Former and Existing Employees Speak out about the Toxicity and Dysfunction at Daybreak Games

Given today’s hyper critical consumer culture and due to the glut of video games being released each day, it’s commonplace for gamers to heap scorn upon video game studios. Thanks to the poor quality of rushed out games, much of the anger voiced by players is entirely justified.

Gamers of today are savvy, smart, and emotionally invested in their hobby. They have a right to have their concerns and grievances heard, and they do not suffer fools gladly. The fools in this case are the video game studios that craft the games and the corporations that run them.

Sometimes the ire of the players is misplaced and directed toward the most visible faces of the studio: the developers. As devs play a big part of the success or failure of a game, some of this wrath is certainly warranted. Unfortunately, devs become punching bags and whipping boys for problems that are out of their control. Most of these problems are caused by overpaid studio management stiffs who hide from the public in their plush windowed offices.

It’s not fair for the devs to be scapegoats for the problems created by their slippery overlords, so many devs end up becoming defensive and insular. The sad reality is that devs who have mortgages to pay and families to feed are stuck between a rock and hard place.

Even a casual observer of Daybreak Games (previously known as Sony Online Entertainment) realizes that this a third rate antiquated studio run by investment bankers. It is common knowledge that Daybreak Games takes advantage of the loyalty of their players, squeezes them dry, and puts back little, if nothing into their studios. The mafia-like management of Daybreak siphons most of the profits into their bloated salaries and sends the rest to their overlords at Enad Global 7.

In researching this article about Daybreak Games, I used Glassdoor as my only source. Why? Glassdoor features reviews from anonymous (existing and former) employees. Glassdoor is wealth of information and an invaluable tool to honestly evaluate company working conditions, the culture of a company, and the well-being of their employees.

After reading reviews on Glassdoor, it became readily apparent that the studio in charge of the EverQuest franchise is run by a cadre of incompetent, dysfunctional, self-preservationist managers. These executives care more about their own survival and profits, than the quality of the video games that they are making. The gaming public has taken notice, as few studios in the industry have lower street cred than Daybreak.

What follows are a only a few of the many personal horror stories from existing and former Darkpaw, Daybreak and Sony Online Entertainment, in their own words, not mine.

Review after review, with the exception of a few obvious fakes (noted by one of the ex-employees below), echo the same sentiments: management is greedy, awful, and out of touch. Here is one typical terse review:


Good People, Bad Management

Former Employee, more than 5 years

Jan 30, 2022 – Designer 

Pros

The people in the trenches are great

Cons

The management is absolutely terrible

Advice to Management
Quit


There were a few reviews that stood out that were extremely well-written and gave the reader an extensive insider look at the problems at Daybreak. But one caught my eye…

The following review is a masterwork of analysis and insight that plumbs the very depths of the dysfunction at the heart of this awful company. This former employee deserves to be recognized for this brilliant essay and I hope his words might be the catalyst for positive change.


The Rot of the Gaming Industry

Former Employee, less than 1 year

Oct 26, 2021 – Anonymous Employee 

Pros

  • Great camaraderie and team spirit
  • Talented and skilled people who hang on to their jobs mostly out of passion, habit or for survival
  • Some decent benefits

Cons

This is a sad somber opaque red-taped-to-death place to work that has gone through so much amount of scandal, restructuring and shady activity, that it is now fully deprived of any articulated hopeful vision for the future. Old games on life support that just keep barely going because they are brands with enough IP power to be milked until civilization shuts down, survival and extraction to the top upon the sweat and tears of underpaid, overworked skeleton crews cut down to their very bare bones until hardly anything is left or sustainable enough to be performing just at a normal level, a never ending Machiavellian game of political Survivor and musical chairs that is felt everywhere…

Daybreak feels like a vampiric ghost company of something that used to be great or could have been great, reduced by so much of all the accumulated worst practices that have gone wrong in this industry over the years; and though you are certain to feel it from whichever position you occupy, it really is the little worker from QA or Customer Support that expectedly gets the full disregarding end of the stick: contracted, no benefits, understaffed, unsupported, minimum wage, no career path — and yet technical jobs that require an array of skills to do well and that are often considered as the differential edge for a good online gaming experience quality, especially for the retention of loyal players.

