Stress, Abuse, Harassment: Nintendo Russia’s Ex-employees Speak up about Their Time at the Company
The disclaimer (from Denis Maiorov, Kanobu’s Editor-in-Chief):
So why would a Russian-language site like Kanobu suddenly publish an article in English, and why did we cover the unfortunate situation at Nintendo Russia in such detail?
Because we give a damn. Because now is the time to change things, and to get some answers. Let’s be honest: a lot of us in the industry recognized that something was wrong with Nintendo’s Russian office: the rumors, jokes and even memes about Yasha Haddaji’s (the CEO of Nintendo Russia) appalling behavior have circulated for years. There was steam over a boiling cauldron, sooner or later there was bound to be an explosion. Which is happening now.
What is important here: we aren’t talking about a sole instance of an overworked boss acting out. Not about a single employee at the wrong time in the wrong place. We’ve dug at quite a distance, talking with many former employees of Nintendo Russia. And we didn’t like what we’d found. We’re talking about systematic, brutal, uncivilized abuses of human rights from a man in power, about a toxic working environment in one of the industry’s leading companies. That’s why we are in need of answers, official statements and explanations from both Nintendo’s Russian and European offices.
We don’t want to kick anybody while they’re down, we just wish to shed some light on the situation, and so far, the company in question hasn’t provided us with any answers. To get those as quickly as possible, we need to make some noise. The issue at stake isn’t limited to Russia’s gaming industry alone. That’s why we re-publish the results of our investigation in English. Because the English-language media must say their word, too.
A disclaimer in Russian is available at the end of the article. Original story starts below.
Right off the bat, we contacted one of the organizers of the event featured in the video, Level Up 2017’s Dmitry Steblev, who is the target of Yasha Haddaji’s F-bombs. Unfortunately, Dmitry wasn’t able to tell us the particulars leading up to the event because of the terms of his contract, but he did share his impressions in general.
“We started getting ready only two weeks before the event! It went all wrong. We had one day for testing and staging, and then Level Up was upon us. And Yasha really blew his gasket. He was responsible for the situation and he was the one getting mad about it. Everyone had taken their licks. He also gave us the wrong flash drive with the PlayStation promos. Well, we did run them.
“As for myself, he grabbed me by the badge on my neck and yanked toward himself, right in front of the main stage. Called me an idiot, and said he won’t pay me anything.”
Dmitry noted that Haddaji, as far as he could tell, was equally abusive toward all his subordinates and wasn’t shy about going off at them in English, Russian and French equivalents of F-bombs. The “are you a retard?” question is an absolute norm for the CEO.
“Couple of times I was at the office and in each case he was, so to speak, uncouth while addressing his subordinates. While I was there, he stepped out into the hallway and asked: “And where <the F-word> is she?” The F-word flies off his tongue in every other sentence. He also constantly threatens to fire people, saying “I pay your salary.” I also know he broke one female worker down to tears and cracked jokes about some employees’ BMI. And then he told everybody that nothing had happened”.
In Steblev’s opinion, such a person shouldn’t be Nintendo Russia’s CEO.
”<It’s because> in the future, he can actually lay his hands on somebody. He doesn’t keep himself in check at all. I don’t think that some sort of an anger management class can help him. He tries to control everything, including things he doesn’t have a clue about. But any kind of a stressful situation throws him into a fit of rage.
“I also heard that he calls up the companies looking to hire people who have been fired by him. I hope it doesn’t happen every single time. I know he did tell my employer some bad stuff about me—I was told so.”
We also contacted Miroslava Basnak, the company’s former social media manager. She told us about her own experiences working for Nintendo Russia and Yasha Haddaji’s conduct toward her coworkers.
Kanobu: “Please tell us about Yasha Haddaji’s behavior toward yourself, and its consequences”.
Miroslava: “During my initial interview, Yasha was gruff but tried to pass himself off as a more or less impartial boss. But I can say that, while perusing my CV, he told me I had worked for crappy companies. He meant RIA Novosti (Russia’s state-run news agency,—translator note) and Eksmo (one of Russia’s largest publishing houses,—translator note).
