced QA workers have joined the department in recent months. Meanwhile, over 10% of the studio's internal QA testers have been cut, either as part of the recent layoffs or in the months beforehand. Between heightened workloads, high amounts of tension, and the labelling of QA staff as "non-developers," employees have also said they feel leadership has become increasingly bitter towards the division.

Between the loss of countless well-respected and highly valuable developers, slashed bonuses and benefits, flippant attitudes from management staff, and the very real possibility of a Sony takeover, it's very turbulent time for the independent Bellevue-based studio. And right now, when strong leadership is needed seemingly more than ever, many feel that Bungie's leaders are tearing things apart.

“Folks still there are very much feeling ‘Us vs. Them’ between leadership and workers,” one developer said. “That trust has been eroded.”

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