During yesterday’s State of Play presentation, a trailer for a stylized beat-em-up called Aeon Must Die was shown off about midway through. But as it turns out, this trailer was outsourced and the entirety of the development team at Limestone Games had just quit due to poor working conditions.
Members of the team have compiled an extensive Dropbox of files laying out the entirety of the situation, with the “intro” document saying that the team, including the founder/creative director, left after “endless crunch, harassment, abuse, corruption, and manipulation,” and that when they took legal action to figure out the truth of the situation at the studio, it learned that the company and the Aeon Must Die IP had been secretly taken from the founder. Management and majority shareholders weren’t open to discussing the matter.
Following all of the above, Aeon Must Die’s publisher Focus Home Interactive was informed about these conditions via a confidential letter, which was met with a short response and then silence for a month. Eight members of the staff handed in their resignation letters as Limestone Games CEO Yaroslv Lyssenko sent threatening letters and legal accusations before ultimately firing those workers before their agreed upon resignation date, putting a black mark on their government work records.
The situation gets more fucked up as the team was in contact with Focus Home Interactive, with representatives of the publisher saying that they were “handling” the situation, only to leak some of these private documents back to Limestone Games management, resulting in the legal threats. Through help from an attorney, the workers managed to get Focus Home Interactive to ask for “proof” they had of its allegations, including audio recordings, logs, documents, and bank statements.
This is where we start to get into the trailer that was released yesterday, which the documents say was made by people without contract or payment at that point. On the last day before the remaining workers quit, Focus Home Interactive’s Head of Legal revealed to the workers that almost none of the information about the working conditions at Limestone Games had been processed at that point, and that the publisher was going to go ahead with releasing the trailer during Sony’s State of Play presentation because it would be “an amazing push for the game.”
While that’s the overview of the situation, the Dropbox includes specific instances and exchanges between the team and management, including emails and audio recordings. Some of them are in Russian, but there’s still a fair bit in English.
All of this brings us to today, where Focus Home Interactive publicly acknowledged all of the above, and given that, according to the contents of the Dropbox, the publisher was informed about these things well before now, its statement’s general implication that it is just now receiving this information and is as shocked as the rest of us sucks.
The full statement reads as follows:
“Focus Home Interactive has always praised and supported all our partner studios and the developers who compose the creative teams. We pride ourselves on treating our own employees and third party developers fairly and respectfully and this will not change.
Focus Home Interactive was informed of serious allegations raised by some of the developers at Limestone who have worked on the creation of the video game Aeon Must Die!
These grievances are directed at Limestone, their direct employer.
As the publisher of this video game, Focus is carefully looking into these allegations and will draw the necessary conclusions if they are proved to be well-founded, and then take all appropriate measures.
No further comment will be shared until we have a clearer and complete view on this matter.”
So that’s where we’re at right now. As the developers behind the game seem to still have passion for it, I hope there’s some scenario here where they get to work on Aeon Must Die under better conditions, but if that isn’t possible, hopefully they can at least get some justice in court.