UK developer-publisher Chucklefish has responded to a series allegations that it exploited volunteers during the development of Starbound.
The studio, which also developed Wargroove and published Stardew Valley, was initially accused of taking advantage of volunteers by former dev Damon Reece, who claimed they worked "hundreds of hours" on Starbound without being paid a "single cent."
"I started out my game dev career working on Starbound for almost two years. I was sixteen," tweeted Reece, who is credited as a writer on the game.
"I worked hundreds of hours and wasn't paid a single cent for it while the company made unbelievable amounts of money off of my labour, and that of around a dozen other unpaid workers."
Those claims were backed by other Starbound devs including Rho Watson and Christine Crossley, the latter of whom also explained they put in "at least a hundred hours of work" without seeing any sort of compensation, and that anyone who asked for pay "would be screamed at."
After a few days of radio silence, Chucklefish eventually relayed its own version of events in a statement sent to PC Gamer, and said it was "saddened" by the allegations.
"We're aware and saddened by the current allegations against Chucklefish regarding Starbound's early development," wrote the studio. "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."
Although Reece admits to signing a contract, they explained that everyone was required to do so in order to work on Starbound, and that Chucklefish encouraged volunteers to sign by dangling the carrot of possible future employment. Reece also claims that while formal deadlines weren't put in place, they were "heavily implied."
"Regardless of any contracts signed, it's massively unethical to allow workers to contribute huge amounts of content for no pay when you, the ostensible leader of the team, are walking away with millions of dollars in personal revenue share," Reece told PC Gamer.
"If your game sells over two and a half million copies and your only excuse for not treating people ethically is, 'but the dozens of teenagers whose labor we exploited signed contracts,' you may need to do some soul-searching."