Happy Wednesday, gamers. I’ve been sucked back into Final Fantasy XIV thanks to peer pressure, and while I’m not to the good part of the story by any stretch of the imagination, it’s immensely satisfying to repeat the whole “run to place, perform action, receive sparkly reward” cycle. Sometimes your brain just needs that little dose of serotonin. I also dabbled a bit in Jonathan Frakes Wants Your Attention, And You Must Not Give It To Him, a quick and hilarious little game about ignoring a vengeful spirit taking the shape of Star Trek and Beyond Belief: Fact or Fiction star Jonathan Frakes. You can get it on its own, or for $5 as part of the TTRPGs for Trans Rights in Texas!, which is available for another couple of weeks!
Anyway, let’s get to the news.
Misconduct at Indie Studios
People Make Games, a YouTube series about “video games and the people who make them,” released a new video on March 18 investigating abuse and misconduct at indie studios including Mountains (Florence), Fullbright (Gone Home, Tacoma), and Funomena (Luna). The video contains harrowing descriptions of abuse and its effects on employees at these companies—please keep that in mind before watching.
Following the video’s release, host Chris Bratt tweeted some further information about Annapurna, publisher of several of the studios covered in the video, and their failure to support employees of those studios. He also stated that Robin Hunicke, founder of Funomena, who previously worked on thatgamecompany’s Journey, had repeatedly come up as the source of toxic workplace culture in the games industry.
Finally, as it became clear that our story was now making comparisons between two studios in which employees believed their founders had created a toxic work environment, another name kept cropping up in our interviews:
Robin Hunicke of Funomena.
— Chris Bratt (@chrisbratt) March 18, 2022
Hunicke is known for being a public advocate for diversity and equity in the games industry, but employees and coworkers who spoke with People Make Games, as well as others who have come forward via social media, have said that her behind-the-scenes conduct does not match up with this persona. She is accused of getting too involved in the personal lives of employees, as well as spreading confidential information about those employees to other gaming companies.
Game designer Leigh Alexander came forward with a story about Hunicke gatekeeping opportunities and money for women in games, despite being touted as an advocate for inclusion. micha cárdenas, Assistant Professor of Performance, Play & Design, and Critical Race & Ethnic Studies at the University of California Santa Cruz stated on Twitter that Hunicke, a professor of game design at UCSC, opposed having classes about topics like race and gender in the game design curriculum. Numerous other students, colleagues, and former coworkers have come forward with their own stories of Hunicke’s behavior, corroborating the accusations levied in the People Make Games video.
Both People Make Games and the Game Developer article on the topic stress that while Hunicke’s individual behavior is a problem, it’s also reflective of larger behavior patterns in the industry, including among indie developers who make games about interpersonal issues, joy, or other emotionally driven games that may lead people to believe there are no issues behind the scenes. In fact, misconduct can take place anywhere.
Separately, GamesBeat spoke with employees at Moon Studios, the developer behind the Ori series (Ori and the Blind Forest, Ori and the Will of the Wisps) about the studio’s culture (please note that this article features screenshots and quotes that include descriptions of harassment as well as ableist words and antisemitic jokes). Employees described that culture as oppressive, with the studio using their public image to cover up sexism and racism as well as disorganization, crunch, and toxic communication. Moon Studios responded to GamesBeat’s investigation and stated that they do not believe it is representative of the majority of experiences at the company.
The Games Industry, Ukraine, and Russia
As the war in Ukraine continues, increasing numbers of companies are pulling their goods or services from Russia. This week, EA ceased offering games, content, and virtual currency to Russia or Belarus, joining Apple, Microsoft, and several other companies in doing so.
In the indie space, the Itch.io Bundle for Ukraine raised $6.3 million dollars in support of organizations like the International Medical Corps and Voices of Children, which serve the needs of people living through attacks in Ukraine.
Humble Bundle launched their own bundle in support of Ukraine. The bundle begins at $40 and contains games like Back 4 Blood, Metro Exodus, Sunset Overdrive, and Superhot, with 100% of proceeds going to support organizations like Razom for Ukraine, International Rescue Committee, International Medical Corps, and Direct Relief. As of writing, the bundle has raised $14.1 million dollars.
In other news…
Testament is rejoining Guilty Gear -Strive-. Testament is a longstanding character in the Guilty Gear franchise, beginning as a villain in 1998. With this return, developer Arc System Works announced that Testament is agender and uses they/them pronouns, making them one of the very few trans characters in fighting games.
Supermassive, developers of Until Dawn, have released a trailer for their upcoming game The Quarry. I hope the realistic facial expressions are just as strange and uncanny as in Supermassive’s first game.
Sam Barlow, creator of Her Story and Telling Lies, released a trailer for Immortality, an “interactive movie trilogy” about a missing film star. As in Barlow’s previous games, players will interact with live-action video footage to solve a mystery.
The New York Times has ordered Wordle Archive, which allowed players to access previous puzzles from the now-iconic word game’s history, to go dark. It’s unclear how or if this will affect Wordle‘s many spin-off games, such as my personal favorites Heardle, Worldle, and Quordle (I am fairly bad at all of them).
In an announcement this week, FromSoftware indicated that the Elden Ring video game is only one part of the planned scope of the intellectual property. Though the announcement did not contain any indication of what expansions on this world would look like, Bandai Namco President and CEO Yasuo Miyakawa stated, “In like manner, we will continue our efforts in expanding the brand beyond the game itself, and into everyone’s daily life.” I’ve seen those giant rats, Miyakawa. No thank you.
Chucklefish, publisher of Stardew Valley, has returned publishing duties to developer ConcernedApe. This follows accusations in 2019 that Chucklefish used unpaid labor to produce games like Starbound. ConcernedApe founder Eric Barone stated that unpaid labor was not part of Stardew Valley‘s development back in 2019.
GameStop, which is clearly unable to read a room, confirmed its NFT marketplace will launch this year.
Black Twitch streamers are calling for Twitch to take more action on harassment and other forms of discrimination on the streaming platform. Streamers created the #TwitchDoBetter hashtag to call attention to Twitch’s failure to take care of their Black streamers, who bring in views and money to the platform while facing abuse from users. Prior to this open letter, Twitch suggested that LGBTQ+ users and women on the platform use automated tools and restrictions to counter hate raids, shuffling the responsibility to users rather than Twitch.
Sony has stated it is taking accusations of gender discrimination at the company seriously. Even so, the company is still calling for the dismissal of a class-action lawsuit that seeks confirmation that gender discrimination occurred as well as back pay and damages for those impacted.
The Cyberspace Administration of China (CAC) released a draft of a document seeking to further restrict tech firms from profiting off of minors playing video games in China. The draft is accepting public feedback until April 13, and would require services like gaming, livestreaming, audio, video, and social media to create a “youth mode” that would limit the time minors can spend online, among other things.
Microsoft announced that all of their Xbox consoles, games, and packaging would be 100% recyclable by the end of this decade. A recent assessment claimed that the Xbox Series X|S consoles are currently 97% recyclable. The company also stated that they plan to be “carbon negative” by 2030, and that the Azure datacenters, which power Xbox Cloud Gaming, will run on 100% renewable energy by 2025.
Melissa Brinks is Sidequest’s editor in chief, co-creator of the Fake Geek Girls podcast, author of The Compendium of Magical Beasts, and an aspiring beekeeper. She once won an argument on the internet, and tweets at @MelissaBrinks.