Life is Strange studio Deck Nine accused of toxic workplace culture

Serious allegations against Deck Nine have surfaced in a deep dive investigation by IGN.
life is strange true colors

Life is Strange studio Deck Nine has been accused of having a toxic workplace culture in a new deep dive investigation by IGN. The report has alleged ongoing troubles at Deck Nine, including crunch, protection for toxic employees, proliferation of hate symbols, and slow action to address complaints.

Sources speaking to IGN have alleged the studio’s troubles began with crunch and tight production deadlines, and this toxicity allegedly spread to other parts of the studio. Beyond being subject to constant pressure, developers have alleged that work on Life is Strange has also been marred by a range of factors.

One source alleged Square Enix was “oddly reluctant or outright hostile” to the diverse subject matter of the game, and told developers it didn’t want Life is Strange to be labelled the “gay game.” One developer told IGN that nobody was to mention the protagonist of True Colors was bisexual prior to the game’s release – but after positive public reception, the game was suddenly celebrated internally for its diversity.

Some developers have also alleged that Deck Nine management “seemed unprepared” for dealing with a game focused on serious themes and “thoughtful portrayals of diverse individuals.”

Read: Deck Nine Games is laying off 20% of its workforce

Further, developers speaking to IGN also flagged internal company issues with women receiving promotions, overall low pay, and “numerous instances of toxic behaviour” going unaddressed, despite complaints. Allegedly, this behaviour included sexual harassment, bullying, transphobia, and crude sexist and racist jokes. One developer who allegedly screamed at and harassed young employees was allegedly moved around and protected by management before an incident with HR led to his removal.

Another developer allegedly “love bombed” female employees and frequently invited them out to lunch, dinner, drinks, movies, and to his personal home after work.

Beyond these allegations, developers speaking to IGN also reported a concerning discovery in late 2022: that someone on the Deck Nine team working on a new Life is Strange game was secretly adding hate symbols into the background of one scene.

At first, developers discovered a single reference, and it was removed. Then, more began to surface. Within one particular scene, developers discovered the number 88, the number 18, a Hagal rune, and the words “Sheee” – all of which are commonly associated with hate speech, and Nazi ideology. An investigation was reportedly conducted, but it appears the person who put these symbols into the game was not identified.

“To put that in this game in particular feels targeted,” one anonymous person told IGN. “It feels like a way to say, ‘You don’t get to have this either’ … It’s not a little thing. If you meant it as a joke, it doesn’t matter. It reads the same.”

Following the discovery of these images, Deck Nine management spoke to staff, confirming it would not tolerate hate speech in any form, and it would be implementing a new anti-hate speech policy.

In response to these allegations, and the other details in IGN‘s report, Deck Nine has issued a formal statement outlining the studio’s commitment to telling “deeply human stories” that are “compelling, relatable, and meaningful for our dedicated community.”

It has also outlined its strict conduct policies, emphasised the importance of the wellbeing of its staff, and said it’s “constantly working to build in better practices” to address crunch and other issues. You can view the full investigation, and Deck Nine’s complete response, on IGN.

Leah J. Williams is a gaming and entertainment journalist who's spent years writing about the games industry, her love for The Sims 2 on Nintendo DS and every piece of weird history she knows. You can find her tweeting @legenette most days.