Deck Nine devs describe toxicity at Life is Strange studio

Developers at Life is Strange: True Colors studio Deck Nine have voiced concerns about hate speech, crunch, toxic behavior, and management that was in some cases unresponsive to serious concerns and in other cases protected abusers on staff.

An IGN report today cites more than a dozen current and former employees of the studio – two of them under their own names – with a variety of stories about the studio, accusing it of relying on crunch conditions, low pay, and treating its women employees particularly poorly when it came to doling out raises or promotions.

The studio was also said to tolerate a toxic studio culture. In one concerning instance, employees described a number of references to hate symbols and racist memes being slipped into the next Life is Strange game.

Despite numerous complaints, the developers said management neglected to address the Nazi imagery in the game for more than half a year before Deck Nine CEO Mark Lyons told staff the symbols had been removed, and the studio had determined their inclusion had been unintentional.

IGN’s sources also said management was slow to address complaints with specific employees. One senior programmer was accused by multiple employees of sexual harassment, transphobia, and screaming and bullying co-workers. One person “with insight into leadership decisions” told the outlet that management fought to keep him, going so far as to move his team physically further away from other departments. He was reportedly let go, but only after an incident where he directed his screamed at an HR representative.

The piece also named Deck Nine’s former narrative director and CCO Zak Garriss as a problem for a number of developers, with several women who worked at the studio expressing concerns about “love bombing” behavior from the developer and feeling unable to tell him no when he crossed personal boundaries. IGN’s sources also recalled Garris saying representation in games didn’t matter and calling Black Lives Matter a hate group when some in the studio suggesting posting in support of it.

Garriss was also said to butt heads with marginalized members of the narrative team, who had to argue to keep a problematic portrayal of migrants and a date rape-like scenario out of Life is Strange: True Colors, but were reprimanded by him for questioning the decision to remove a transgender character from the game.

Garriss told IGN he mentored many men and women at the studio, and never engaged in “any aberrant or inappropriate behavior.” He also did not recall the Black Lives Matter comment, and said the differences with the narrative team were down to a group of employees who did not collaborate well.

Deck Nine told the site “Our hiring and promotion practices prioritize a diverse culture and workforce because of the experiences we are creating—and because it’s the right thing to do,” adding that it tried to compensate all employees fairly and is working to avoid crunch.

“We place the utmost importance on the welfare of every employee at Deck Nine,” the studio said. “We have strict conduct policies in place, and 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. It is always our intention to maintain a positive, sustainable, and successful studio by putting our people first.”

It also said it is preparing a formal anti-hate speech training process.