Roughly 20 workers at Montreal-based indie studio Dynasty Loop are looking for answers — and money — after months of missed paychecks, four workers told Polygon. The studio, helmed by CEO Rania Oueslati, apparently owes its workers and external contractors more than $2 million in missed pay, expenses, and bonuses, according to the people impacted by the situation and supported by numerous documents and work chats reviewed by Polygon. These employees, who were granted anonymity as they were not authorized to talk to press, told Polygon they were asked to turn in their work equipment and have been unable to access the Montreal office space. The studio told them they were not laid off, but they’ve gone without an expected timeline for repayment or any work to do in the meantime.
Dynasty Loop was founded in 2020 by Oueslati, with the goal of working on both NFT projects and video games at the Montreal studio. Dynasty Loop hadn’t announced those projects publicly, quietly working through its design projects, workers said. Workers there who spoke with Polygon said that the talented crew worked well together, and that problems only began to arise in early December, after a holiday party. Oueslati and management originally told staff that payments from November would be delayed due to a change in Dynasty Loop’s financial software, workers said. Most employees were not paid until January, and they were expected to work through the financial hardship this caused, which made for an especially difficult holiday season; one worker told Polygon they were unable to buy Christmas presents for their family and friends while they worked through their savings to pay for food and rent. Employees were also periodically locked out of the office and business software like Microsoft Teams, making it more difficult to get work done, the employees who spoke to Polygon said, corroborated with screenshots from Dynasty Loop’s Discord server.
“We had to just keep working through it as if everything was fine,” one worker told Polygon. “It was demoralizing. It was hard to focus.”
Dynasty Loop employees said they were issued a lump-sum payment for this initial period of missed pay in early January, and no one has been paid since. The January payments were issued chaotically in the first few days of January, with workers questioning management in Discord over timelines, according to screenshots of the chat. The office was reopened and access to software regained briefly before everything was shut off again, workers said. In late February, management told staff they must return all equipment to Dynasty Loop — but that this was not a layoff. Several employees said they were concerned with the price of commuting to the office to return their equipment, due to the thousands of dollars in missed pay. Beyond that, there was no instruction as to how or when workers were to continue work and, more importantly, when they’d get paid.
“A lot of people were asking, ‘Are we laid off? Are we being fired? What does this mean?’ We had a lot of questions. Some people lived far and would have to drive quite a bit to come in. After not being paid for so long, people didn’t have gas money or money on their OPUS [transit] cards,” one worker said.
Management informed workers that funds were flagged by the government and frozen indefinitely, allegedly due to Oueslati’s immigration status, workers said. Most employees have filed wage complaints with Montreal’s Commission on Workplace Standards, Fairness, Health and Safety (CNESST), they told Polygon. A representative from CNESST declined to comment, noting that filings and results are confidential.
Workers told Polygon they stayed with the company following these issues because they were making progress on their projects and believed in their team. The pay, when it came, was great, another worker said. Throughout the months of missed payments, Dynasty Loop continued to hire new employees, too, one employee said.
On Feb. 23, management proposed a “lien agreement” between Oueslati and staff, which was intended to ensure that anyone who signed it would get paid when funds were available, workers said, as corroborated by Discord chat logs provided to Polygon. (A lien can be placed on a debtor’s assets to ensure their debts are paid; typically, they’re issued federally or provincially for unpaid taxes, but people can also register liens under Canada’s Personal Property Security Act.) Dynasty Loop’s proposed agreement, which Polygon has reviewed, would place a lien over the company’s assets and bank accounts until the $2 million owed to staff and other vendors has been paid out. The agreement proposed that staff would wait up to six months before taking legal action or filing complaints with CNESST. It also prohibited people who signed it from talking about the lien and payment issues to prospective employers, press, or on social media. Crucially, the lien did not guarantee that people would be paid. The lien agreement was issued to staff on Feb. 26, and the next day, Dynasty Loop management, without Oueslati, held a Q&A session with staff, giving everyone until the morning of Feb. 28 to sign, workers who attended told Polygon.
“Leadership, who were answering questions, were trying their best. They sounded tired,” one worker said. “It was difficult for everyone involved. It wasn’t just us not getting paid — leads, HR, anyone employed is not receiving wages.”
Employees were left in the dark until March 6, when a senior staff member posted in the work Discord to inform everyone of delays on the lien’s registration, allegedly on Oueslati’s end, according to a screenshot of the conversation. Oueslati replied hours later, denying the delay but stating she would not pay fees for filing the lien’s registration with the government. She also joked that the situation would make a “hit movie,” suggesting the “actor who played Anna” (presumably Anna Delvey in Inventing Anna) to star as herself.
On March 7, management who had been organizing the lien agreement emailed Oueslati and the entire staff to confirm that she would not register the lien, and released all who signed from the agreement. Management also looked to confirm whether insurance issued through the company was still active, and everyone’s upset about the hoops they need to go through to get paid, do their taxes, and file for unemployment, according to the email reviewed by Polygon.
“Since [...] the leadership team [has] no control, power, or authority to provide any of the listed above, we are in the total incapacity to do more or provide answers to the employees impacted by your inactions,” management wrote in the email. The email confirmed that staff were missing pay and essential documents needed to complete their taxes and file for unemployment.
Reached for comment, Oueslati said she was not the person dealing with the issue, and pointed us to her lawyer. The lawyer responded after publication to ask for his name to be removed from the story, stating he was not involved in the matter.
Former Dynasty Loop workers are now left without anything to show for their work at the studio — no financial compensation or portfolio pieces to show in job interviews. Beyond looking for new work, several people who spoke to Polygon have struggled to pay rent and food for themselves and their children, missing more than four paychecks adding up to thousands of dollars for each person. One worker told Polygon they had to take out a loan with a family member to support their children.
“It’s been rough,” one worker told Polygon. “I had to cut back a lot, part of it because of inflation going up. We cut back on food, too. I had some savings, which helped me out. To pay rent, I had to take out a loan with my mother.”
Oueslati has ceased speaking directly with impacted people and has been referring them to her lawyer, workers told Polygon.
“[This situation] has reduced my faith in humanity,” one person said. “Other than having my finances put in a precarious position and straining my personal friendships due to finances, I have become even more of a pessimist. There’s always this looming fear that those words are being used to placate me and manipulate me into excusing or defending someone.”
Update (March 27): This story has been updated to include a comment from Dynasty Loop’s lawyer. We’ve also removed his name at his request.