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The question "Where is Dying Light 2?" has been on many minds since the indefinite delay announcement back in January 2020, and now that same question is back following reports about the culture within Techland and a lack of direction for the choice-heavy sequel.
In a report from The Gamer, Kirk McKeand spoke with numerous developers at Techland to gauge where the studio is at regarding the highly anticipated launch of Dying Light 2. What he found instead was disheartening picture including a lack of leadership, a lack of direction, and a demoralizing atmosphere. One developer even told the site that "the fish rots from the head" when discussing the more toxic aspects of the studio and its leadership.
With comments from 10 current and former members of the studio, the report shows how management took an abusive tone, including the use of a homophobic slur when offering feedback. In the report, CEO Pawel Marchewka says the findings of The Gamer's investigation is an "important issue" when looking at the communication issues the company is currently aiming to improve. The CEO responded saying that the job of the team is to "invent and iterate" and that this goal has often caused clashes with members of the team with differing opinions on development progression. "When we're in the inventing phase, we have lively discussions with each other," he said. "Therefore, I can imagine that in a tightly-knight team such words could have been said. Nevertheless, this is not our standard and those phrases do not meet our criteria in any way. We always remind our employees to make sure they communicate properly."
While this sounds good, the report continues on to show that the aforementioned feedback is far from a one-off instance, instead something far more commonplace than the CEO represented in his response. One example relates to a meeting about the direction of Dying Light and how it touches on tones likened to "modern dark ages." During this meeting, one source tells The Gamer that one lead dev responded to this period likening by saying "At least they knew how to deal with women back then." Marchewka responded to this incident as well, saying that the response was inappropriate and that this developer reported to Human Resources almost immediately. "We have a strong representation of women at Techland," he said. "We want them to feel supported at all times."
Women led notoriously horrible lives during this time period, far from the light-hearted fairy tales many fictional stories like to paint. While women during this time were expected to work like their male counterparts (which is fair), they were paid far less than men and the jobs available were much more restrictive. While there were women in nobility, that was not the standard home life for the average woman during this age. In fact, there were many laws against women specifically, including little freedom as a person in their own right, which you can learn more about here.
But even this could be considered an isolated incident, which prompted the site to keep digging. Some of the employees that The Gamer spoke with mentioned a painting that the CEO hangs in his office, a painting that he himself said that if it's making people uncomfortable he will take down immediately. The painting in question is of a woman lying naked with a cheetah, a wildlife fixture by the artist David Yarrow (a man known for his conservationist work). “I find him one of the best if not the best wildlife photographer. That's why I hung it in my office. But I want to make sure I set the right example so if any of our employees, anonymously, report that they feel uncomfortable with it I will remove it immediately.”
It seems in his response that the CEO is willing to make changes necessary, but the report goes on to reveal that the head of HR is his wife, which would make complaints about him to her compromised in a way that many employees have expressed feels uncomfortable. His wife, Aleksandra Marchewka, didn't begin her time at Techland as HR, instead she began her journey in the company working as an interior designer for Techland's expanding offices. Despite no prior Human Relations history in her resume, she was promoted to acting chief HR officer in February 2020. When asked if the CEO thought this could be a conflict of interest — which it inherently is and why many companies disavow this type of hiring practices — he said, "No, I don't. My wife is a professional and we have a professional relationship at work."
The issue here is not who she is as a person. Many of the employees at Techland have said that she's a very approachable and friendly face at the office, but there will always be a bias concerning her husband, especially concerning more sensitive reports that some developers are holding back out of fear of retaliation. It was also reported that many would use her relationship to her husband to their advantage by selling her on an idea for her to pass along to the CEO.
His wife isn't the only close tie that Marchewka has under his employ; his sister is also in an executive position as the head of international sales. Nepotism is playing a large role here which in itself is worrisome, but also blocks qualified personnel at the company from any potential role changes that are already occupied by family.
Speaking back to the communication issues, apparently, there were some controversial marketing ideas thrown out there that caused concern for some of the team. One was to drive an unmarked van in real life to the boarder of Mexico and drop off a pile of body bags to spark headlines. The plan was to later reveal that this move was a marketing tool for Dying Light 2, relating it back to the story itself.
Another controversial marketing pitch surrounding concerns over disease revelations (a move made even more controversial considering the ongoing pandemic). In this pitch, the plan was to send medical test kits at random and have those test sent back in only to reveal that they have contracted a fictional disease (the disease seen in-game). The problem here, however, is that these were actual medical kits being used and that real-life diseases could be detected, which was an ethical issue that not everyone was onboard with.
The team also tinkered with the idea to work with the United Nations to create a video where a UN spokesperson would spark panic by detailing an event where people were "scrambling to survive" in a fight for water. Since this is a very real issue in many areas around the world, including the United States, the conversation around this move was also under heavy scrutiny.
The CEO responded to these reports of marketing ideas saying that they were simply a small part of a larger "creative brainstorming session." According to him, no idea is too outlandish during the ideation phase, which is fair given that this type of spitballing clearly defines what is too far and helps to keep brainstorming back on track in a more appropriate manner.
