Chucklefish has responded to the multiple allegations that it exploited the volunteer developers working on indie interstellar adventure game Starbound.
Earlier this week, developer Damon Reece claimed that they had worked ‘hundreds of hours’ unpaid on Starbound as one of its writers. ‘The company made unbelievable amounts of money off of my labour, and that of around a dozen other unpaid workers,’ Reece stated. ‘A couple of them ended up working at the company. It doesn't mean they weren't exploited too.’
‘Put simply, it was either sign that contract and get your foot in the door or get out. A few people were happy to donate their time or just wanted to see their work in the game, but for most people who wanted to work their way up to a paid position, they'd be forced to sign that contract and waive any right to compensation,’ Watson explained. On Twitter, Crossley stated, ‘I put in at least a hundred hours of work, and didn't see any sort of compensation. I was really naive and too afraid to ask to be paid, because anyone who did would be screamed at.’
In a statement to PC Gamer, Chucklefish responded to the allegations. ‘We're aware and saddened by the current allegations against Chucklefish regarding Starbound's early development,’ the statement read. ‘During this time both the core crew and community contributors were collaborating via a chat room and dedicated their time for free. Community contributors were under no obligation to create content, work to deadlines or put in any particular number of hours. Everyone was credited or remunerated as per their agreement.’
It concluded its statement with the assurance that the company ‘remain[s] open to any related parties who wish to discuss their concerns with us directly.’ Reece countered the developer’s sentiments, and maintained that, as a ‘naive newcomer to the industry,’ they had been exploited by Chucklefish. ‘Regardless of any contracts signed, it's massively unethical to allow workers to contribute huge amounts of content for no pay when you, the ostensible leader of the team, are walking away with millions of dollars in personal revenue share,’ Reece said to PC Gamer.
‘If your game sells over two and a half million copies and your only excuse for not treating people ethically is, “but the dozens of teenagers whose labor we exploited signed contracts,” you may need to do some soul-searching,’ they iterated. Starbound was an incredibly successful debut game for Chucklefish, and it has since published other indie titles including Risk of Rain, Stardew Valley, and Timespinner. Its second game, fantasy strategy game Wargroove, was released earlier this year to a very positive reception.
‘The point I'm trying to make here is that you shouldn't work for free,’ Reece said. ‘I see so many young people & students angling for a foot in the door but doing free work won't give you anything but a permanent bad taste in your mouth once you realize you've been had.’