Southeast Asia’s Lemon Sky & Brandoville Studios Allegedly Put Its Artists Through Unpaid Crunch [Update]

Update [5:38pm, 3/5/21]: Lemon Sky has released an official statement. It’s added at the bottom of the story.

Malaysia and Indonesia’s gaming scene will be in the spotlight yet again in 2021, but not because of its awesome indie games. This time around, it’s because of its alleged crunch practices for the sake of churning out art assets for triple-A games.

A recent exposé from the People Make Games YouTube channel, led by game journalist Chris Bratt, has revealed that Malaysia-based triple-A asset outsourcing studio Lemon Sky and Indonesia-based animation studio Brandoville allegedly put its artists through unpaid overtime and had to work weekends to meet tight deadlines. Yes, third-world countries also experience unpaid overtime in the games industry, and it’s done all for the sake of appeasing big clients like Activision Blizzard and Naughty Dog.

According to a former senior Lemon Sky employee’s testimonial, a company like Lemon Sky can only be appealing to a triple-A game-making client, they have to say that they have 100 or 150 people, as well as “do this much in this much time”.

“That gets you in the door and after that, you negotiate a price point. Oftentimes, the artist’s scheduling is the part that ends up getting squeezed. Sometimes it doesn’t sound like a lot, but 5% suddenly becomes two weeks of really late work. But on paper, it’s 5% to get that Blizzard job and are you not going to take it?”

Of course, if they take the high road and prioritize their employee’s well-being, the triple-A client will take its business elsewhere to another animation/game asset-making studio in the region that would take up on their offer. The sad part is that due to the triple-A company’s clout, people would like that accolade to be associated with the brand and name, thus they take the gig and finish it no matter what.

Former & current Lemon Sky employees and senior members in the art department have laid out their testimonies regarding working hours in the company, which is basically crunch forced onto the studio by overseas game studios due to meeting tight deadlines.

“Typically, the normal working hours are 8 hours a day, but frankly speaking, I’d be very lucky if I could go back and rest on time.”

 

“If the project isn’t going smoothly, on the weekend you have to come back to catch up. During weekdays, you also have to OT until midnight sometimes.”

 

“Everyone was so stressed out, I had a friend who cried at work, in the bathroom too, because she couldn’t handle it.”

 

“I frequently worked for 12+ hours, usually until 3 or 4 in the morning and I also still need to go back to work on the weekends for many times.”

For all the substantial amount of OT put in by the workers, the company only official asked its employees to do OT once. Lemon Sky higher-ups allegedly used passive-aggressive methods to coax its artists & workers to put in OT without actually officially doing it beyond the one time, possibly to escape paying them extra. Essentially, crunch is mandatory and an unspoken edict.

“[T]he company never asked for it. Therefore, they do not have to pay for our OT. But we weren’t given enough time to complete our task. If we work overtime, it’s only because we are “slow” and need to “catch up”. It’s always our fault that we couldn’t complete it on time. That’s how Lemon Sky put it.”

Lemon Sky Studios is known for creating high-level assets for triple-A titles such as Marvel’s Spider-Man: Miles Morales, Marvel’s Avengers, The Last of Us Part 2, and WarCraft III: Reforged.

Meanwhile, In Indonesia…

Things are just as grim, as Brandoville Studio has Glassdoor reviews stating that working in the company “will take the joy out of making art”. Testimonials from current and former employees of the studio said roughly the same things: unpaid OT, long hours every single day, and a culture where artists who OT without question are favoured.

“I would work everyday until like 3am during my first few months and when I say everyday, that’s including weekends.”

 

“You have to do it or leave. I worked OT almost everyday, between 10 and 30 hours per week.”

 

“If you OT a lot and never complain, that’s what the company likes.”

The video even mentions an incident where Brandoville CEO Ken Lai told two employees that they can take the next Monday off since they had to come in to work on a public holiday on a Friday. The following morning, the pair received a long message from one of the company’s higher-ups who happens to be the CEO’s wife, which basically asks them to reject the holiday offer while guilt-tripping the two by bringing up their other colleagues who didn’t ask for replacement day-offs.

Brandoville Studios is known for formerly being a Lemon Sky Studios offshoot before branching out to be an independent studio. Currently, they’re working on an unannounced Naughty Dog project.

Kakuchopurei has reached out to both Lemon Sky Studios and Brandoville Studios for comments regarding these allegations. So far, Lemon Sky has responded with the following official statement, which says that the allegations regarding unpaid OT are “factually and legally inaccurate”.

“We abide by all Malaysian employment laws pertaining to work hours, and the contractual terms and conditions of employment with our employees. The allegations made against Lemon Sky Studios regarding overtime payments are factually and legally inaccurate. This position applies to all employees of Lemon Sky Studios (including former employees).

We value the efforts of our employees and take employee wellbeing and mental health very seriously. In addition to conducting an ethical business and adhering to the standard industry practices, we have gone above and beyond to create an open and holistic environment where our employees have access to recreational opportunities and a space in which their mental health is given priority.

As in any situation where allegations are made, management will take appropriate measures in response. This will include a process for obtaining feedback from ALL of our employees regarding their individual concerns.

