French video game studio Quantic Dream has been accused of propagating a toxic working environment, according to reports in three French news publications.
Quantic Dream is one of France’s best-known and most successful development studios. Its mature-themed cinematic games, including psychological horror title Heavy Rain and supernatural adventure Beyond: Two Souls, have sold in their millions. But stories published by Le Monde, investigative site Mediapart and gaming site Canard PC allege that the company’s success hides a “a toxic corporate culture” where inappropriate language and behaviour is routine and employees face overwhelming workloads.
Studio heads David Cage and Guillaume de Fondaumière are both accused of turning a blind eye to the unhealthy working culture and of behaving inappropriately themselves. Both have denied all of the allegations.
The allegations came to light last spring when members of staff, including the head of the IT department, filed a complaint against the studio regarding Photoshopped images of employees. These images, said to have been created by an unnamed member of staff and distributed around the office since 2013, are alleged to have included racist, sexist and homophobic elements. Some 600 Photoshopped images are said to have been circulated, depicting employees of the 180-strong studio in Nazi uniforms, swimming costumes and sexualised nurse outfits. Cage and De Fondaumière claimed they were unaware that some of the images were offensive, and told Mediapart that the images had been removed from the company servers as soon as the complaint was received.
However, the IT head has since brought a wrongful dismissal complaint against the company through a Paris labour tribunal and, according to Mediapart, elements of the company’s working practices came to light during the hearing. Le Monde and Mediapart spoke to 15 current and former members of staff who claimed that the Photoshopped images were emblematic of a troubling company culture.
Among the accusations – made by the 15 current and former staff members and reported in Le Monde – are that Cage made jokes with racist and homophobic undertones. Cage told Le Monde that these accusations were “ridiculous, absurd and grotesque”.
“You want to talk about homophobia?” he said. “We work with Ellen Page, who fights for LGBT rights. You want to talk about racism? We work with Jesse Williams, who fights for civil rights in the United States. Judge my work.”
Elsewhere, De Fondaumière is accused by former female employees of acting inappropriately at office functions – greeting people using lips to cheek rather than the more formal (and more usual in a professional environment) cheek to cheek manner of kissing. De Fondaumière labelled the accusations “absolutely false”.
The Le Monde and Mediapart reports also detail complaints about long working hours, with unnamed staff complaining of routinely working 60-hour weeks, plus regular weekend hours. French employment law dictates that a working week is 35 hours and that the working day may not exceed 10 hours. De Fondaumière denied staff were forced to work long hours, and said that they were paid overtime if they did.
Quantic Dream faced controversy in October when a trailer for its forthcoming title Detroit: Become Human was widely criticised for a scene depicting domestic violence. Some felt the sequence, in which an android attempts to protect a child from an abusive father, trivialised the issue. According to the Le Monde report, staff members warned Cage that the scene would cause upset and could be interpreted as misogynistic – but their advice went unheeded. Cage called this, “a lie, pure and simple”.
Following the publication of the reports, Quantic Dream released a statement via Twitter:
“Articles published today level various allegations against Quantic Dream, its management and employees. We categorically deny all of these allegations […] Inappropriate conduct or practices have no place at Quantic Dream. We have taken and always will take such grievances very seriously. We value every single person who works at Quantic Dream. It is of the utmost importance to us that we maintain a safe environment that allows us all to channel our shared passion for making video games.”