“He used to constantly bring me into his office for face-to-face meetings. Probably so the others couldn’t hear his language. He uses highly abusive words in a mix of Russian and English. Sometimes there’s French. He also pried into my personal circumstances, asked who I was cohabiting with and how did I make my living while searching for a job.
“He checked my social media and found some pages that I didn’t even use at the time (fake or empty profiles). He also made me take down my photos with “provocative undertones.” He then showed me what pictures I should delete.
“He constantly talks to you like you’re an idiot, asking if you’re getting what he’s telling you. He also made fun of my British English accent. Some say that our wages are above-the-market, but I don’t think so. It’s the regular salary. But people who actually love the games do get less money. They don’t like fans in Nintendo Russia. When you tell anybody you’re a gamer, they look at you strangely”.
This information is corroborated by one of our anonymous sources.
“They pay you less money if you actually love Nintendo.
"Perhaps they think that if you love Nintendo so much it’s some sort of an honor to work for them so you don’t need to actually get paid. The people who come to the company from other businesses and don’t know the first thing about Nintendo and its products get bigger salaries. By the way, everybody who thinks that Nintendo Russia is making huge money for Nintendo of Europe are gravely mistaken”.
Kanobu: “But how effective is Yasha’s leadership? Do his ends justify his means?”
Miroslava: “The leadership is highly ineffective. He bottlenecked all processes through himself, he micromanages everything. He doesn’t let anybody do anything. He wouldn’t even let me publish social media posts from Nintendo of Europe until after he’d gone over them personally. He thought they also were idiots.
“He used to say that the European branch is staffed by “fucking retards.” And the Russian branch, too.
“As a social media marketing specialist, I used to suggest all kinds of projects on social media, the Internet, I even wanted to do a promo with Kanobu. I was told that no one on that website knows how to work and that we would be sent some sort of bullshit just to get our money.”
Kanobu: “And another thing. Were there any cases of sexual harassment?”
Miroslava: “Not with me, I didn’t work there all that long. But he did approach me very closely during our conversations, touched my shoulders and arms, it’s strange, but not a, strictly speaking, harassment. But other girls did complain about that.”
Kanobu: “Was Yasha the sole problem of Nintendo Russia? What was the morale in the company like?”
Miroslava: “Yasha was the source. He hired people like himself. For example, the marketing director, Ksenia Chromova. She’s also a peculiar personality. Throughout all my time in the company, I never did understand what she was doing here. I only remember her saying: “I don’t have time for the small tasks.”
Kanobu: “What do you mean by “peculiar”?”
Miroslava: “She didn’t decide anything while also being the director of marketing. Everything you suggested to her was answered with “send me an email, we’ll talk about it.” And no one read the emails. I tried to save their Miss Geek contest, suggested online communities, made blog posts and even a presentation. Her answer was: “They’ll probably want money for the placement.” So that was the end of that.
Kanobu: “Why couldn’t Nintendo’s employees complain to Nintendo of Europe about the toxic working conditions?”
“I was told they did complain, but they were ignored by the European branch. I wanted to write to the HQ myself, but I quit before I got to do that.”
Kanobu: “Was there anything positive in working with Yasha? Like did he actually help you with anything?”
Miroslava: “Friday mornings, Yasha made breakfast, toast and pancakes. But it was like, I don’t care if you’re hungry or not, you must eat. Yasha sat next to you, saying: “Eat more if you like the stuff. What’s the matter? Do you like it or not?” Like at your Grandma’s. It was mandatory, a nice enough idea, but horribly presented. There was also a rule that breakfast should be attended at 8:30.
“Also a positive thing: my paperwork went through the day of my employment. Because, really, the only person working in the company is Yasha. He’s HR, he does the heavy lifting, and the SMM, he’s also Director of Marketing, and the janitor, and Legal, and the cook. It’s all Yasha”.
Mikhail Lisetsky, the leader of ”Igroprom” TV show, who was mistakenly added to Nintendo Russia’s blacklist, also commented on the situation.
