Who is working at Microsoft's new The Initiative studio?

Who is working at Microsoft's new The Initiative studio?

At E3 2018, Microsoft announced that it had bought four new studios: Ninja Theory, Playground Games, Undead Labs and Compulsion. 

But the Xbox firm also revealed it had set up a new developer in Santa Monica called The Initiative. At its helm was Crystal Dynamics vet Darrell Gallagher, who had joined Microsoft in an unspecified role two months prior in April

When the studio was announced, he said his role was to create "something ground-breaking", going on to say that setting up The Initiative combined his love of building teams and developers. 

Now E3 is fast approaching and it's entirely possible we will get a glimpse at what the new Santa Monica-based studio has been up to.

So we decided to take a look at what kind of talent The Initiative has attracted since it was unveiled in June 2018 through the power of - the ironically Microsoft-owned - LinkedIn to find out more. 

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  • 1 Development and Design

    Development and Design logo

    Darrell Gallagher
    Studio Head

    Industry vet Darrell Gallagher was the first hire to Microsoft's The Initiative, joining the Big M in April 2018 before the studio was even announced.

    HIs career started in 1997 when he worked for five years as head of creative for Sony. That was before a two-year stint at Rockstar as a lead artist and a 16-month run at THQ, where he held the role of studio art director.

    In 2005 he was hired by Tomb Raider maker Crystal Dynamics where he worked for a decade, first as director of art before being promoted to head of studio. During this time he worked on Legends, Anniversary, Underworld, Guardian of Light and The Tomb Raider Trilogy, before the 2013 reboot.

    Square Enix must have liked what they saw in Gallagher as in January 2013, he was promoted to head of production and development studios, overseeing pretty much every game Square Enix's Western studios worked on between 2013 and 2016, including Life is Strange, Rise of the Tomb Raider and Deus Ex: Mankind Divided. From the Japanese publishing giant he was hired by Activision, where he worked for over two years as SVP, head of development. In this role, he oversaw development on 2016 and 2017's Call of Duty titles, as well as Destiny 2.

    And in April 2018, Microsoft hired the development to head up its new Santa Monica-based studio, The Initiative.

    Dan Neuburger

    Neuburger has spent quite literally his entire career until working at Tomb Raider studio Crystal Dynamics. He started out in 2003 in the firm's art and graphics team working on Stunt Hamsters, before contributing to Tomb Raider Underworld and Anniversary. From there he joined the design team for 2010's Lara Croft and the Guardian of Light, before going on to direct Tomb Raider and its sequel, Rise of the Tomb Raider.

    Now he is working in a currently unknown role at The Initiative. but it's very likely he'll be involved in directing whatever the new Microsoft studio is working on.

    Drew Murray
    Lead Designer

    Having worked as an attorney for five years between 1999 and 2004, Drew Murray made the lead to the games industry. He started as a junior designer at Insomniac in July 2005, working on PlayStation 3 launch title Resistance: Fall of Man, working on the studio's titles including Ratchet and Clank: Tools of Destruction, both Resistance 2 and 2, before working as game director on Xbox One exclusive Sunset Overdrive.

    He departed that developer in October 2015, returning to the industry in November 2018 as lead designer at The Initiative.

    Robert Ryan
    Senior Systems Designer

    Robert Ryan's games career started in 2009 at Vogster Entertainment where he worked as an assistant producer for one year. From there he moved to THQ's Kaos Studios, working on Homefront, before being hired by Naughty Dog in July 2011. At that developer, he was part of the teams for Uncharted 3 and 4, as well as The Last of Us and its unreleased sequel as a game designer.

    That was until May 2017, when he moved to EA's Motive Studios working on an announced title, likely the cancelled Star Wars title, on which he was a senior game designer, before moving to The Initiative in April 2019 as senior systems designer.

    Ben Diamand
    Lead Systems Engineer

    For 25 years now, Ben Diamand has been working as a programmer in the games industry. Starting off in 1994 Velocity, he moved to Activision the following year, working on Zork: Nemesis, Grand Inquisitor and Apocalypse. 1997 saw the developer join defunct games firm Midway, where he worked until 2002 - as a senior and lead programmer - and again from 2003 to 2004 as a lead engine programmer. That preceded a short stint at Rockstar before he was hired by Sony Santa Monica, where he worked between June 2004 and August 2013, starting as a senior programmer on the original God of War and its sequel, then as a senior staff programmer on God of War 3 and Ascension.

