Studio head Mike Zaimont of Lab Zero Games laid off the remainder of his staff at the end of August after nearly a quarter of its employees resigned due to sexual harassment accusations lobbed against him. Zaimont now remains the sole employee at the studio.
Who is Mike Zaimont?
Mike “Mike Z” Zaimont is the lead animator at developer Lab Zero, the developer behind popular indie 2D fighting game Skullgirls and indie RPG Indivisible. He is also a competitive fighting game player and attends numerous tournaments as both a competitor and commentator.
Having experience as a programmer at numerous studios, he partnered with artist Alex Ahad in the early 2010s. Together, they developed Skullgirls at Lab Zero. Zaimont was recently made temporary studio head as Lab Zero was transitioning to being employee-owned.
Why did employees leave Lab Zero Games?
In June of this year, multiple allegations were made against Zaimont accusing him of sexual harassment toward members of the video game fighting community as well as other problematic behavior. On a livestream, Zaimont made a joke regarding the last words of George Floyd, “I can’t breathe.” Zaimont apologized for this, stating that the joke was intended to bring attention to the Black Lives Matter movement.
This moment drew people’s attention to Zaimont, and soon after, popular streamer Bunny shared DMs from him that she deemed “demeaning.” In a post that displays their full conversation, Bunny reached out to Zaimont to compliment him on Skullgirls. Zaimont steered the conversation away from gaming, questioning how “real” her streaming voice was, asking, “Are you putting on the high voice like lots of Japanese ladies do?” and wondering whether Bunny’s streaming behavior “is a way for her to seek validation.”
Later, cosplayer Carbon Gray posted a video stating that she was not surprised by Zaimont’s words and that he had sexually harassed her at fighting game events for years. Following this, Zaimont was banned from Skullsgirls competitions for two years and from commentary indefinitely by Skullgirls tournament organizer Sheila Moore.
Lab Zero tweeted in early July that a statement would be made regarding the allegations, but a statement never came. However, an investigation within the company apparently did, which led to several team members resigning. Former lead animator Mariel Kinuko Cartwright claimed in a now-deleted tweet that Lab Zero never made a statement because Zaimont would not allow it as he had worked his way into owning the company.
Cartwright claimed she tolerated years of inappropriate behavior, which she finally confronted Zaimont over after the allegations, but he went on to blame her for his actions, citing what she would wear to work, which led Cartwright to leave the company. The investigation indicated that Zaimont had treated numerous Lab Zero workers in a similar fashion, and that what employees had considered sporadic incidents could constitute systemic harassment.
Why were Lab Zero employees laid off?
It seems the unrest at Lab Zero did not end with the resignations, as Zaimont has now allegedly laid off the rest of the staff according to animator Jonathan Kim. Zaimont was a high level employee at Lab Zero, being lead animator on Skullgirls. As the team was transitioning into an employee-owned company, Zaimont was given the role of temporary studio head. It was during this time that the allegations against him came forward.
Following the accusations and resignations, Zaimont was asked by the company’s board to step down, but when a deal on his resignation couldn’t be reached, Zaimont simply dissolved the board, which was within his powers as temporary studio head.
According to an email from Zaimont featured in a report from Kotaku, the layoffs were due to Lab Zero being unable to meet payroll requirements for its employees, noting that the company had more debt than cash. Details on severance for the terminated workers are apparently still being worked out, and they are able to keep their health insurance through the month of September.
What will happen with Skullgirls?
The Skullgirls IP is owned by publisher Autumn Games, which, in a joint statement with the developer of the mobile version, Hidden Variable, claimed it would work with those that have departed Lab Zero on new Skullgirls content.
This statement was seemingly made, however, before the mass firing of the remainder of Lab Zero’s employees, so it is unclear whether this offer extends past the initial employees who resigned to the remainder of the team that has been fired. With no one left at the studio to work on the fighting game, though, it seems there is an opportunity for the disenfranchised employees to make something new with the property.