Veteran publisher Team17 found itself in the spotlight recently due to its aborted plans to create a series of NFTs based on the Worms franchise, and this increased exposure has led to a scathing report on the working environment and business practices at the firm.
The thorough and enlightening report by Eurogamer unearths stories of poor pay, overworked staff and low morale, as well as a critical portrayal of Team17 boss, Debbie Bestwick. Eurogamer spoke to several past and present Team17 staffers, who understandably chose to remain anonymous to protect their careers and future prospects.
On the topic of NFTs, it has become clear that many people at the studio were opposed to the idea but were not consulted until the announcement was made. When concerns were voiced, staff (referred to internally as ‘Teamsters’) were told that sharing any negativity on social media could result in action being taken:
While Team17 cannot control what Teamsters publish on their social media or other public-facing channels, please be mindful that as an employee of Team17 you are a representative of the company and its reputation. Criticising or embarrassing Team17, its contractual partners, or fellow Teamsters in a public forum could be cause for disciplinary action.
One staffer said that no apology was made when the scheme was mothballed:
…the managers were doing something so monumentally stupid without a thought for those who would actually bear the brunt of it. They didn’t apologise to staff, even the community managers who were subjected to a barrage of abuse because of it.
Elsewhere in the report, QA pay is singled out as being “terrible” at Team17 and there are cases where the contribution of the QA teams has been downplayed or even ignored. The company’s annual bonus scheme also comes under fire; last year’s bonuses were cut – by more than £1000, in some cases – despite Team17 racking up record profits for the first half of 2021.
In Team17’s Nottingham office, staff have told Eurogamer that they “do not have faith in the company’s current HR team” and highlight times when it has failed to act on issues such as sexual harassment. “Staff have recalled incidents where women at the studio were sent degrading messages and suggestive photos by male colleagues, which were reported to HR,” Eurogamer’s report adds. “The response, they say, was that these incidents were minimised, perpetrators given a slap on the wrist, and victims told to sort it out amongst themselves.”
Team17’s group CEO Debbie Bestwick is singled out in the report. She’s one of the richest people in the UK games industry with a personal wealth of approximately £200 million. Last year, when the aforementioned bonuses were cut, she reportedly came home with a staggering £7.56 million ($10.24 million). Several staff members told Eurogamer that Bestwick is “not shy of discussing aspects of her wealth on social media and in the studio’s open-plan office” and has been described as “formidable” and not someone who is capable of taking criticism on board.
One staffer said:
Things are going to get missed if you are that overworked, and when they are missed, you’re going to be called up by Debbie. It is humiliating at times because your hand is forced – you have bugger all budget, you have too many games, and then you’re sat in a meeting being asked ‘why the hell did this game not meet our expectations?’ It can be a very pointed thing. It’s not unheard of for people to go out of those meetings crying, which at a workplace is shameful.
Keeping on the topic of Team17’s CEO, the day after the ill-fated Worms NFT announcement, Bestwick posted a rebuttal of those who had dared criticise the project via her personal Facebook account – a post which, along with Eurogamer, we have seen ourselves. Bestwick was “shocked” at the negative reaction and said, “I dare anyone to question my ethics tbh!”
One staffer told Eurogamer:
Debbie posts so many things about being a woman in the games industry on Twitter, and yet harassment is going on in her company and people are being told, essentially, it hasn’t happened. There’s no way she hasn’t seen people complaining about their wages – people who maybe can’t afford to turn their heating on, have three meals a day. I’ve got friends who had, during the pandemic, a leak in their flat – and they had to get a second job. It’s the same stories which come out over and over again and – nothing. Is she truly unaware, is no one telling her? Or does she just not care?
Team17 has responded to Eurogamer’s report, saying:
Team17 Digital takes its responsibilities to its staff extremely seriously. We constantly review our internal policies and practises and assess how we support our employees through our engagement survey and through direct dialogue with the team, including newly-established employee-led working groups. This encompasses compensation, workplace culture and environment, among other key areas, to continually strive to improve our employee experience. In January, as part of this, we announced new improvements to the way we pay and reward our Teamsters. We care passionately about our Teamsters and our aim is to ensure they feel connected, valued and have a sense of belonging and purpose, and that they continue to be proud of Team17 and the products we develop and publish.