Aeon Must Die (AMD) is a game that premiered in the latest State of Play. It was a striking game with some slick visuals, intriguing gameplay, and plenty of flash to make anyone interested. As someone always looking for some good indies to support, this immediately caught my eye. Unfortunately, that excitement was short-lived. After the State of Play trailer released, an alternate trailer also released of the same game with a few changes Simply titled “Aeon Must Die! (original version) TRUTH IN DESCRIPTION” it became clear that it wasn’t clickbait and it didn’t disappoint.
In this video posted by Errki Poots, the description says the trailer was created with manipulation, abuse, and theft. Along with the claims was a dropbox link full of evidence. It’s a lot to go through so be warned and prepared. Organized in a series of folders, the link contains testimonials from those who worked on the game. Also included are letters to the publisher, Focus Home Interactive, and the CEO of Limestone Games Yaroslv Lyssenko. Their grievances were numerous, but the big ones were crunch, threats from the CEO, and the theft of the rights to their IP. Twelve former and current employees went to Focus Home with their problems and instead of helping, they leaked the email to Lyssenko. In response, he fired employees and sent threatening emails to those who weren’t. In the end, the team who worked on the current build of AMD quit.
As the information spread, other publications were able to get more information about the situation. Outside of the aforementioned claims, there were also claims of missing paychecks, missing contracts, missing overtime pay, burnout, and dehumanization within the company. Even the founder, Aleksei Nehoroshkin, quit 45 days before the trailer went live. In an interview with PCGamer, Nehoroshkin said that the year of development was “a year of psycho terror.” He continued to say that he was done and, “I almost killed myself – not literally, but just, complete burnout. I’ve read many accounts of workplace abuse in the gaming industry, a problem all its own, but never have I heard it described as “psycho terror.”
Since the information went live, Focus Home has addressed the issue in a reply to the trailer on their Twitter. The weak response didn’t address how the team came to them for help, only to be leaked to the Limestone CEO. It just makes it look as though this was all news to them and they would be looking into it. It’s been six days since the post went up at the time of writing and Focus Home has said nothing. It isn’t as if they have to dig far. There’s an entire dropbox link full of evidence and testimonials. However, they’ve taken to just retweeting other games for now. Either there is something deeper to find here or they’re ignoring it.
It’s important to note that Focus Home is no stranger to IP rights disputes. Frogwares, a development team that developed the Sherlock Holmes games and The Sinking City, fought with them when Focus Home withheld the rights to Frogwares’ IPs once their contracts ended. Their reasoning was some garbage policy of theirs that they can’t give up an IP of a game they published. After the dispute, the games were pulled from storefronts and returned with Frogwares as the publisher. So perhaps Focus Home wouldn’t be as helpful when it came to this sort of problem. It wouldn’t be surprising to see Focus Home do nothing about this.
Ultimately, the issue is ugly and shows that not even the indie space is perfect. We hear a lot about the positive side of indie development, but rarely do we hear the dark side. Well, this is that darker side. The problems of AAA gaming can seep into small studios and cause them to end up like this. We can only hope in this fight between Limestone and their former employees end with them getting their IP back. For now, I can’t suggest anyone supports this game, assuming it even comes out now. It would prove difficult to hire a brand new team to complete it. Much more difficult than, say, doing the right thing. Here’s to hoping for the best.