A true modern tale of tech/video game exploitation from an ice cold abusive delusional unimaginative bean counting E-Staff surrounded by yes-men at the top, that just will never have the character to recognize its failures nor shortcomings to learn from them, has nothing generous to give to its staff nor its customers, but a karmically deserved inherited increasingly awful reputation.

Advice to Management
Do the world a favor and call it quits. Some entities are just meant to end for the greater good; like bad banks or bad gaming organizations with nothing new to give from outdated frames that only exist to take from the enduring fans of licensed IPs that have never been yours to begin with.


No Faith Things Will Get Better

Former Employee, more than 3 years

Mar 24, 2021 – Engineer in San Diego, CA

Pros

The people who have remained at the company year over year are great and experts in MMOs. Everyone puts so much energy into keeping things positive until there are some real positive changes within the company. Most people really care about the fans that support their titles and want to do right by them and their dedications to the titles.

Cons

After the layoffs over the last several years, many departments have been running extremely lean to the point where it’s unsustainable. Lots of favoritism and a culture of fear and yes-people at the top of the org. If you aren’t one of the CEOs favorites, good luck getting anything done that actually costs money. The only thing that drives the decision making is money, not ideas or innovation or making things fun. There is no care for the people that put their hearts and souls into the company and it’s heartbreaking to witness.

Advice to Management
Stop treating people like dollar signs. Invest in your employees to drive change and make the things they know they are capable of.


The Problems Start at the Top

Former Employee, more than 1 year

Feb 3, 2019 – Anonymous Employee 

Pros

  • Crunch was rare and handled well if it did have to come up.
  • Some truly talented, kind, and friendly people working there. The studio avoids hiring jerks and it shows. Great people here, especially the further away from senior management you get.
  • Kitchen stocked with snacks.
  • Great engineering team that was smart, easy to work with, and had a legitimate interest in helping other departments.
  • If you’re lucky and survive layoffs, you’ll soon find yourself in a position you probably aren’t qualified for!

Cons

  • Incompetent management. This is a consistent theme in other negative reviews. There’s a reason for that. Bland corporate culture. The place felt less like a game studio and more like an office where people make games. Management is responsible for this.
  • Two layoffs in eight months.
  • Limited upward movement. You either have to move departments or have your boss leave / get laid off to move up.
  • Management exiles people that dare to speak up about the real state of affairs. As another reviewer put it “like the mafia. Obey or you’re gone.”

Advice to Management

  • Leave, or make drastic changes. Senior management has consistently
  • Prioritize fun at the workplace, both in our tools and in the games we create.
  • Be more transparent with your employees about the real state of affairs.
  • Stop interfering with the remaining employees you have that understand the industry and know how to make fun games.

Disorganized and Dispassionate

Former Employee, more than 1 year

Sep 21, 2017 – Anonymous Employee 

Pros

  • Location: San Diego is an amazing place to live. Buzzing restaurant scene, beautiful beaches, easy commute, reasonable cost of living.
  • Work / Life Balance: No crunch, good hours.

Cons

  • Leadership: Schizophrenic and completely unorganized. Constantly changing plans that disrupt and demotivate team members. Games are treated like line items on a budget sheet. Zero interest in building a positive brand that gamers love. Complete and total lack of focus.
  • Tools: Archaic and limiting. You cannot do your best work at Daybreak because you will always be fighting the tech the games are built on. I’ve worked with less-than-ideal tools before, but the tech that powers our games here is over a decade behind.
  • Culture: It barely exists. There’s no rallying cry to unite people. Company “pillars” feel like arbitrary statements made by someone in HR with no understanding of games. Very little camaraderie and passion due to a complete lack of empowerment.

Advice to Management
Enable your people. Make decisions.