    In the summer of 2013, he was snapped up by Respawn Entertainment to help finish production on Titanfall between August of that year and April 2014. After this, he worked outside of games for close-to- five years, holding the role of senior flight software engineer at Elon Musk's SpaceX company. He left in December 2013 to become lead systems engineer at The Initiative.

    Robert Marr
    Lead Gameplay Engineer

    Robert Marr had quite the start to his career, spending four years between 1997 and 2001 at Chris Roberts' Digital Anvil studio as a programmer. After this time, he moved to Midway Home Entertainment as a senior programmer, spending three years there, before joining Locomotive Games in the same role in February 2004. In August 2008, he joined Portable Zoo for seven months as chief technology officer but left in February of the following year. In August 2010 he was hired by Cryptic Studios as principal software engineer, a role he held until April 2019 when he was snapped up by The Initiative as lead gameplay engineer.

    William Archbell
    Technical Director

    For most of his career, William Archbell has worked at Microsoft one way or another. His time in the games industry started at the Big M where he worked as a software design engineer for Windows Live Messenger (remember that!) until 2006 and then in the same role on Origami Experience. He left in August 2007, spending just over a year at HTC as a software developer before returning to Microsoft in 2008 a software development engineer. During this three-year stint, he worked on Silverlight. Then in 2011, he moved to Halo developer 343 Industries, working as a senior software engineer on Halo 4 and then as lead multiplayer engineer between 2012 and 2015 on Halo 5. This was before a two-year and nine-month stint at League of Legends developer Riot Games as an engineering manager, after which moved back to Microsoft as technical director for its new Santa Monica-based The Initiative studio.

    Kai Zheng
    Senior Level Designer

    Zheng's career in the games industry started just 11 years ago when he joined EA as a level designer, working on the likes of Dead Space, Battlefield and Dante's Inferno during his five-year stint at the publishing giant. He left in June 2013, spending two years as a design consultant in the San Francisco Bay Area before being hired as a senior level designer at Sony's Santa Monica Studio in June 2015. During his time at PlayStation's LA outfit, he worked on 2018's God of War. Last month, he was hired as a senior level designer to work at Sony Santa Monica's Microsoft rival, The Initiative.

    Ray Yeomans
    Senior Designer

    For over half of his career, designer Ray Yeomans has worked at Tomb Raider maker Crystal Dynamics. He started here at January 2007, working as a level designer for just over two years before moving to Planet Moon Studios as a game designer. His time at this studio lasted jut 19 months, before he took some time off in July 2010, returning to Crystal Dynamics as a senior level designer in February 2011. He was at the Lara Croft developer for over six years and departed in March 2017 to work at Sony Santa Monica as a senior staff level designer. Slightly over two years later, he joined The Initiative as a senior designer.

    Ian Miller
    Senior Designer

    In June 2007, Ian Miller joined Sega, working at the Japanese publishing giant's Secret Level studio for 16 months. At that point he was hired by Ubisoft, working at both the firm's Singapore studio and its Shanghai operation as a senior level designer and mission designer. After two years, he moved back to the US, joining Crystal Dynamics as a senior designer, a role he held for five-and-a-half years before leaving in September 2015 to join Sony Santa Monica. This month, he was hired by rival Xbox studio The Initiative as a senior designer.

    Tom Shepherd

    Over half of Tom Shepherd's career' 21 year-long career was spent at Rockstar San Diego, where he started as a senior engineer, before being promoted to multiplayer lead and eventually technical director. During this time he worked on titles such as Red Dead Redemption, Grand Theft Auto V, Max Payne 3 and left after the first few years of development on Red Dead Redemption 2.

    His career started in 1998 as a lead programmer for developer Studio33 before, where he worked for almost five years. Via a brief two-month stint at 3DO, he was snapped up by Rockstar. Following his time there, founded MatchyMaximus in September 2015. That company is still running but in September 2018, he was brought into The Initiative in a role that isn't specified on his LinkedIn profile.

