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Life is Strange devs Deck Nine accused of crunch, sexism and abusive behaviour amid allegedly toxic culture

Nazi references and racist memes reportedly found in upcoming game left unaddressed for months

Deck Nine, currently responsible for heading up the Life is Strange series having handled spin-off True Colours and remasters of the first two games, have been accused of fostering a toxic workplace home to sexism, mismanagement, crunch and abusive treatment of staff left to linger by the studio’s higher-ups.

The startling allegations were made by more than a dozen current and former employees to IGN - Rebekah Valentine’s detailed report is worth reading in full. Among the many troubling accusations are claims that staff worked for up to 80 hours a week for an entire month while crunching on True Colors, with pressure from publishers Square Enix - accused of being “bullies” - to hit “impossible” production timelines being left unchallenged by Deck Nine management. (Square Enix apparently declined to respond to the accusations beyond highlighting Deck Nine’s own response.)

Elsewhere, reported toxic behaviour left unaddressed by management for months ranged from various accounts of sexism, transphobia and sexual harassment to specific claims that a senior programmer screamed at junior staff, only to be reportedly saved by leadership - resulting in his desk simply being moved further away from other workers. The anonymous programmer was eventually let go after allegedly screaming at a member of HR.

A screenshot from Life Is Strange: True Colors shows a scene from the Black Lantern tavern, with Steph sitting in the foreground and Alex standing a way behind her.

Particular issues were claimed to occur among the narrative team, with narrative director and later studio chief creative officer Zak Garriss singled out for particular criticism. Garriss’ alleged behaviour reportedly included attempts to form inappropriate relationships with female members of staff - using his senior position to ‘cross personal boundaries’ - describing Black Lives Matter as a “hate group” and asking writers to express their political leanings during a meeting, and introducing various problematic elements to True Colors’ script, including an insensitive depiction of migrant workers - removed from the final game - and one scene with traumatic implications of date rape that Garriss reportedly had to fought with for three hours before relenting, albeit with a sexist remark about the friction being related to the game’s female protagonist.

Despite multiple reports made to HR and anonymous feedback provided via the studio’s performance evaluation system, no action was taken against Garriss before he voluntarily left the studio. However, when Garriss was proposed as a contracted consultant on a new game, it reportedly took multiple writers threatening to quit and the studio’s HR department allegedly flagging legal implications of rehiring someone with multiple complaints against them before management passed on his involvement.

Garriss denied and downplayed many of the allegations in a lengthy response to IGN, refuting the claims that he had engaged in “any aberrant or inappropriate behaviour” and putting the stated issues in the narrative team down to “torpor rather than toxicity”.

“In all of my career, I have never worked with writers who were as creatively inflexible, antagonistic toward difference, or less inclined to listen or compromise as a select few of this group,” Garriss said, claiming that the initial work on True Colors before his input was “so poor” that the game was initially under threat of cancellation, requiring him to reduce the “influence” of certain members of the team - something that, according to Garriss, meant “their conduct became unprofessional, more antagonistic, and accusatory toward me of the toxicity that, from the perspective of many people in the studio, was in actuality a result of their behaviour”. (The complete claims against Garriss and his full response to the allegations can be read in the IGN article.)

IGN’s report details further troubling claims, including allegations that references to Nazi slogans and racist memes found their way into Deck Nine’s upcoming next game. The multiple presences of hate speech apparently went unaddressed for months, with one former narrative designer expressing that the frequency and nature of the references made it “hard to believe” they were mere unfortunate coincidences. Even when the references were finally removed and addressed by the studio’s CEO, they were reportedly deemed as being ‘unintentional’ by leadership and met with apparent mockery from some members of the team.

In response to the many allegations, Deck Nine issued a lengthy statement that is worth reading in full over in the complete article. Among other things, the statement claims that Deck Nine are “constantly working to build in better practices throughout development to avoid crunch”, introducing formal anti-hate speech training and processes, alongside additional vetting processes, and states that “we have always conducted thorough internal investigations if any issues arise” according to “strict” conduct policies: “as soon as allegations or issues are reported to HR, they are confidentially investigated, assessed, and addressed with the parties involved as quickly and effectively as possible”.

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