Is It Time To Cancel? The Ripple Effects of Skullgirls developer Controversy
The latest Mike Z controversy brings up some difficult questions about Skullgirls and the amount of loyalty owed by the fandom
There was a time where we simply enjoyed video games, and nothing else really mattered. We got on our consoles, fired up the game, and played without a care in the world. However, the world has come such a long way, and as we've become more interconnected, we've also started to demand more from developers than just decent games. The fighting game community is not without its controversies, and in the Lab Zero Games incident, we have a very interesting situation. Lab Zero Games is intricately linked with the popular fighting game Skullgirls as its main developer, Mike Zaimont, is now the sole owner of Lab Zero Games. Skullgirls has made a mark on the FGC with its incredible roster, quirky design and tight gameplay. Even more impressive is the online mode, which has put some of the more established fighting games to shame.
So, in a world where the Street Fighter V netcode is causing problems left, right and center, Skullgirls' rollback-based netcode is seen as a shining beacon for how online fighting games should be designed. Unfortunately, after years of growing its user base and consolidating its place in the pantheon of fighting games, Skullgirls might be on the brink as serious problems seem to be bubbling under the surface. Lab Zero Games is bleeding employees, and fans are understandably scared of what this could mean for such a beloved franchise from now on.
So, what went down?
Twitter has been hit with a deluge of statements in which employees of Lab Zero Games have announced their departures from the company, while this is alarming, it was only worsened as it became clear that the employees were leaving because of one man: Mike Z. The former fighting game competitor was accused of sexual harassment by Twitch creator, Bunny, in a scandal that rocked the Skullgirls community. This was also coupled with a pretty insensitive joke made during a Skullgirls tournament, which wasn't received too well. Subsequently, it was decided that Mike Z would leave his position at Lab Zero Games and hand over affairs to his colleagues and employees. However, in a statement released on Twitter, art producer, Brian Jun stated that Z made unreasonable demands and when it became clear that a resolution wasn't going to be reached, Z removed all the board members, thereby becoming the sole owner of Lab Zero Games. This, of course, was met with an uproar, which culminated in a raft of resignations. Following Jun's exit, veteran artists Mariel Cartwright and Jonathan Kim also announced their exits, citing an unsafe and toxic workplace as the reason behind their moves.
I'm leaving Lab Zero Games.— EU03 (@ClickAgain) August 23, 2020
Mike Z creates an unsafe work environment for everyone.
He is the sole owner of Lab Zero Games, and removing him is difficult. He originally agreed to leave, but is unwilling to make a reasonable compromise, so I’m taking my exit now. pic.twitter.com/Uk4GjMt62k
Hey guys, I've resigned from Lab Zero Games. pic.twitter.com/9xlr3X0IHD— Persona 😎 (@personasama) August 24, 2020
The reactions were overwhelmingly positive for the departing employees. Many prominent members of the FGC offered support, including Dominique 'Sonicfox' McLean, who was quick to stand in solidarity with Cartwright.
However, the overwhelming feeling was of worry, as Skullgirls' fans wondered whether to keep supporting the game or not. While some immediately announced that they would no longer play the game, others mused about the wisdom of dropping an amazing video game due to the indiscretion of its developer.
What's next for Skullgirls?
So, is Skullgirls canceled? Well, that depends, can a creation exist independently from its creator? In this case, the Skullgirls community heaved a collective sigh of relief when Autumn Games and Hidden Variable, who own Skullgirls and Skullgirls mobile, released a joint statement on Twitter where they cut ties with the Skullgirls developer and promised that the beloved game will live on with the help of all the individuals who have put in work on the project.
An official statement from Hidden Variable and Autumn regarding Lab Zero Games and the future of Skullgirls. pic.twitter.com/4qeoN9fgRj— Skullgirls Mobile (@sgmobile) August 25, 2020
The news was well-received as most fans praised the game developers for taking proactive steps to halt the game's slide.
So, it was a happy end for Skull Girls and the FGC, while it seems Mike Z and Lab Zero Games have some serious problems.
Yet, this situation saved gamers from asking a very important question: do the actions of one man negate all the hard work of other people? What if Lab Zero Games held the IP to the game? Would people refuse to play it? The reality is that with a game like SG, so many individuals worked hard to create it, thus canceling it because of the actions of a single individual seems a tad unfair. This is, of course, in no way dismisses how serious a sexual harassment claim is, but this is certainly a question we all need to ask ourselves.
But, until the next scandal comes along (it's unfortunate, but it is likely to happen), we can all enjoy Skullgirls and continue to laud it as the amazing game it is.