    Cesar Castro
    Senior Software Engineer

    Following a two-plus year stint as CenPRA working as an intern and researchder, Cesar Castro's career in games kicked off in 2005 when he was hired as a game engine developer. He held this role until the end of the year, picking up his career again in March 2006 as a senior engineer for TecToy Digital Development. From there he moved to Brazil's São Paulo, working for 18 months as a game developer for mobile-focused Gameloft. Following this, he moved continent to Canada and for almost five years was technical director for Other Ocean Interactive. A brief six-month stint at GameHouse was followed by another close-to five years working at EA as a software engineering. During this time, Castro worked on titles including FIFA Ultimate Team 2016, FIFA 17, NHL 19 and UFC 3. In February 2019 he joined The Initiative as a software engineer.

    Chris O'Neill
    Lead Level Designer

    In 2003, Chris O'Neill landed what would have been a dream job for most young gamers; product testing Lionhead's next game for Activision, The Movies. From there he moved to Seven Studios, spending two years and seven months, first as lead level designer on The Sopranos: Road to Respect PlayStation 2 game, before serving as both lead designer and writer on a DS and PSP Napoleon Dynamite game. In 2013 he was hired by Kojima Productions - the Konami one, not the Sony one, working as both a creative lead and a senior game designer on the Online segment of Metal Gear Solid V, but left in November 2014. At the start of 2015, he was started working at Sony's Santa Monica Studio on 2018's God of War, where his role was senior staff level designer. O'Neill was at this outfit for four years, starting 2019 by joining The Initiative as lead level designer.

    Christian Cantamessa
    Narrative ConsultantThough involved with development at The Initiative, Christian Canamessa is in fact a consultant whose main job is heading up his own studio, Sleep Deprivation Lab. He's been working at the Microsoft studio since June 2018, and before that has leant his services to the likes of Ubisoft's The Crew and Warner Bros' Shadow of Mordor since he set up Sleep Deprivation Lab in 2011.

    His career started in 1997 at Trecision, going on to break into triple-A in 1999 when he joined Ubisoft. Following a 19-month stint at the French publisher, Canamessa joined Rockstar San Diego where he worked for almost a decade on titles including both Manhunt games, Grand Theft Auto San Andreas and Red Dead Redemption.

  • 2 Art and Animation

    Art and Animation logo

    Oliver Guiney
    Concept Artist

    Guiney started out as a freelance pixel artist between 2009 and 2013 doing this work on the side of his education at University of Massachusetts Boston, where he graduated Cum Laude with a BA in art/art studies.

    From 2015 onwards, he has worked as a freelance concept artist, but has also worked in house, too. In 2017, he worked for VR developer Studio Transcendent between June of that year and March 2018. This was alongside work for Ironklad Studios, also as a concept artist. In March 2018, he was hired by Call of Duty developer Treyarch and worked on last year's Call of Duty: Black Ops 4 and its Blackout battle royale mode. He departed in September 2018, landing his current concept artist role at The Initiative.

    Isaac Yerman Kim
    Concept Artist

    Just three years ago, Isaac Yerman Kim started out as freelance concept artist in May 2016, working on projects for Crush Visual and Rebellion VFX. From there he was hired by Call of Duty maker Treyarch as a concept artist, a role he held for ten months before moving to Uncharted studio Naughty Dog in March 2017. He was at the Sony firm for two years, before being hired by The Initiative in April 2019.

    Sze Jones
    Principal Character Artist

    Sze Jones is one of the more recent additions to The Initiative family, only joining Microsoft's new studio last month (May 2019). Her career started at Blur Studio, famous for its CG trailers, where she worked for over eight years as a character modelling supervisor for a variety of projects including BioShock, Star Wars: The Old Republic and Tomb Raider Underworld. At the end of 2010, she joined Naughty Dog, working on Uncharted 3, 4 and The Last of Us as lead character artist for just shy of three years when she moved to Crystal Dynamics. At the Lara Croft maker, she worked on Rise of the Tomb Raider as senior character artist, leaving in 2015 to join Outpost Games as lead character artist. Via a brief one-year stint at Ark Survival Evolved developer Studio Wildcard, she was hired by The Initiative as its principal character artist last month.