We remain steadfast in our pursuit to Make Good Art and we will continue to do so as we grow and improve.”

Check out the full video below:

Author: Mr Toffee

Jonathan "Mr Toffee" Leo is a writer, editor, & all-around video game words guy for 9 years, give or take. He also did some story for games like Chain Chronicle and some podcasting on the side. Likes: bacon, Metallica, jogging. Hates: raccoons, oblivion.

5 thoughts on “Southeast Asia’s Lemon Sky & Brandoville Studios Allegedly Put Its Artists Through Unpaid Crunch [Update]

  1. The Governing labour dept should start enforcing what they regulate now that it’s exposed and fine the companies that are exploiting such practices. This is no different than abuse of human rights and profiteering not by doing business but labour exploitation.

  2. Good article. My concerned is on the bold font quotes part. The font type is not suitable & hurt the eyes to read. Use simpler font type with moderate spacing & avoid serif condensed bold font.

  3. The official statement by Lemon Sky did not respond to the fact that they were accused of not paying overtime but instead address mental health care. What a cheap low blow!

  4. I’ve been working in lemonsky for 7 years and still currently employed, starting out from a fresh grad now i’m a project lead, been through all the bits and sweets. And lemonsky is not as bad seriously. Just giving you a first hand insight of lemonsky here.

    When i first join lemonsky as a fresh grad 7 years ago, i can’t handle the task i was given to, i had a break down, i cried late night alone on my desk. Quickly i realise that that is because i’m not up to the industry standard, i couldn’t grasp what the client was looking for. And then of course I learn my lesson from project to project, improving myself skillset day to day, overcoming challenges together with my colleagues. And here i am still standing.

    Let me tell you! You get free meal of appreciations after finishing projects, you get company trip, you get free workshops webinars, you get annual dinner with tons of prizes, you get constant of free flow food all the time! (sometimes i don’t even know who’s bday celebration it is), you get cozy working environment(not like some old school office layout where you are being locked in your own “cage”), you get 2 free ps5 to play with in the living area, you get medical benefits, you get gym coupon discounts, you get no salary deduction during pandemic AND bonus. What more you want man?

    There are countless of people losing their jobs during this pandemic yet lemonsky is trying it’s best to take care of all employees’ bowl of rice. And the bosses are actually still trying to look for more ways to enlighten us in everyway possible by having surveys on what you think we should do to improve the working environment! 5%, two weeks of really late night work? I say go lemonsky take it man! It is definitely not easy to feed your big fat ass every month, with tons of expenses and risks, how about you suck it up and we fight together late night side by side! If the company’s revenue is good, you get your desire salary, you get your bonus, you get your desire shits requests overtime. Where do you think your salary is coming from? They’re from those “5% of really late night work” jobs. Imagine what will happen overtime if lemonsky choose not to take the “5% of really late night work” job.

    From some anonymous “If the project isn’t going smoothly, on the weekend you have to come back to catch up. During weekdays, you also have to OT until midnight sometimes.”. So you’re expect everything will go smoothly all the time and you can go home OT(on time)? When shit happen you expect to just go home and don’t care? Is that what you are saying? What kind of grown up are you?

    I know there might be artist or junior got neglected or stuff, but ask yourself why are YOU the one? There must be a reason why it happening to you not your desk A13 friend, not your desk G5 colleague, is it because of your communication skills? Try to figure out the cause and improve from there, if you want to change the world, first change yourself. Complaining/blaming is not going to change shit! And it’s not doing any good to anybody.

    When i first join this company, yes i can see there are management issues, throughout the years i can see lemonsky are constantly looking deep into themselves, constantly improving on all aspects, i once had a private conversation with my supervisor on the very next year’s January and he asked me “are you stressed out last year leading that huge project? We (management) knows that some are burnt out due to having tight datelines and we(company) are trying a new quoting system to reduce the workload per manday hopefully everyone is working at a reasonable yet efficient pace” And in my mind i was like wow, i’m impressed, you do cares about us and constantly improving! Of course it is because i’m a project lead therefore i get some first hand insight news that nobody has.

    Some say “look at the boss, got himself a new BMW” or “I heard the boss is living in a huge bungalow” I say how about you go and try create your own business? You have no idea what kind of disaster they been through to get here! the risks, the fear, the commitment, the frustration, the progress. All you know is to complain and then get paid every month.

    Throughout all these years in this industry, i am well aware on what’s happening in some other competing companies, salary delay, company bankruptcy, salary deduction, no bonus. I am proud to say that Lemonsky is definitely not the one and by reading this article i feel sad and it is very unfair to lemonsky.

  5. Wow, seriously, its easy for the founder to defend their company using the words.
    But no matter how much fire they trying to put off, the damage is already done,
    most malaysian artist already know how bad the lemonsky treated their employee,
    low paid ,
    threaten to sued or even fired artist girlfriends when they joining to competitor company,
    No bonus paid for the artist who worked like a dog while coincidentally buying brand new luxury car for his wife to enjoy.
    Force the artist to sign BW contract , so everything the artist do/created even in their home is legally owned by the company….
    and these rumor just keep on going.

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