Cruelty, Ignorance, and Incompetence at the top

Current Employee, more than 10 years

Jan 5, 2020 – Engineer in San Diego, CA

Pros

  • LGBT friendly
  • Clean offices
  • Convenient location
  • Generous holiday schedule

Cons

Daybreak is run like a mafia. Employees are ordered to spy on others who are suspected of being disloyal. Management issued stern warnings that those who are reported for negativity, even when off campus, can be terminated. Work environment is hostile. Employees are pitted against each other. Teams are pitted against each other. HR cannot be trusted. They are used as a tool to manipulate and threaten staff.

Management is demonstrably incompetent. Insists on changes to projects that are often unfeasible and sometimes impossible and always out of touch with the project. Upper management are bullies. Leads are undermined, retaliated against, and replaced if they do not follow marching orders. Zero accountability at the top.

Decisions made by management result in the loss of millions of dollars. Yet management proudly shows off their new luxury cars and new houses, in the wake of layoffs and ever-dwindling profit sharing bonuses. Company brings in premium hires to run existing teams. These types invariably undermine the game’s experts and sink team morale as they ram through uninformed decisions.

Buildings are half-empty. Three large layoffs in the past 15 months. Staff fired for minor infractions. Good people have left or are leaving for more stability and less hostility. Daybreak is struggling to bring on and keep quality staff. Management asked employees to write positive reviews to offset the negative ones. Company is in the midst of a re-branding to shed their bad industry reputation, while keeping the same people and policies that led to this reputation. Owners are desperately trying to sell company while simultaneously running it into the ground.

Advice to Management
You clearly don’t understand what’s compelling about games. You clearly don’t understand how to nurture creative types. You clearly don’t understand the value of what you’re selling. Why are you in this industry?

Conclusion

This is an article that really needs no conclusion. The serious problems at Daybreak Games speak for themselves and the solutions to remedy them are obvious to anyone with a cursory grasp of the business of creating video games.

But the video game business is also a craft that requires skilled creative artists. As a game designer, it’s heartbreaking to read these employee reviews. Imagine working all your life to finally get hired by an iconic video game studio that created the venerable EverQuest MMORPG, only to find out that the studio is run by a cadre of horribly inept people that do not share or care about your passion for creating amazing games.

As a player, I expect that the video games I play will be the best they can be. But how can they be when Daybreak management has created such a toxic environment that stifles creativity?

The devastating litany of horror stories confirms what I have been saying for years: Daybreak Games is an awful video game studio that is run by rapacious, uncaring, incompetent, and creatively constipated grifters who care more about making money, than they do making great games for their loyal players.

In recent years, the situation has become so bad that some of the best developers at Daybreak left the company for greener pastures at studios like Blizzard Entertainment.

The people at the top are the ones responsible for the terrible working conditions at Daybreak. Anyone who dares to speak out is terminated, so people shut up and live in fear. The blame rests on squarely on their shoulders and they deserve to be named and shamed. Former President of Daybreak Games John Smedley, acting CEO of Enad Global 7 Ji Ham, and Enad Global 7 Chairman of the Board Jason Epstein are 100% responsible. Instead of hiring the best talent, they hired friends and family. The buck stops with them.

All three of these Keystone Cops should hang their heads in eternal shame for how they have mismanaged the EverQuest franchise, how they have treated their employees, and how they have shortchanged their loyal players by creating mediocre, uninspired games. All three of them have had YEARS to fix the problems that THEY created, but they did NOTHING.

Daybreak Games has a well-deserved bad reputation from both the players and those who work in the industry. This is a rotting corpse of a studio that lacks vision, drive, and ambition to survive and thrive in the highly competitive world of modern video game production. Thanks to their clueless, corrupt, atherosclerotic management team, Daybreak Games does not appreciate the value of excellence and nor do they show any desire to achieve greatness. Instead, they fall back on the past glories of their 1999 revolutionary MMO EverQuest to fool shareholders.

Enad Global 7 investors are not being well served by the chronic dysfunction at Daybreak Games. If the board of directors at Enad Global 7 had any sense and cared about performing their fiduciary responsibility to their shareholders, they would clean house and fire the management team Daybreak and replace them with competent people who truly understand the video game industry and nurture the creativity that makes games possible.

Better yet, Daybreak Games should broken up, sold piecemeal, or sold lock, stock, and barrel to a serious video game company.

― Wolfshead