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Challenges at Deck Nine: Toxic Work Culture and Intense Deadlines

Allegations Against Deck Nine

A detailed report has cast a spotlight on Deck Nine Games, with both current and former employees accusing the studio of fostering a toxic work environment, enforcing harsh crunch times, and exhibiting poor leadership. The report highlights Square Enix’s significant role in the development of “Life Is Strange: True Colors,” with sources claiming that the publisher was heavily involved in shaping the game’s script. This included attempts to steer clear of labeling “Life Is Strange” as the “gay game,” despite featuring queer characters and relationships.

Controversies in Script Development

Narrative designer Mallory Littleton shared with IGN that Square Enix initially directed them not to reveal the protagonist Alex’s bisexuality. However, after receiving positive feedback for the representation, Square Enix confirmed Alex’s bisexuality as part of the canon. This situation underscores the complex dynamics between creative freedom and publisher influence in game development.

Toxic Workplace Allegations

Despite the “Life Is Strange” series’ inclusive themes, employees at Deck Nine have reported experiencing sexual harassment, bullying, and transphobia that were allegedly ignored by management. The IGN report details incidents, including a senior programmer making inappropriate comments and jokes, which eventually led to his departure after a confrontation with HR. Female employees also recounted numerous instances of harassment, painting a disturbing picture of the studio’s work culture.

Leadership and Allegations

Narrative director and later CCO Zak Garriss faced accusations of forming inappropriate relationships, disparaging the Black Lives Matter movement, and pressuring employees to disclose their political views. Garriss denied several of these allegations, asserting his commitment to mentoring staff at Deck Nine. He also addressed controversies related to the removal of a planned trans character in “True Colors,” defending the team’s creative decisions.

Efforts for Improvement

Following Garriss’ exit, Deck Nine reportedly experienced a boost in morale. However, the discovery of racist imagery and hate speech within an in-development “Life Is Strange” game in late 2022 sparked additional concerns. In response, CEO Mark Lyons announced new anti-hate speech initiatives, including training programs and investigative measures, although employees are still awaiting further updates on these policies.

Impact of Crunch and Publisher Pressure

The report also exposes instances of crunch time imposed by Square Enix, resulting in tight deadlines and financial pressures at Deck Nine. Allegations of bullying behavior from the publisher have reportedly worsened the studio’s internal culture, exacerbated by layoffs following collaborations on projects like “The Walking Dead” and “The Wolf Among Us 2.” Despite these issues, the production of the next “Life Is Strange” game continues, with marginalized employees stressing the importance of rebuilding trust between the team and its leadership.

Commitment to Change

In response to IGN’s inquiries, Deck Nine reiterated its commitment to diversity and the prompt investigation of misconduct allegations. The studio aims to create a healthier work environment and restore confidence among its employees, emphasizing their dedication to addressing the issues raised in the report. The ongoing challenges highlight the critical need for genuine and lasting improvements in workplace culture within the gaming industry.