When Lukasz Janas joined Techland in 2020 as creative director from his previous role at Kinguine, a company that runs similarly to G2A as a PC reseller, it is reported that the overall attitude towards his arrival was positive. Unfortunately, that hope in his influence was quickly squandered when it became apparent that, according to the sources that opened up about their time there, he did not have the experience needed for this job, which furthered muddied the waters of communication and clear direction.
According to one developer at Techland, "There is this general consensus in Techland that marketing is not doing much and seems incompetent." The CEO, in turn, responded that the employ of Janas was a step made to correct that feeling of incompetence and that his inclusion has been a positive influence on bringing "new solutions" to the studio as a whole. According to the sources that spoke out, his addition to the team is widely seen as a massive impediment to the overall objective as the company works towards the launch of Dying Light 2.
"The fish rots at the head"
The Gamer report details Marchewka's desire to work with the "best of the best," a goal not unlike many in any industry. Unfortunately, Techland has an incredibly high turnover regarding staff, a rate that has continued to increase over the past year. “Techland has a history of hiring people for which the team had ‘high hopes’, but it ended up in nothing,” said one insider. “One such case for the designers was the hiring of Marc Albinet, a former game director from Ubisoft, that was supposed to restructure how design is done in the studio. Even he, a veteran with 30 years of experience, couldn't break through upper management that is harder to change than the spin of the fucking Earth.”
The lack of a clear vision, people in roles they are not qualified for advising new directions to go into, and the misalignment between the core staff and the board at large has wrecked havok on the infrastructure of Techland. In fact, some have come forward to say that if someone's vision doesn't align with the board, that those people were then isolated from the project as a whole and their core responsibilities, which inevitably led to either them getting fired or leaving to seek better opportunities.
Marchewka, however, says that this high turnover rate is completely normal for a AAA studio and is nothing to worry about. While turnover is an expected part of any studio, a constantly escalating number of people departing is not, especially if the perception is that many of these departures are due to poor leadership and mismanagement. That perception has only grown over this last year with one source even saying that the CEO trusts outsiders more than he trusts his own staff, often looking outside of the company to weigh in on major aspects of the development process.
The picture being painted is that many of those in executive positions were either not qualified or not trained in working in a team setting. This was a point hammered home when taking about chief development officer Pawel Zawodny, who was promoted from a software developer within the company to bring in a more traditional development structure to make the workflow more effective. Zawodny reportedly wanted to give devs a chance to create their work in established engines such as Unity and Unreal, something that Marchewksa was very much against with is desire to use Techland's own engine. According to various sources that opened up about this, they wanted to go in the direction Zawodny was trying to lead them and that the refusal to budge from Marchewka caused immense frustration.
“He would ask why people aren’t working faster and it was because the tech isn’t up to speed," said one employee when talking about the frustration surrounding the CEO's firm stance. "We can work faster, but we have to go here, and you’re not allowing us to go there. The experts know what the goal is, and they should be allowed the flexibility to do what’s best.”
The CEO, of course, had a rebuttal saying that Techland has its own way of approaching game production and that they have adapted accordingly. Unfortunately, a good portion fo the staff feel the opposite, saying that there is no adaptation happening and that this is slowing down efforts to a point where everyone involved is concerned. A contributing factor to this as well is that the CEO often tries to be directly involved with every single milestone check meeting. On paper, this sounds good, but delegation is there for a reason and that need to be involved at every corner results in a slowed timeline and ideas not fully formed being shut down and blocked before they can see fruition.
Despite Marchewska's praise of Zawodny and their process working together, Zawodny did eventually leave Techland to start up his own studio, a studio called Strange New Things that was eventually acquired by Cyberpunk 2077 devs CD Projekt Red. "After decades of creating titles that were dictated by so-called market demand, [we] all reached a point when we decided to do something different - something that comes from ‘us’,” Zawodny mentioned at the time of his departure. “We also felt that the way the industry giants work is outdated. We want to adapt to a new way of working and fostering teamwork - an evolutionary approach described as Teal - where there are no predefined hierarchies or roles. It’s time that we change the industry from the inside."
Too many chefs in the kitchen
A common complain among everyone The Gamer talked to is that every single designer, every single developer, could weigh in on every aspect of development, including producers that would shut down ideas that they weren't familiar with or equipped to understand. Because of this, there were too many people constantly designing and redesigning aspects of the game with no real cohesion regarding what those changes would mean on a bigger scale.
The reports continued to show the disconnect with the "new" and "old" teams when new members would be brought in and would immediately see the chaos that the "too many chefs in the kitchen" mentality wrought. When those newcomers would speak out about the concerns they had, they were immediately "out the door," according to one source.
From a removal of people that worked on Dying Light 2 at its core once they've departed to working with to a growing toxicity within the company's pool of people (as seen with the sexual misconduct allegation regarding writer Chris Avellone), it became quickly apparent how Dying Light 2 has found itself in a position of uncertainty.
Lack of cohesion, lack of clear leadership and the honoring of role delegation, a lack of awareness, and a refusal to adapt outside of the "way it's always been done" all play a contributing role to the reports gathered about the company. To read even more about the state of Dying Light 2 and Techland, including numerous accounts from inside sources, you can check out the full story right here.
[Source: The Gamer]