On April 5, 2022, after five years and three delays, TT Games released LEGO Star Wars: The Skywalker Saga across multiple platforms. Many publications reviewed the game positively, praising it for its incredible attention to detail, overhauled combat, and easter eggs for eagle-eyed players to spot. As a result, the game currently holds a respectable rating of 82 on Metacritic. But something that was missing from the majority of these reviews was any mention of the working conditions under which it was made.
In late January, roughly 30 current and former TT Games employees spoke anonymously to Polygon (and myself) about the culture of crunch and mismanagement at both its Knutsford and Wilmslow offices. The final report highlighted instances of premeditated crunch, mishandled projects, and allegations of sexual harassment that occurred under the company’s former management, in addition to complaints of micro-management under the new leadership that had arrived from Sony. Former employees claimed these factors were responsible for a large turnover of staff over the last few years, with at least forty people leaving the two studios since the beginning of 2021, though that number has since grown considerably.
I wanted to find out if anything had changed in the intervening months, and if there was any internal discussion of how to improve the culture at the two studios as a result of the report. So I spoke to a collection of current and former employees of TT Games — under the condition of anonymity to protect them from any potential repercussions. The answer they gave was complicated.
The Internal Response
While most agreed that crunch and overtime was becoming much less of a problem inside TT — with management now closely monitoring and limiting the amount of overtime staff can work — the majority of those I spoke to told me that TT Games’ leadership was dismissive of the report and the other allegations therein.
In one all-hands meeting, for instance, one senior member of TT Games’ production team referred to the article as an “attack,” and expressed confusion over why the issues were being brought up now. Meanwhile, TT Games’ vice-president and studio head Michael Denny dissuaded employees from talking to the press, and accused Polygon of intentionally timing the article to coincide with the LEGO Skywalker Saga Gameplay Overview trailer to generate attention for the site.
In a company-wide email, Denny told staff, “On a different note, the Polygon article has now gone live. The timing is clearly intended to capture attention off the publicity surrounding our Paddington announcement [writer’s note: “Paddington” is the codename under which LEGO Star Wars: The Skywalker Saga was developed]. And it’s clear the reaction overall is for people to talk about the Game rather than this article.”
A collection of four current and former employees who were there on the day, however, told me that the trailer itself was brought forward, with the original plan being to release the gameplay footage later that day at around 4pm. The decision to move the trailer forward, they believe, was an attempt to distract from the contents of the report.
“The article was presented as an attempt to kybosh the LEGO Star Wars trailer,” says one former employee who was there on the day — a sentiment shared by three others. “Everyone knew it was bollocks. They brought it forward for damage limitation. There was no comment to staff about the allegations really. The town hall on the day was more about ‘There’s an article, don’t go talking to anyone.’”
Overall, they told me that management at the company treated the report and the problems outlined within as a thing of the past. This is despite various employees, including four new sources, voicing concerns about some of the later issues mentioned in the article, such as nepotism, poor communication between departments, and micro-management — problems that are still said to be having a negative impact on morale, staff retention, and TT Games’ next project.
According to my sources, TT Games’ next project is “another LEGO game based on a large IP and other smaller IPs” under a single owner. For this new title, TT Games is using Unreal Engine 5, as opposed to the proprietary NTT engine that it developed alongside Skywalker Saga. This comes after internal complaints about NTT’s stability and missing features.
But 10 of the sources I spoke to say TT Games has struggled with this latest LEGO project due to near-constant revisions and poor communication between departments. This has led to frustration among some members of staff, with multiple employees claiming the management of both the Director of Game Development Eric Matthews and Head of Game Mark Green are contributing to these problems.
Three TT employees, for instance, told me about their colleagues working for weeks on features for this new LEGO game, only to find out the decision had been made to cut them without any direct communication or explanation from those in charge. This, they say, is part of a wider communication breakdown, with news traveling slowly along the chain of command before it reaches the person in question.
“[There’s been a] massive communication and procedure breakdown within and between departments, which is super ironic because our new Head of Game’s old job title was ‘Studio Communications Manager’,” says one current employee. “There’s a process failure and lack of trust for people to do their jobs, and the constant micro-management is frustrating.”
All of this comes after some staff inside the company criticized the pair’s initial hiring. As the original Polygon article states, TT Games’ hiring of Matthews and Green was a controversial one inside the company, as the roles weren’t widely advertised. This led to some staffers arguing that it prevented more diverse candidates and experienced staff members from applying to those positions. It also raised some concerns about nepotism inside the company, with the studio head Michael Denny having previously worked alongside Matthews and Green at Sony, overseeing Sony Manchester, where the pair were again subject to criticism and HR complaints for their specific style of management.
Some internally attribute the recent turnover of staff inside in part to this lack of trust in the new management, as well as uncertainty about the company’s future. According to several employees, management is currently struggling to fill all the roles being vacated, and promises of introducing more specialized positions to change the structure of the company and grant greater autonomy have yet to be acted upon.
I reached out to Warners Bros. for comment over email, but have yet to hear back. A spokesperson for TT Games told Polygon back in January: “TT Games is committed to creating a respectful, fair and inclusive workplace for every employee. There have been many efforts in recent years, with new studio leadership and the support of Warner Bros. Games, to nurture a collaborative culture and work-life balance our employees can be proud of. Our legacy of delighting fans with the games we have created over the years is very important to us. We recognize our continued and future success relies on sustaining the momentum of the positive changes we have made to date, ensuring every employee feels supported, appreciated and experiences a true sense of belonging.”
An Uncertain Future
As a recent VGC report revealed, these new challenges aren’t the only area of concern for staff either, as the exclusive partnership between LEGO and TT on consoles has come to an end. According to my sources, conversations are still in progress over whether the studio will continue working on LEGO games after this next big release, with VGC also reporting that 2K has secured the license for a range of sports games.
At the moment, the majority of staff at Knutsford and Wilmslow are focused on the next big LEGO title, with some other employees prototyping new ideas to pitch, as well as contributing to other Warner Bros projects, including Gotham Knights.
According to the employees I spoke to, it’s currently unknown what the studio will move on to after this next big project is done, and whether that will include LEGO. But the recent success of LEGO Star Wars: The Skywalker Saga has made some staff hopeful that TT’s future with the LEGO license is secure, at least for the time being. TT’s R&D department, meanwhile, is said to be focusing solely on new LEGO ideas to pitch — a decision that has disappointed some inside the company who are worried about the company’s future beyond the LEGO license. In the past, TT Games has made several attempts to come up with pitches for non-LEGO games, going as far back as 2016. This was in order to “future-proof” the company against the loss of exclusivity, but none of these ideas ever resulted in a finished product.
The company even at one time discussed a potential partnership with Funko — the American company responsible for pop culture figurines and bobbleheads — though these talks eventually came to a stop, with rumors suggesting 10:10 Games, a studio formed by a number of ex-TT employees in Warrington, had taken over control of the project. My sources suggest that 10:10 Games has now ceased its own partnership with the license holder, however.
While most employees agreed TT Games has started to turn a corner, particularly in regards to overtime and in fewer cases pay, they also believe there are several new challenges to overcome. This includes giving workers inside the company more autonomy to do the jobs they were hired to do, and improving transparency and communication across the board. Those I spoke to say only then will workers feel they have a proper voice as well as the tools to do their job without frustration and fear of the future ahead.