Tyrone Rodriguez, founder of video game developer publisher Nicalis, has responded to allegations of exploitation of its employees, ghosting, and racism at the company (via Kotaku).
Earlier this week, a report by Kotaku spoke to four external developers and seven former Nicalis employees who recalled instances of exploitative action, unprofessionalism, and abusive language they had experienced while working with Rodriguez.
Audrey Leprince, co-founder of The Game Bakers, said that the studio wanted to work with Nicalis to port Furi to consoles but encountered resistance. ‘We sent the project, they evaluated the cost, sent a first contract draft that we sent back with changes. But then they started ghosting us,’ she said. ‘Not answering emails, Skype calls. We waited three weeks, tried to contact them several times… Finally they answered that they were sorry and would send us a mail the next week. Time passed. We were going at E3 (they were there), offered to see them there. We reminded them how acting fast was important. So eventually we sent a message saying the deal was off considering the communication breakdown.’
This is not the only example of Nicalis leaving developers in the dark. A former Nicalis employee explained that Rodriguez would prioritise projects arbitrarily: ‘Nicalis have a history of taking on more development projects than they have time for. I think this comes down to favouritism and unpredictably shuffling development priorities. When it comes to development, they always prioritize their specialty games such as Binding of Isaac and Cave Story over other developers’ ports.’
The working environment of Nicalis was claimed to be ‘controlling and exploitative’, with Rodriguez pressuring staff to drink to excess, making racist and ableist comments, and punishing those who did not partake in social activities. Kotaku reviewed a number of Skype logs in which Rodriguez uses abusive language while communicating with employees. In addition, one former Nicalis employee said that he was subject to comments about his weight from the Nicalis boss.
During a business trip to Japan, he was pressured to go for walks, to the extent that it had caused his inner thighs to bleed. Tyrone Rodriguez and his brother, Nicalis CEO Victor Rodriguez, asked him to visit a landmark with them, and the former employee refused due to his injury. ‘Tyrone started saying things like, “Who do you think paid for your trip?” He was essentially trying to coerce me into going… I said, “No, I’m not going.”’ he recalled. After the business trip, Rodriguez fired him. ‘When we got back from Japan, I feel like that might have been why they got rid of me. Because I stood up for myself,’ he suggested.
Kotaku asked for interviews with current Nicalis staff, and a spokesperson responded with a statement that the company would not be addressing the allegations. ‘Developing and publishing games is a dream for the staff of nearly 20 that work at Nicalis, Inc. Some of our team have been with the company for almost a decade and we work hard to create an environment where we treat our team members with respect,’ the statement read. ‘They are what make the company. We do not condone abusive workplace environments or discrimination and have people from all walks of life. We hope for the continued success of our internal team and our external developers. Regarding the companies under mutual NDA with Nicalis, Devolver (publisher of Enter the Gungeon) and The Game Bakers (developer of Furi), we can only comment that we do not have any signed publishing agreements with them and never have.’