“In just over a day, the accusations leveled at Yasha turned into a real witch hunt. The industry is collectively stomping the guy, although Yasha probably hopes that we objectively consider every single one of his alleged misdeeds.
“Five years ago I was a victim of Yasha’s temper, and, back then, I wanted the same thing.
“In about 2012-2013, Mr. Haddaji was deeply offended by some TV feature on Nintendo. It looked like he decided that I was the author of the piece, but in all the years that passed since he never told me what was the thing that offended him. But he did go to great efforts to ensure I was banned from every Nintendo Russia event and directly forbade me to approach their booths and employees. It’s almost a certain thing that 5 years ago Yasha mistook my video for some other one. But still I remain thoroughly confused and blacklisted by Nintendo.”
A Nintendo Russia’s former employee told us the operational details of the blacklist, which can be used on both media outlets and regular people alike:
“There’s a blacklist of media outlets that you can be put on for posting an article that Yasha disagrees with. He could call you and say “take it down.” He could also not give you the courtesy of a phone call. That’s exactly how some huge gaming sites found themselves blacklisted and couldn’t get a review copy of Nintendo games – their emails and messages were ignored or answered formally. Yasha’s feelings, of course, could’ve been hurt by virtually anything.
”There’s also a blacklist of players – people who are banned from Nintendo-sponsored events. These players didn’t attend the events drunk, didn’t get in fights with promoters or try and break into a booth. For example, there was a situation where a girl from Krasnodar won a fully paid trip to Moscow to attend the finals of Russia’s Pokemon Cup. She was told too late that she won so her mother couldn’t get the days off from work to travel with her. So nowadays this girl CAN participate in tournaments but CAN’T win any prizes from Nintendo. Somebody got offended by her behavior.”
We were also contacted by other ex-employees of Nintendo Russia who wouldn’t state their names for the record. One confirmed that everything that has been told to us is true, including the sexual harassment allegations.
“Everything that former employees say in their interviews is true. I get the anonymity thing—we are all deeply afraid, even after all the years. And to those ex-employees who say that the sexual harassment thing is made up, I can say only this: “Be glad that you think so, be glad that you weren’t the ones touched by it.””
Here’s an example of how scared the ex-employees are: we contacted a former underling of Yasha Haddaji and asked them for a comment about the state of things—not necessarily in a bad light. But they refused to do so even under the condition of anonymity, citing the CEO’s far-reaching connections.
Another former employee did share some curious details about Nintendo Russia’s inner workings that not that many people on the staff are privy to.
“Before the mid 2018, only one person worked Nintendo’s support line, and when he was sick or on a vacation, everything simply stopped. Now it’s a whole two person crew working the hotline, but they physically can’t cover everything.”
He also confirmed that everybody in the Russian office is in fear of the CEO. The co-workers even created an entire top-secret set of Telegram stickers with Yasha Haddaji’s different moods!
“Not many people know that it’s actually a Russian branch of Hell. The ex-employees only tell stories in whispers. I’m finally capable of calmly writing about my experiences without instantly deleting the messages.
“Also employees make Yasha memes, but they’re top secret and only shared with other current employees. You’re afraid of sending them out to your friends in case they’ll go viral and heads will roll. There’s even a legendary-level secret sticker pack of Yasha passed worker to worker.”
We were also told by our sources that some people were hired by Nintendo Russia as employees of shell companies. The reasoning for that remains a mystery.
“Another little-known fact: some employees are on the books under a shell company. Actually, you’re working for Nintendo Russia, but your employment documentation says “Acme Corp” or something like that”.
This information was confirmed by Miroslava Basnak, who said that nowadays Yasha Haddaji ceased such practices.
