Lab Zero Games’ (Skullgirls, Indivisible) owner and lead design director Mike Zaimont (“Mike Z”) has been accused of sexual harassment and other inappropriate behavior, after three employees left the company.
Kotaku had previously reported allegations from two sources in late June. They claimed Zaimont had made them (in Kotaku’s words) “uncomfortable with demeaning and sexually suggestive comments.”
Streamer “Bunny” earlier that month had tweeted “A big reason I am taking a break from the FGC is sexual harassment I received from a big creator. It was out of nowhere and really mortified me. You aren’t alone.” Bunny later approached Kotaku, claiming this was Zaimont.
She also shared screencaptures of messages she had allegedly received from Zaimont. As these appear to be Twitter direct messages; her messages on the right in purple, while Zaimont’s are on the left in grey.
Bunny’s comments initially seemed jovial; thanking Zaimont for a message made on Twitch and thanking him for “making a video game with Yuri BDSM.” When discussing a removed time-out animation (in which living-hair parasite Samson rips open female character Filia’s shirt in frustration) Bunny said it was “awesome,” and that while she liked games like Dead or Alive, she understood that “it gets a lot of negative feedback for being too sexy.”
Zaimont then allegedly asked about how Bunny streams, including if her high-pitched voice was genuine, why she liked Skullgirls, and “I guess you’ve embraced the third culture but like…isn’t it weird?” Judging by some of the clips on her Twitch channel, Bunny appears to act akin to an anime character, complete with wearing bunny ears and occasionally cosplaying.
Bunny also claimed to Zaimont that she had done gravure style modelling and “sexy modeling” for around three years before retiring. “I’m used yo thirst stuff from my job and am a huge fan of H-artist and the culture. So it really doesn’t bother me.”
Zaimont allegedly discussed how while it must aid in subscriber count, and “probably validation, if external validation is necessary? I’m embarrassed enough streaming at all, and I dislike…people…so I feel unqualified speaking here.” Bunny notes in the Imgur gallery “The validation comment was very uncomfortable and demeaning. Can you imagine this conversation with a man in the FGC?”
Zaimont also allegedly stated he was curious what her family thought about her work, but felt it was “dangerously close to the coy ‘What does you boyfriend think?’ probe of ‘You single?'” Zaimont also allegedly discussed the “prevalent problems with sexism in the FGC,” and how the Skullgirls’ community “in particular is better about it.”
Other messages allegedly by Zaimont (over an hour later from the last messages) asked “I’m sure you get messages from humans with penises asking that kind of stuff pretty regularly. So if you prefer, how ’bout I acnowledge the brain inside the lady. :^)” Zaimont then allegedly asked what Bunny’s future career plans were. “I’d like to know what prepare to invest in… (^.^)”
Bunny concluded her screenshots with “His responses are creepy and I really don’t think he would talk to a man this way.” Kotaku notes that after Zaimont made a “I can’t breath” joke during a Skullgirls tournament, Bunny’s comments were the final straw for several people.
Tournament organizer Carbon Grey tweeted a video sharing her alleged experiences with Zaimont.
“I don’t know what Mike said to [Bunny], but I’m sure it was shitty, and I know that because Mike’s been making weird, sexual comments at me in and out of cosplay at fighting game events for actual years. And I’ve been writing a lot of it off, because when I tell people they’re just like, ‘Oh- he’s kinda like that, I’m sorry.’ And like, yeah he is kinda like that, and he’s kinda not changing for the past five years y’all. And neither is anyone else in the fighting game community; and I think a lot of it is because when I tell my male friends or other TOs [tournament organizers] what’s happening, they kinda don’t do anything with that information.”
On July 1st, Skullgirls tournament organizers representing the game’s community (along with three other tournament organizers, a player, and a Discord Administrator) demanded Zaimont not attend the tournaments. This included a ban on commentary and a two-year ban from offline and online competition.
On July 3rd Lab Zero Games tweeted “We are aware of the allegations made about Mike Zaimont. We are listening and we’ll make a full statement soon.” At this time of writing, no such statement has been made.
