Games critic Jim Sterling unearthed some interesting new details regarding allegations aimed at Heavy Rain and Indigo Prophecy developer Quantic Dream of a sexist, recist, homophobic, and overall toxic environment in the workplace.
Update: Since Sterling came out as nonbinary in August 2020, this article has been updated with their preferred pronouns (they/them).
First, a recap. According to French publication Le Monde (via Kotaku), five former employees filed a complaint in spring 2017 against the company and one employee for allegedly circulating unflattering images of other employees. 600 images were reported to be found in February 2017, which used Adobe Photoshop to edit and depict employees in degrading, homophobic, and sexist lights. Some even included Nazi imagery. One photo included studio head and game director David Cage’s head on a male stripper holding a power drill with a dildo attached to it. The photoshops were discovered by an IT manager who was the subject of a photo. The image files date back to 2013 and they were allegedly displayed in public spaces.
Le Monde reported that the former employees who filed the complaints were more interested in the overall toxic environment of Quantic Dream that lead to the creation of the images rather than the images themselves. This includes allegations of long work weeks, sexual misconduct at work parties, and occasional racism. Two people told the publication that when reviewing surveillance footage of a burglary at the company, Cage turned to an employee of Tunisian descent and asked if one of the perpetrators in the video was their cousin.
The publication also reports that despite good pay there’s a high turnover at the company with about 50 people leaving between 2015 and 2016, with many citing depression or burnout.
Co-CEO Guillaume de Fondaumière told Kotaku that Quantic Dream denies the allegations. “As for myself, I’m furious and outraged by these accusations, which I take very seriously,” he said. “And I will take all possible legal actions to defend my honor.” According to an email sent out on February 27, 2017 and obtained by Le Monde, Fondaumière recognized that the photoshops have existed for years and were a mistake.
As for Cage, he told Le Monde that the allegations were “absurd.”
“You want to talk about homophobia? I work with Ellen Page, who fights for LGBT rights. You want to talk about racism? I work with Jesse Williams, who fights for civil rights in the USA… Judge me by my work.”
That was the story so far, but Sterling shared some new info in a recent episode of his show, The Jimquisition.
Sterling got in contact with a verified yet anonymous Quantic Dream employee, who said that the complaints aimed at the company were “overblown.” The source told Sterling that the complaints come entirely from the IT department. The insider doesn’t deny the existence of any of the photoshops but stated that the creator of the images kept the “hardcore” ones to himself while the rest of the images released were “completely harmless.” The source also corroborated that the images were displayed publicly with some employees printing them out and hanging them next to their work spaces. Nobody was “openly offended,” by the images, according to the source.
Sterling did point out that just because employees weren’t allegedly “openly offended” doesn’t mean that they weren’t offended at all or felt bullied in some way. They said that this is especially true in a workplace where speaking out of turn could cost one’s job.
The insider told Sterling that after the creator of the photoshopped images decided to send a wave of them to the whole company, everybody was pretty neutral on the subject except for the IT department who “completely freaked out.” The department asked for the creator to be fired as well as monetary compensation, but were not granted either of those. As a result, the IT department allegedly stopped working, took a bunch of sick leave, and swiped company documents detailing salaries and expenses as well as every photoshopped image available some of which hadn’t been seen before. The department was then fired and is in a dispute over unfair dismissal.
The source was not a subject of any of the photoshopped images. They also state that only a handful of departments occasionally work longer hours and are appropriately compensated for doing so. The insider said that employees laugh whenever they hear stories of Cage being a dictator because he’s allegedly approachable, easy going, and responsive to criticism of his work. However the source did admit that Cage acts like he knows it all whenever talking to news outlets and that Cage reportedly lost his temper when asked about the allegations by news outlets.
Sterling notes that after they gave Heavy Rain a seven out of 10 in a review for Destructoid, Cage had a spirited debate with editor in chief at the time over how wrong the review was while citing the game’s metacritic score. They also notes that the source may be more inclined to defend the company and Cage if Cage was nicer to them.
Sterling then took time to criticize Cage’s response to the allegations. Sterling once acted as a parody of Cage in a video years ago who tried to prove his credentials by constantly reminding the viewer that he once worked with Ellen Page, which Cage actually did in his response. Sterling also noted that actress Page once considered legal action against Quantic Dream after they rendered a nude model of her into Beyond: Two Souls for the shower scene and after said model was leaked online. Sterling said that they rendered the model without Page’s permission even though she has a no nudity clause in her contract. Sterling also called out Cage for claiming that he can’t be homophobic or racist because he knew an LGBT person and an African American person once. Sterling felt the argument was tokenistic and insulting to the marginalized.
“Speaking as an out and out, unapologetic queer, I’ll go on record as saying ‘fuck ya very much’ for trying to trot these people out as critic human shields,” said Sterling.
The developer’s upcoming game, Detroit: Become Human, courted controversy during Paris Games Week 2017 when Sony released a trailer for the game depicting scenes of domestic violence and abuse. Many accused the game of trivializing the sensitive subject. The former employees told Le Monde that they warned Cage about the “misogynistic” nature of the scene and that it was likely to cause offense but Cage reportedly wasn’t interested in their feedback or revising the game’s narrative. The game is coming out later this year.