“Some people were actually registered as workers for some other companies. But it isn’t the case nowadays. Yasha adapts, fixes some of the shortcomings. I was officially employed by Nintendo Russia LLC. At the interview, he did say that his company was super-transparent, all the paperwork done by the first day of employment, the salary fully fixed in the contract. And also a strict 9 to 18:30 day, no overtime. I think it used to be different, and many people complained. At exactly 18:30, he cranks up some tune on his phone, steps out his office yelling: ”All right people, I don’t want to see you here. Go home”. But it’s all for show, because a girl who used to be Event Manager had to constantly stay in the office working the after-hours”.
The bulk of Nintendo Russia’s former employees agree that all the problems are caused by the toxic CEO who frequently escalates personal conflicts while pursuing his own goals, making accomplishing the actual work difficult for everybody involved.
“Yasha and all his actions is the source of all problems. Like gamer-hating Marketing employees, for example. Yes, it is a problem, but who hired these guys? He also likes to create conflicts, not only by telling you the bad things others are saying behind your back but also by making people who are not getting along work together. When he’s deciding which task to assign to which employee, he will pair you with the one who gets on your nerves the most.”
Another ex-employee who wished to remain anonymous corroborated the allegations, noting that jokes about appearance or politics are common for Haddaji, and that he has a multi-year contract with Nintendo that makes him think he can do whatever he wants.
For fairness’ sake, we asked other former employees about Yasha Haddaji’s positive qualities. It turned out that out of the office he’s a completely different person who is respectful to others’ personal problems and is always ready to listen.
“Out of the office, off the clock or during the break at some event he’s real easy to talk to. He’s a fun, approachable person.
“Always generates some ideas, he’s easy to get excited about some thing or other. But it’s equally probable that he will then get excited about some other idea, and all your work on the previous one will be scrapped. He will listen if you come to him with some personal problem, respectful of “family circumstances.” He’s a big spender at parties. He’s a really weird contradiction of wanting everybody to fear him and also requiring that everybody in the office was smiling and happy at all times.
“I hope he doesn’t fully realize what his behavior does to people, that he isn’t a monster. I can picture him approaching every employee after all of this, asking: “Did I ever oppress you in any way?” But nobody will tell him so to his face, and no one currently employed will state openly what goes on inside the company”.
“It’s hard to speak about some positive qualities, there’s always a “but” involved. When he does show some, there’s a ray of hope that things aren’t that bad, that you can deal and keep working for the company. This is the flame that keeps you going for a while, but then everything goes to shit with another current of negativity. I first thought about leaving 3 months after starting in the company, but in actuality I worked there for 9 months”.
After running the original article, we received another anonymous comment about working for Nintendo Russia. Here’s the story in entirety:
“Yasha was trying to give us all a bad case of the Stockholm syndrome.
“Out of office, he was an awesome person. The nicest guy you’ve ever met! He has the perfect pitch, knows a lot of funny stories. He’s a blast at corporate parties, while talking to him you feel like you’re special, he comes across as a kind and attentive person. I’m sure all my colleagues will agree, everyone loved Yasha at the parties.
“But in the office he did everything to make you feel like a nobody, feel like you were responsible for every other person’s failures. When something went sideways, he very skillfully made you feel like it was your actions that led to this result. I have no idea what to call it, it was some next-level psychological manipulation.
“After a conversation with him I’d check the facts of the matter and realize that I did nothing wrong… and the result was actually OK, and not the failure I was blamed for. But it was too late – when he had stood beside me, yelling at me in a mixture of three languages, I had been convinced that he was right and I was a piece of shit. And now he won’t listen to me. The ship has sailed.
“And even if by some chance I turn out to be right in this particular case, he will humiliate me on other matters. And he will be correct, because there WILL be a mistake on my part somewhere. Because every employee at Nintendo Russia has more tasks than a single human being can physically attend to. And the tasks themselves are vague, with no clear, obvious priorities.
“By the way, most of the tasks were handed out with extreme brevity, and while waiting for the results every other phrase from Yasha was “well, you’re supposed to guess what I was getting at.” Really? There was no “Mind Reader” clause in my interview and nobody told me I was supposed to tag on additional layers to a short-term task.
“With time, you convince yourself that you actually CAN anticipate his wishes and that you’re able to fully master your taskload. The result? That particular task wasn’t a priority, and you’re an idiot for not realizing it! You get yelled at for not doing some other task instead.
