Last Thursday, side-scrolling beat-’em-up Aeon Must Die! was unveiled during PlayStation’s State of Play event to immediately become another workplace horror story plaguing the industry.
Aeon Must Die!
Following the trailer’s premier, the video was re-uploaded on YouTube with links to a public Dropbox folder. It contains what seems to be documentary evidence of crunch, poor work conditions and other abuses at Limestone Games, Estonia-based studio behind the title. One of the most glaring transgressions allegedly involved the Aeon Must Die! IP being “covertly taken from the founder.”
At the time of the trailer’s premier, eight team members, including the studio’s founder and its former chief creative officer Aleksei Nehoroshkin, no longer worked at Limestone, having resigned in response to “unbearable” harassment, corruption and manipulation.
Last Friday, Focus Home Interactive, the game’s publisher, stated they are “carefully looking into these allegations.”
We caught up with Tambet Toomela, a lawyer hired by the former development team, to discuss the current state of the crisis around the troubled title.
Tambet Toomela, Partner at Eversheds Sutherland
Is the dev team demanding anything specific from Limestone and Focus right now?
Limestone Games significantly violated rights of the former employees. For example, people were underpaid and not compensated for extra hours. Limestone Games has also made wrongful reports about termination of the employment contracts, i.e. has wrongfully rejected resignations of people. We are currently analysing and putting together information to submit a comprehensive set of claims. No claims have been submitted to court of law as of yet and we are monitoring the situation closely to see if and what institutional measures are in order to protect the rights and interests of the dev team.
What should happen for the team to want to withdraw their charges and claims?
Recognition of resignations, public apology and paying the amounts owed to the former employees and partners. The former dev team does not see any realistic opportunity to work at Limestone Games ever again.
Have you previously spoken with the lawyers of Limestone and Focus? Can you tell us what their position on this issue is?
Their positions are unclear at this point. Only minor and very unclear messages [have been received] from them without any detailed reasoning.
What is your personal opinion about the case? Is there enough evidence to support the former Limestone employees’ allegations and win a court case?
Our position is strong and we are willing to prove our claims in court, if needed.
Is this case unique to Estonia’s business and to its IT sector?
Unfortunately not. Although these experiences are somewhat uncommon in the gaming sector, such cases where employers compromise the rights and interests of employees, especially with salary, working time, occupational health and equal treatment laws, do happen every now and then.
We will continue to monitor the situation and allow all sides of the conflict to share their views on it.