    Matt Corcoran
    Principal Character Artist

    Corcoran's career started off in 3D art, making 3D models for educational exhibits and galleries for 18 months between March 2006 and August 2007. From there he was freelance until May 2009, when he joined Liquid Development as a character artist, working on client projects such as Rock Band 3 and Max Payne 3. After leaving in April 2010, he landed a lead character artist role at Cinematico making game characters and props and - following a three-year stint making anatomy figures for, he was hired by Industrial Light and Magic. For just over a year, he worked on projects including Jurassic World and several bits of content for Disney's resorts. That was until August 2015 when he was hired by Outpost, first as a senior character artist then a lead character artist as of October 2017. He held that until July 2018, when he was hired by Studio Wildcard as a senior character artist, joining The Initiative the following May as principal character artist.

    Branford Williams
    Principal Production Designer

    Brandon Williams' first gig in games was doing concept art, weapons design and games writing at Adhesive Games for mech title Hawken. He was at this outfit between February 2010 and February 2014, at which point he was hired by Sony's Guerrilla studio as a senior concept artist. He was at the Killzone and Horizon maker until August 2015.

    From there he held concept art and art direction roles at H1Z1 studio Daybreak Game Company and Cloud Imperium Games, as well as the Star Citizen firm's Foundry 42 studio. In April 2019, he was hired by The Initiative as principal production designer.

    Justin Walters
    Senior Environment Artist

    Since his career started in 2008, Justin Walters has worked as an environment artist at some of the biggest games companies around. He started off with a four-year run at BioWare that ended up June 2012, before joining Monolith Productions of Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor fame in September 2013. That lasted eight months, after which he was hired by Austin, Texas' Certain Affinity. From there he was hired by EA's Motive studio in July 2016 as a senior environment artist he worked for 15 months, before a 17-month stint in the same role at Just Cause maker Avalanche Studios. In February 2019, he was hired by The Initiative as a senior environment artist.

    Arlington Cruz

    In 2004, Cruz's career started at arthouse Dancing Diablo where he was tasked with digitally drawing art for Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles merchandise. From there he lectured at New York's School of Visual Arts, as well as working in this field in various roles over the years. His start in games was at Big Red Button in October 2011 when he was a character artist on Sonic Boom: Rise of Lyric for Wii U. He worked here until July 2014 when he became a freelance animator for a variety of clients. That was on top of a two year and five month stint at Survivos.

    In April 2019, he was hired as an animator at The Initiative.

  • 3 Production

    Production logo

    Brian Westergaard
    Director of Production

    Brian Wetergaard's career kicked off in 1998 when he landed his first job in the games indusrtry as an artist for High Voltage Software. He spent almost three years at the Chicago-based studio working on LEGO Racers before moving to THQ's Rainbow Studios where he worked as director of art and animation for five-and-a-half-years. From there he was hired by 2XL Games, handling outsourced art for Baja: Edge of Control's vehicles. From there he held roles at Big Bang Entertainment and Trio Worlds, working on its RPG Defiance between 2012 and 2013 before moving to Crystal Dynamics at the end of 2013 as a lead and senior producer. For two years he worked on Rise of the Tomb Raider before leaving in October 2015 to join EA where he was a lead producer on the firm's The Secret Life of Pets: Unleashed iOS and Android until November 2016. At that point, he was hired by PlayStation America to work as a lead and senior managing producer on Santa Monica Studio's God of War, a role he held until June 2018 when he was hired by The Initiative as director of production.

    Imra Ward
    Associate Producer

    Ward's career in games started in 2011 as a QA tester for 2K, working on projects such as Spec Ops: The Line, BioShock Infinite and Borderlands 2 during her 13-month stint at the Take-Two-owned firm. From there she moved to Neversoft for 17 months, going on to work short stints at Collision Studios, Activision Blizzard and Section Studios, before spending two-and-a-half years at Deluxe Entertainment Services Group as an associate producer between November 2015 and April 2018. Following a six-month stint as a games producer at Lucid Sight, she was hired by The Initiative as associate producer in December 2018.