“I read some of the articles about the situation, with people stating their cases anonymously. I recognize some of the authors. I want to hug them. We always hug, feeling a connection… everybody who ever worked for Nintendo Russia!
“So, I read what some people are saying, like, “lots of stuff happened, but let’s not get overboard with sexual harassment allegations…” It’s funny (but not really) that the ones who write that are either men or not particularly attractive girls. I don’t want to hurt anybody’s feelings, but guys, if you weren’t the target, it doesn’t mean that it didn’t happen!
“Of course Yasha wouldn’t harass his employees in front of witnesses. He’s married, after all, and it could’ve been bad for his marriage. But he did harass me. And I’m sure he was livid it didn’t go anywhere.
“Of course, no physical violence. But I did receive constant psychological pressure. At my workplace, from my boss, it’s disconcerting at the very least.
“Many are asking, why we put up with all of this. Firstly, the salary was great. Secondly, many people knew that if you quit after a fight with Yasha, he would do anything possible for you not to be able to find work for a very long time. At least in this industry. And how do you quit without having an argument with your boss? He’s really thin-skinned. And it’s scary to think of yourself without a place of employment. Some have mortgages, some have families, some have rent. Lots of reasons. Everybody needs money.
“Yasha is also really paranoid. I’m guessing he constantly thinks that somebody is trying to betray, cheat or poison him… I have no idea where this is coming from, and find it very strange.
“While writing all of this I can’t get the thought out my head: he wasn’t that bad, after all, we had some nice parties! He was fun and friendly! And all the yelling and humiliation was my fault, I didn’t do my job properly and thus disappointed him. Poor, poor Yasha. He relied on us, and we let him down!
“But the thing is, at my new job everyone is happy with my work, and no one has ever raised their voice at me since.”
In an online conversation with us, Nintendo Russia’s CEO noted that he’s been instructed not to comment on the situation.
Update 1 (17.11 at 15:15 Moscow time): Nintendo Europe commented on this issue to Nintendo Life, saying there’s an internal investigation ongoing.
“We are aware of a video uploaded to YouTube recently in which Nintendo Russia’s General Manager, Yasha Haddaji, is seen losing his temper during an altercation with an external vendor in charge of a Mario Kart livestream. Mr Haddaji’s conduct and choice of words are most certainly not in line with our company values.
“We are also aware of further allegations that have appeared in the wake of this video and are now running a thorough investigation. We take these matters extremely seriously and will not comment further while we are running our investigation."
**Update 2 (17.11 at 23:30 Moscow time):**We’ve received another statement from an ex-exployee that portrays Haddaji in a better light.
“I worked with Yasha Haddaji in Nintendo Russia for quite a while, several years. I think that my comment is much more objective than the whole “interview” of an ex-social media manager who worked for the company… for a week.
“I can confirm that Yasha Haddaji’s management style is actually really harsh. He holds his subordinates – and himself, – to high standards. He likes to be involved with every process in the company, especially Marketing, Finance and Administrative Management. All in all, free-loaders won’t last long with him because you need to always be “on the ball” or you’re done.
“Everything that I’ve read in the “former employees’” interviews is exaggerated and blown out of proportion… but it is the reality of working with Yasha. But if they were so “humiliated” and “uncomfortable in that toxic environment”, why’d they keep working for the company?! Honestly, each and every one of them was pursuing their own goals. You became aware of Yasha’s demanding manner on your first day in the office (even if he was at first nicer to you you could see how he held himself with other, “older” employees), and every rookie had a 3 month trial period after which they had to make the decision to stay with the company or to move on. Moreover, the HQ knows all about Yasha’s temper and demanding nature, so don’t get it in your head that you’re putting out there some info that would be news to them.
