Former Code Hero developers speaking under condition of anonymity have told Develop that many of them were either unpaid, or not paid as much as promised.
Code Hero vaulted into the public eye and raised $170,000 on Kickstarter this spring, but news of the project became scarce after PAX.
Yesterday a group of backers lead by Dustin Deckard began contemplating legal action, citing rumors that the project was out of money and development had ceased.
While Primer Labs founder Alex Peake later confirmed that development was ongoing, phone conversations with former Code Hero developers revealed that not only had many been shorted pay, but two teams had fallen apart during the course of development.
One artist joined the project prior to the Kickstarter campaign, just in time to see the first team collapse.
"I worked for months just doing art for him," he said of Peake.
"The thing is, he didn’t give me any positive feedback, it was just kinda like, ‘Yeah, you’re working for me, whatever. I’m Alex Peake, the creator of Code Hero’.
"It would at least have been nice to get some positive feedback."
After the success of the Kickstarter campaign, this developer left a salaried job at a game studio to come work on the project again, knowingly taking a dramatic pay cut.
"I thought that the game served a better purpose and that was education, and I was totally for that," he explained.
"My field of study is educational gaming so I was gung-ho about it."
But he claims that Peake didn’t hold up his end of the bargain.
"I’m putting all my hard effort into it, and I look at my check, and you know, it was not what I was promised," he said.
"I talked to Alex about it. You know the guy, the whole time when we were developing, he was just playing video games and then coming up with ideas.
“I have nothing positive to say about it.
Another developer said that Peake failed to give his team credit for their work but was passionate about the project and would do anything to ensure its success.
"I don’t know, Alex just kinda stopped communicating. I don’t fault him for that, I guess. Maybe some of these other guys do, mainly because of the money," he said.
"The money really is where people are burned. And we’re all saying, I think, the same thing: ‘Well, if we didn’t get paid, and there was all this money, then where did it go?’”
Even without pay, and despite having to move out of their IGN indie open house with no notification from Peake, many team members stayed as long as they could to help see the game to PAX.
"A lot of the team was idealistic. We sat around and we were like it’s not about us it’s about the project," he explained.
Even so, the hope of an investment deal after the game’s first expo appearance was not enough to keep them on board.
"I think that, if anything, the latter part of the project was us saying, ‘as much as we love Code Hero, as much as we want to do this, we have to go, because we’re not getting paid. We have families, girlfriends, people and goals we have to reach, food on the table.’"
In retrospect, this developer gives the team and the project the highest marks, and says that in his estimation, the game was ready for a release months ago.
"What I’ve seen of Code Hero was awesome," he said.
"For a while we called it Code Hero Awesome internally as a team which was like a little running joke. Without a doubt it taught you computer code, without a doubt it was on the right path to do so and to do so in an engaging way."
Peake later posted an update claiming the game was still in development, and that while the project was out of money, he wouldn’t give up.
He told Develop that the plan had never been to fund the game entirely on Kickstarter, but further investment has yet to materialise.
When confronted with the claim made by his former team members that many had gone without pay, Peake acknowledged that some developers had stayed on after the money ran out, promising to pay them back.
"So obviously as soon as we get more money we’ll pay all the back pay for our developers," said Peake.
He further explained: "These are my room mates. There’s no getting away from my room mates, and these are my best friends, and there’s no way that I’d let them down."
As for those who spoke to Develop, Peake said: "There might have been some people you talked to that were frustrated because we ran out of money, but they also stopped working on the project."
Peake said he was continuing to look for additional investors, and that people were continuing to back the project through the Primer Labs website, so some funds were still coming in.
He also pointed to Code Hero newly released alpha version and trailer as proof the money had been well spent.
That said, there are worries that future investors could be scared off, further delaying the day when the team behind Code Hero will see the money they were promised.
For one former developer, it’s less an issue of the money, but more a concern that the project his team mates sacrificed so much to see will have a stain on its reputation.
“Everybody brought such an awesome energy, and I really hope everybody walks away not angry at Alex," he said.
“I don’t know what went wrong, I wasn’t that high on the chain. But I can tell ya’, I was really really exited to be there every day.
“We came together as a team and we said, ‘Let’s do this thing we believe in.’ And that’s a great thing. And if anything, I feel the pain and sadness for that not happening; for there to be any sort of dark mark on it, because we all got involved with that ideal.”