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Chucklefish deflects exploitation accusations and insists volunteer devs were ‘under no obligation to create content’

Chucklefish has responded to allegations it exploited “around a dozen” unpaid contributors who worked on Starbound.

The accusations came to light when writer Damon Reece made a number of allegations on Twitter, reporting they had worked “hundreds of hours” without any pay “while the company made unbelievable amounts of money off of [their] labour, and that of around a dozen other unpaid workers”.

“I started out my gamedev career working on Starbound for almost two years. I was sixteen,” said Reece on Twitter (thanks, PC Gamer). “I worked hundreds of hours and wasn’t paid a single cent for it while the company made unbelievable amounts of money off of my labour, and that of around a dozen other unpaid workers.

“A couple of them ended up working at the company. it doesn’t mean they weren’t exploited too. I spent a long time being very afraid that talking about this would tank my career,” Reece added. “But this is indisputable truth, and I am, for now, in a stable and safe position. so there you go.”

Reece – who is credited as a writer on the game – then had their accusations substantiated by a number of others including graphic artist Rho Watson, concept artist Christine Crossley, and composer Clark Powell.

“Those who were passionate and wanted to help with the game that wasn’t a paid member was given a standard ‘contributor contract’ and told it was ‘industry standard’,” Watson – who had been paid for their contributions – told PC Gamer “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.”

“We’re aware and saddened by the current allegations against Chucklefish regarding Starbound’s early development,” the developer said via a statement. “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’s been almost a decade since Starbound’s development first began, and from then Chucklefish has grown considerably into an indie studio that has a strong emphasis on good working practices, providing a welcoming environment for all employees and freelancers. Our doors remain open to any related parties who wish to discuss their concerns with us directly.”

In response to the statement, Reece insisted that despite contracts, there was “no moral defence for this” and as they had been “a naive newcomer to the industry”, their “trust was utterly betrayed”. They also insist “deadlines were absolutely in place and “if not formal [it was] definitely heavily implied”.

“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 added. “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 labour we exploited signed contracts,’ you may need to do some soul-searching.”

About Vikki Blake

It took 15 years of civil service monotony for Vikki to crack and switch to writing about games. She has since become an experienced reporter and critic working with a number of specialist and mainstream outlets in both the UK and beyond.

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