On August 23rd, art producer Brian Jun tweeted that he had left the company “after weeks of trying to make things work out with Mike Z.” Rather than being a reaction to a single event made public, it was due to “a whole retrospection and investigation among all employees at Lab Zero.”
Jun claims that he had seen company chat record wherein Zaimont put “others in extremely uncomfortable situations as well as exerting his position of power to demean and control employees.”
“Mike Z had sometimes made me feel unsettled at times,” Jun claims, “but I never knew how broad his actions were. This is a clear pattern of systemic abuse and lack of empathy while himself refusing to accept feedback and not showing a willingness to change.”
Jun claims that shortly after “the public exposure of Mike Z’s interaction with a fan” (presumably Bunny) the board and employees of Lab Zero Games asked Zaimont to leave the company. However, Zaimont is the sole owner of the company.
While Zaimont allegedly entered negotiations to leave the company and was put on administrative leave, he made unrealistic and “potentially illegal” terms. When the majority of the terms were rejected, Zaimont stated he would not leave the company. He then allegedly removed all members of the board, and assumed full control over Lab Zero Games.
Jun claims that Zaimont “immediately tried to re-engage negotiations with essentially the same terms only a few days later.” Jun states that as Zaimont was allegedly “in direct opposition to the health of the employees,” he left “to do what is best for my friends and colleagues.”
On August 24th, two more employees left the company- lead animator Mariel Cartwright and Senior Animator Jonathan Kim. Cartwright claims that Zaimont had prevented the company from releasing a statement as they said they would on July 3rd.
Stating Zaimont was a close friend and coworker for ten years, Cartwright states after what occurred in June, the team begun to speak up. A “pattern of behavior” was recognized, where Zaimont was allegedly hostile, insulting, threatening, lying, and harassing towards employees.
“He doesn’t respect employees who don’t work at all hours. He gets hostile and talks down to people. He makes jokes about firing people to their faces. He makes inappropriate jokes about his dick. He threatens and insults people and our partners, both directly and in public. He straight up lies, or misrepresents things he said earlier.”
When confronted, Zaimont would allegedly claim his accusers were being unfair and threatened to quit; which in turn would jeopardize projects. Cartwright claims “He’s also outright told us that he can’t and won’t change.”
Cartwright also claims that Zaimont had made “sexual comments about my body and clothes, uncomfortable jokes, [and] unwanted hugs” for years. “He once suggested that I masturbate when I told him I couldn’t sleep, and on another occasion suggested I ‘help’ him with his unfulfilled sexual needs.”
Cartwright claims she had complained about him while working at Reverge Labs in 2011. When confronting him about his behavior in 2017, Zaimont allegedly called her a hypocrite and “blamed me for how I dressed.” Zaimont also allegedly rejected sexual harassment training.
Kim meanwhile describes how after 2019, Lab Zero Games became an employee-owned company. This means all employees would have had equity. This was followed by Zaimont becoming the “100% owner” of Lab Zero Games.
After the incidents in June, an internal investigation drew the conclusions as aforementioned in Cartwright’s claims. Kim claims “almost every employee” had a story relating to Zaimont using his position to “put his coworkers in uncomfortable stressful situations for years.”
These allegedly included “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.”
Zaimont allegedly “covered up” by doing unspecified kind things, which he cited as a reason why he was “allowed” to act as he allegedly did. After attempting to resolve the situation from July to August, Zaimont allegedly “gave all employees until August 31st to leave if they’re unsatisfied.”
Kotaku reports that Zaimont did not respond to their request for comment.
UPDATE: A fourth employee has left Lab Zero Games. Brady Hartel, who worked as a UI designer on Skullgirls and a character designer on Indivisible, announced his departure on Twitter.
“Yesterday was my last day at Lab Zero Games. This is extremely sad for me because I was a founding member and have spent close to 10 years of my life there. I don’t really have a statement or anything, other than I stand in solidarity with my fellow coworkers and believe them.”
While other statements claimed Zaimont’s behavior was known throughout the company, Hartel may be talking about believing other allegations that came to light. There is also a chance Hartel may have not experienced any issues with Zaimont himself.
Image: Lab Zero Games official website