“The main thing I wanted to talk about: there was no harassment in any shape, way or form. Not once on business trips or in the office did he let himself do anything that wasn’t appropriate. Yes, he could advise a manager to wear something in particular (for example, he did tell to do so to a girl from the sales department who periodically arrived to work wearing dirty clothes with grease spots or holes on them, and her job presumed meetings with our business partners) or to hug you in a friendly context, but our culture doesn’t forbid such interactions. Come on, guys, we aren’t living in the Arab Emirates, are we?
“Let’s try and be constructive and objective here. The way things are going, we could accuse Yasha of every mortal sin.“
Update 3 (15.01 at 23:00 Moscow time):
Today Nintendo of Europe has issued a statement announcing the conclusion of its internal investigation into Yasha Haddaji’s case. Here it is in full.
"Nintendo initiated a thorough investigation into each of the allegations made against the General Manager of Nintendo Russia, Mr Yasha Haddaji, in November.
While the results of the investigation acknowledge that Mr Haddaji’s loss of temper on display in the video has at times also been observed in the office, none of the allegations of harassment brought forth in the wake of the video were substantiated by the investigation.
Mr Haddaji fully acknowledges that his conduct related to him losing his temper is a breach of our Code of Conduct, and expresses his remorse to all those affected by it. He has received a formal warning and has issued an apology letter to all Nintendo Russia employees.
Our top priority is to ensure a safe and supportive working environment for all employees. It’s because of these values that we committed to a full and thorough investigation into each of the allegations against Mr Haddaji. Going forward, Nintendo of Europe will be providing more resources to Nintendo Russia to support their efforts to bring Nintendo products and experiences to Russian players".
We checked with our sources whether Nintendo of Europe got in touch with them about their grievances, and it appears none of them have been contacted. In particular, the female ex-employee who spoke of harassment confirmed with her sources at Nintendo of Europe that they have her contact info and that she’s ready to tell her story but as of yet received no requests for that.
We’ve also checked with Yuri Litvinenko who conducted a separate investigation into the matter for Nintendo Life, and none of his sources were contacted either. In fact, they didn’t even know there was any sort of investigation going on right up to the moment of the announcement of its conclusion. It appears that Nintendo of Europe’s “internal investigation” was, in fact, completely internal and ignored complaints from employees who have already left the company. Haddaji’s apology was issued to the new staff and not to those voicing grievances after quitting Nintendo Russia. As such, Yuri Litvinenko considers Nintendo of Europe’s actions and the symbolic gesture of “formal warning” in lieu of a proper punishment a show of disrespect towards his sources: “I apologize to those who stepped forward with their stories in hopes that their ex-boss will answer for his actions”.
- Original article (in Russian)
Слово главного редактора
Почему на «Канобу» выходит статья на английском языке и почему мы так много пишем о неприятной ситуации вокруг Nintendo Russia?
Потому что нам не все равно. Потому что сейчас наконец появилась возможность что-то изменить и добиться ответов. Будем честны: многие догадывались, что в российском офисе Nintendo что-то не так — слухи, шутки и даже мемы о поведении Яши Хаддажи — главы Nintendo Russia — ходили не один год. Происходящее сейчас — не нонсенс. Пар из котла поднимался давно, рано или поздно должно было рвануть — это мы сейчас и наблюдаем.
Но вот что важно: речь идет не о простом единичном срыве перетрудившегося начальника. Не о сотруднике, который просто попал под горячую руку. Мы закопались максимально глубоко, побеседовали со многими бывшими сотрудниками Nintendo Russia и нам сильно не понравилось то, что мы нашли. Мы говорим о систематических, грубых, непозволительных нарушениях человеческих прав, проявленных человеком «у власти». О токсичной атмосфере в одной из важнейших для индустрии компаний. Вот поэтому нам нужны ответы, официальные комментарии и объяснения от европейского и российского офиса Nintendo.
Мы не хотим никого топить, мы хотим разобраться в ситуации, но пока что компания нам в этом не помогает. Чтобы получить ответы как можно быстрее, нужен резонанс. Вопрос серьезный, выходящий за рамки одной лишь российской игровой индустрии. Поэтому мы дублируем наше расследование на английском языке — англоязычные СМИ должны сказать свое слово.