Developer and publisher Chucklefish has responded to recent accusations that it used unpaid volunteer contributors during the development of the 2D planetary exploration game Starbound. Chucklefish is best known as the publisher of the hit indie title Stardew Valley.
In addition to publishing Stardew Valley, Chucklefish also published roguelike game Risk of Rain and metroidvania game Timespinner. Screen Rant called Stardew Valley one of the 10 best games on Steam, and Chucklefish’s second self-developed game after Starbound, a strategy game called Wargroove, received 4.5 out of 5 stars in the Screen Rant Wargroove review.
Damon Reece, now lead writer on Route 59 Games’ Necrobarista, first posted about the alleged unpaid labor on Twitter. Reece said they contributed “hundreds of hours” of Starbound development work over almost two years without pay, despite the fact that Chucklefish “made unbelievable amounts of money” off their labor. Reece later replied to a tweet from Twitter user Notnikki regarding past allegations from former Starbound developer Rhopunzel. Rhopunzel had said Chucklefish ran a “revolving door” of contributors who worked for free “assuming it’d get their foot in the door for a paid job.” Rhopunzel had also said “random girls” were added to the dev chat and left for circumstances Rhopunzel was “not permitted to talk about.” Reece said this was all “pretty much exactly how it went down.”
yeah this is pretty much exactly how it went down— damoon's haunted 🏳️⚧️ (@demanrisu) August 28, 2019
Screen Rant reached out to Chucklefish regarding the unpaid labor accusations. Chucklefish said that, during the early development of Starbound, community collaborators (like Reece) were under no obligation to work and “dedicated their time for free.” Here’s Chucklefish’s full statement:
“We're aware and saddened by the current allegations against Chucklefish regarding Starbound's early development.
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.”
Responding to those who asked them why they “didn’t do x/y/z” regarding the unpaid contributions, Reece tweeted a GIF of the words “abusive power dynamics.” Reece said they were 16 at the time they began working on Starbound as a contributor. A post on the Starbound Reddit about Chucklefish’s alleged unpaid labor use has more than 1,200 upvotes at the time of writing, far more than any other post on the subreddit’s front page.
Obviously, this is a messy situation where on-lookers don't have all of the information available to them and must instead develop an opinion based on what both sides are telling them. While Chucklefish's response seems to indicate that there were no misunderstandings involved in Starbound's development and that everyone knew what they were getting into, there are still devs like Reece suggesting that isn't the case. There's likely more to the story and, hopefully, interested parties can get a better grasp of what went on behind the scenes in the near future.
Source: Damon Reece/Twitter, Chucklefish (via email)