“Challenges and Controversies: Inside the Development Culture at Deck NineGames”

In early last year, during the development of the next installment in the Life Is Strange series, some developers at Deck Nine unexpectedly stumbled upon symbols associated with Nazism in their game. Initially, it started with a reference to the number 88, which they reported to their superiors assuming it was a mistake. However, over the following weeks, more troubling signs emerged, including references to a racist meme, the number 18, and the Hagal rune. As concerns mounted about the possibility of these symbols being deliberately inserted into the game as dog whistles to white supremacists, the staff became increasingly alarmed.

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The presence of Nazi imagery was particularly alarming given the nature of the Life Is Strange series, which has been praised for its sensitive portrayals of marginalized individuals. The latest entry, Life Is Strange: True Colors, received accolades for its impact and representation, winning awards such as Games for Impact at The Game Awards and a GLAAD Media Award. Given the series’ reputation, developers expected swift action to remove any hint of hate speech and conduct a thorough investigation.

However, as weeks passed, management remained silent, and discontent among the staff grew. This was not an isolated incident but rather a symptom of a broader issue with Deck Nine’s management. According to numerous current and former employees who spoke anonymously, the studio has long tolerated a toxic work culture. Allegations include protecting abusive leaders, promoting crunch, and permitting bullying of individuals advocating for more authentic representation in Life Is Strange.

Now, as Deck Nine prepares to announce its next game and struggles to secure other projects, internal discontent is mounting among those who have been harmed by the studio’s inaction. Despite their love for the Life Is Strange series, many developers find it increasingly difficult to reconcile the values promoted in the games with the culture in which they are produced.

Deck Nine Games, formerly known as Idol Minds, has a history primarily focused on developing games different from Life Is Strange. It was not until 2017, under the name Deck Nine, that the studio shifted its focus to narrative-driven games with the help of its proprietary toolset, StoryForge. Deck Nine’s involvement in the Life Is Strange series began with the prequel, Life Is Strange: Before the Storm, followed by True Colors and the Life Is Strange Remastered Collection.

While efforts were made to reduce crunch during the development of True Colors, it never fully disappeared. Developers describe working long hours, with some reporting weeks of consecutive 70-80 hour workweeks. Much of the pressure to crunch was attributed to the relationship between Deck Nine and Square Enix, with the latter imposing tight deadlines and small budgets. Square Enix’s involvement in script revisions also caused frustration among developers, with some feeling that the company was resistant to diverse themes and ideas embraced by the Life Is Strange community.

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