Tyrone Rodriguez, owner of indie publisher Nicalis, has been accused of fostering a toxic environment in the workplace by using slurs, cutting off contact with partners, exploiting his authority, and other unprofessional behavior. Current and former employees, as well as developers from studios Nicalis worked with, have spoken up in the past, but never as visibly as in a recent report.
Nicalis is an independent developer and publisher, and while it may not be a major name in the games industry at large, it wields a lot of power in the indie games space. In addition to developing and publishing original games, the studio is known for porting indie games to other platforms, and it’s been a particularly important figure in Switch ports. In recent years, it’s worked on games such as Wonder Boy: The Dragon’s Trap, VVVVVV, Cave Story+, and The Binding of Isaac.
While players may only have known Nicalis as the publisher of some great games, if they recognized the name at all, employees and other developers have evidently seen a much more complicated picture. According to a report from Kotaku, Nicalis has a history going back at least to 2015 of making agreements to work with developers then stopping all communication, leaving the fate of their games unclear sometimes for months at a time. Nicalis’ influence in the indie game scene and its access to early Nintendo Switch development kits may have made it difficult for developers to back out of agreements with the Nicalis or speak publicly about their concerns.
Things were no better for employees of Nicalis, according to the report. Several employees accused Rodriguez of being coercive and controlling, from withholding information about work assignments or arbitrarily changing priorities to more boundary-crossing behavior like policing employees’ body language or pressuring them to drink alcohol. Other employees said that they were reprimanded for not going on trips with Rodriguez. Kotaku also published several chat logs (and said that it had seen dozens more) of Rodriguez using ableist, antisemitic, homophobic, and racist slurs.
After the story detailing Rodriguez’s misconduct was published, he posted an apology on Twitter for what he called “terribly insensitive, stupid remarks” and acknowledging that using them in a joking context doesn’t make them acceptable. He also points out that his own words aren’t an indication of the rest of the staff at Nicalis. So far, the other allegations in the article haven’t been addressed by anyone at Nicalis.
The allegations against Rodriguez come amidst several other high-profile cases of misconduct in the games industry. In recent months, several prominent figures have been accused of sexual assault and harassment, and Riot Games was sued for gender discrimination. Studios are increasingly coming under fire for excessive crunch, overworking employees in the period leading up to a major game release. As painful as it is to see rampant misconduct, hearing its victims speak out can be the first step toward long-overdue reform in the games industry.