Chucklefish, the publishing company behind popular retro-esque Starbound, has been hit with some very serious accusations alleging major abuses of workers. This controversy resulted in, rather predictably, a wave of online outrage. And whether it was justified or not, the sensitive nature of the claims against Chucklefish led to a lot of gamers questioning their relationship with other developers and companies. One particular company that bore a significant amount of this questioning was Eric Barone, the developer behind Stardew Valley as part of ConcernedApe.
In a public statement, Barone distanced himself from Chucklefish, following allegations that the publisher had ruthlessly exploited some aspect of agreements with other companies and workers. Key to these allegations against Chucklefish were the claims that the company victimized volunteers and did not adequately pay compensation for the “hundreds of hours” former Starbound developers expended on the game. These claims also contain allegations that members of Chucklefish staff behaved inappropriately, exhibiting bullying and harassment commonly.
Back to Stardew Valley though, as Barone says, Chucklefish had basically nothing to do with development, and that according to him, he wasn’t part of that exploitation, as either a victim or perpetrator. “Chucklefish allegedly engaged in unfair and potentially abusive labor practices during development of their game, Starbound.” He then emphasized that “throughout the 4.5 years of development, [he] was the only person to work on Stardew Valley.”
Barone says that the only outside help he received in terms of code was the net code for the multiplayer update, and that this was the only interfacing with Chucklefish that occurred during development of his game.
Chucklefish has been largely silent on the whole thing, other than to say that they were “saddened” by the accusations. Chucklefish offered Polygon the following 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.
Here’s Barone’s responding statement in full:
This is Eric Barone (aka ConcernedApe), creator of Stardew Valley.
I am aware of the news and social media reports that Chucklefish allegedly engaged in unfair and potentially abusive labor practices during development of their game, Starbound. I feel the need to address this situation because the connection between Chucklefish and Stardew Valley, as well as the degree to which Chucklefish was involved in the creation of the game, has been a source of confusion for many people . So I’d like to clarify a couple of things.
Throughout the 4.5 years of development, I was the only person to work on Stardew Valley. Neither Chucklefish nor any contributors working with Chucklefish were involved in creating the game, in any capacity.
For the multiplayer update, which came out on PC 2.5 years after the game first launched, a Chucklefish employee did create the multiplayer net-code, but that was the only case where Chucklefish was directly involved in development of the game.
Beyond that, Chucklefish has served only as publisher, which means that they handled the business and marketing side of things, as well as contracting the localizations, console & mobile ports to 3rd-party companies. Since December of last year, I’ve moved to self-publishing on PC, Mac, Linux, PS4, Xbox, and PSVita… Chucklefish is no longer publishing the game on those platforms.
I can also say that, both personally and in my capacity as the recent founder of a small team, I believe in compensating developers for their contributions in working on games.