There have been several reports about the work culture at gaming companies being subpar at best in recent years, that conditions at them tend to be worse than other non-video game-related establishments. That’s because it’s still a young industry compared to other entertainment mediums, and doesn’t have as much oversight, but it’s also partly due to the development houses themselves being overwhelmingly male — admittedly a reflection of the audience playing the biggest games. These have included companies like MercurySteam, Team Bondi, and Konami, who worked on the Castlevania: Lords of Shadow games, LA Noire, and far too many games to list here, respectively.
(MercurySteam also recently worked on Metroid: Samus Returns for 3DS, but the reported issues occurred during the developments of the last two Lords of Shadow games.)
The newest studio to face accusations of problematic studio culture is Quantic Dream, known for handling adventure games Heavy Rain and Beyond: Two Souls for PlayStation 3, and is working on the upcoming Detroit: Become Human. Reports posted on three French sites, Le Monde, Carnard PC, and Mediapart, detailed stories of the incidents with accounts from former and current employees, and portions of them were translated by Eurogamer. The reports accuse the heads of the studio, David Cage and Guillaume de Fondaumière of inappropriate behavior, along with overworking staffers and ignoring complaints about the fraternity-like internal culture.
One story detailed the circulation of 600 inappropriate images that featured employees and others photoshopped into unfortunate situations (to put it lightly), passed around through email from 2013 and beyond. Some images (Not Safe for Work) involved employees shopped into sexual positions, were adorned with sexist or homophobic slurs, or featured them wearing Nazi uniforms. The images were sent around for years, but the issue wasn’t dealt with until the IT manager became the subject of one image, despite the email accounts of Cage and Fondaumière being attached to the string. The sexist jokes were the most alarming, which featured images with penises and peculiar fart jokes, representative of a studio estimated to be 83 percent male. The studio was (and perhaps is) absolutely full of frat boy types.
Some employees detailed how difficult it is to work with Cage, who’s internally labeled “God,” “Papa,” or “Sun King” thanks to his Big Brother-style approach to how he runs the studio. (Maybe this explains the Nazi photoshops.) Though the pay is good, he demands long hours of work and pays little attention to the concerns of others. He was reportedly worse with female employees, and made dirty jokes and remarks in the presence of one employee’s wife. He also made inappropriate remarks about the actresses in Quantic Dream’s games, and joked about whether a thief was the cousin of an employee of Tunisian descent while reviewing footage of a burglary. Systemic issues within companies like these tend to originate from the top and trickle down from there, so these stories aren’t surprising.
Both Cage and Fondaumière strongly denied the claims, and did so in uniquely poor ways. Cage responded by saying “You want to talk about homophobia? I work with Ellen Page, who fights for LGBT rights. You want to talk about racism? I work with Jesse Williams, who fights for civil rights in the USA… Judge me by my work.” It’s the equivalent of saying “Some of my best friends are black” when accused of racism, and fighting back in this way makes him look guiltier. Not to mention that Beyond: Two Souls (which starred Cage) released before Page came out as gay, and Cage himself admitted that Williams worked on this game before he became an outspoken activist.
Additionally, Fondaumière sent a response to Kotaku: “QD categorically denies the allegations. As for myself, I’m furious and outraged by these accusations, which I take very seriously. And I will take all possible legal actions to defend my honor.” Nothing makes you look innocent like threatening legal retaliation instead of, you know, even entertaining the thought of ordering an investigation into whether these accusations are legitimate.
These accusations aren’t too surprising given Cage’s history. For example, there was a sizable incident following Beyond’s release where the nude character model for Ellen Page’s character was leaked online, despite her specifying how she didn’t want Quantic Dream to completely capture her nude body for the game’s shower scene. She explored her legal options, but decided not to take action. Cage shrugged the entire incident off.
This Quantic Dream story is considerably worse, but it’s tough to see them addressing this well given how they’ll want to sell Detroit sometime this year, after investing millions into its development. Heck, Sony’s already blacklisted the Le Monde writer who posted the story. There are too many fans willing to go right along with them and excuse this behavior if it means they’ll continue to receive good entertainment.
It’s tough to tell how this will unfold, but this is a case where I don’t want to be proven right about this being brushed aside. But it happens so often that it’s tough not to see that occur, especially since we’re talking about the gaming industry here.