    Victoria Miller

    Miller's career in games started out at LucasArts, where she was an assistant producer on Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 title Fracture. She was at the firm for almost two years before joining Double Helix Games in October 2008 as an associate producer. After 16 months, she was hired by Sony Interactive Entertainment America, where she worked for eight years as producer for the PlayStation firm's first-party publishing output. As a result, she helped launch over 20 triple-A titles, including No Man's Sky, Detroit: Become Human and LittleBigPlanet 3.

    She was hired at the start of 2019 as a producer for Microsoft's new studio.

  • 4 Admin Staff

    Admin Staff logo

    Dickson Lee
    Director of Finance and Operations

    Much of Dickson Lee's career has been spent in company strategy and financial planning. He started out in 1994 as an analyst at Walt Disney's International Home Entertainment division where he worked for three years. From there he held similar roles at Intel for one year, Walt Disney's Internet Group,, Sony Pictures and China's Move Eye Media. His first role in games was actually at Sony Santa Monica, where he was head of finance and studio operations between 2012 and 2018. From that role he moved to Microsoft's rival Santa Monica studio, The Initiative.

    Lindsey McQueeney
    HR Manager

    After a brief two-year stint selling pharmaceuticals, recruitment and HR specialist Lindsey McQueeney landed a role in the games industry as a recruiter for THQ in 2008. She spent a year there before joining Big Huge Games in the same role. In 2009, she moved to 38 Studios, where she worked for over three years and left in 2012 as manager of talent acquisition. Here she joined Tomb Raider developer Crystal Dynamics, working for three-and-a-half years at the Square Enix studio.

    That was before she left in November 2015, joining Google to help recruit for the search and tech giant's creative marketing department. But in August 2018, she was hired as HR manager for Microsoft's new Santa Monica studio.

    Madison Jennings
    Studio Administration and Operations

    Though Madison Jennings has a long working in business operations for over five years now, joining The Initiative marks her first role in the games industry. After obtaining her BA and MA from the University of California, she secured a doctorate in business administration in 2015. From there she worked at addiction and mental health organisation Connections in Recovery between 2014 and 2017, starting as operations manager and leaving as director of business administration via a two-year stint working in national outreach. From there she worked as business operations manager at GUS Inc for five years before a one-year run at New Horizon Development as consulting project manager. Last month, she was hired to head up admin and operations and The Initiative.

    Annie Lohr

    During her 16-year long career in the games industry, Annie Lohr has worked at some of the biggest companies around. She started out in 2002 at EA, spending two years there before moving to Activision studio Treyarch, a role she held for three-and-a-half year. That was before a ten-month stint in Google's engineering department. Following that, Lohr held a talent sourcer role at Microsoft Studios, helping hire for projects such as Halo 4. She was at the Big M for four-and-a-half-years before Riot Games hired her as a senior member of recruitment staff, helping bring in staff for both the League of Legends and R&D teams. She was brought on-board at Respawn in July 2016, helping the Titanfall maker staff up for Jedi Fallen Order, Titanfall and its unannounced VR project, before leaving in November 2017 to join Snap Inc, potentially an early indication of the social media network's video game intentions.

    Finally, in June 2018 she was hired by Microsoft to help hire for its new Initiative studio.

    Blake Fischer
    Unknown role

    So we're not really sure what Blake Fischer is doing at Microsoft's new Initiative studio, but he is a veteran of the Big M. For the last 17-plus years, he's worked as senior director of portfolio planning, handling the Xbox ecosystem's third-party ecosystem. We're not sure if his role at The Initiative is similar, but it's likely he's handling the business side of the developer. Prior to joining Microsoft, he worked at the US arm of Future publishing between 1997 and 2001 on PSM and Next Generation magazines.

PCGamesInsider Contributing Editor

Alex Calvin is a freelance journalist who writes about the business of games. He started out at UK trade paper MCV in 2013 and left as deputy editor over three years later. In June 2017, he joined Steel Media as the editor for new site In October 2019 he left this full-time position at the company but still contributes to the site on a daily basis. He has also written for, VGC, Games London, The Observer/Guardian and Esquire UK.