Quantic Dream is best known for their work on story-heavy, boundary-defying games like Heavy Rain, Beyond: Two Souls, and their upcoming PS4 exclusive Detroit: Become Human. However, the French studio has come under fire today thanks to reports published by several French media outlets that describe the working conditions at the studio as something from your worst nightmare. And no, I am not kidding.
Le Monde describes the studio as, "a company characterized by a toxic corporate culture, a management with inappropriate words and behaviors, under-considered employees, overwhelming workload and dubious contractual practices."
Thanks to Oscar Lemaire on Twitter and Maxime on Resetera, we have translations for some other bits of the article which go into some of the questionable business practices at the studio, with several instances proving that both studio heads David Cage and Guillaume de Fondaumière were instigators of the racial and homophobic culture at the studio.
From Le Monde:
Some employees denounced racist or homophobic jokes inside the teams or even inside the top management. One of them describes a scene where, after watching a video of a recorded robbery, David Cage jokingly asked an employee from Tunisia "Is this a cousin of yours?". David Cage responded "You want to talk homophobia? We work with Ellen Page who is fighting for LGBT rights. You want to talk racism? We are working with Jesse Williams on civil rights in the USA. Judge my work."
Given Cage's response to the negative reactions some fans had at Paris Games Week over the lengthy scene of domestic violence and child abuse included in the Detroit: Become Human trailer, this seems pretty in character. Cage's defense of the trailer often included a "woe is me" attitude, as if he were being unfairly attacked for trying to profit off of a scene of child abuse. When asked if there were any limits to what he would add in a game by Eurogamer, Cage responded by saying that there were limits to what he would do (he would not create a racist or misogynist game) and then quickly backpedaled and said, "When you feel okay with the content and the meaning when you know you have nothing to be ashamed of because it's fair and it tells the right story and because it's moving. There are no limits."
So for a man who believes there are no limits when telling a story as long as it is "moving," defending his racist and homophobic comments by namedropping the people his studio works with is absolutely in character. It's the "look at all my black friends" defense. You know, the one that means absolutely nothing. Who you know does not defend what you think, or what you say.
You may also recall that actress Ellen Page was considering legal action against the studio for rendering an estimation of her naked body into a shower scene in Beyond: Two Souls as she had never given the studio permission to scan her body. And, while you can't see much of that scene in the game, if you run it in debug mode, you could absolutely access "naked" Ellen Page. So, it doesn't take much of a leap to assume Page wouldn't be jumping to Cage's defense in any case.
Cage is also referred to in the company as "Papa", "God" and "Sun King" for his autocratic approach to working, for demanding long hours and for not listening to others."David Cage has a very particular viewpoint on how he runs his studio, which in his own words he sees as a private, or a semi-private, space," said one former employee. "He feels he has the right to say whatever he wants, it's his place." (Translated by Eurogamer)
As for de Fondaumière, according to Le Monde:
Guillaume Juppin de Fondaumière is described as someone imbued with his power and borderline with women (uncomfortable kisses, inappropriate words). He has been accused of flirting with insistence, asking women to drink to content of his personal bottles. The Co-Founder tells he is "very angry" and is firmly denying the accusations. "Let me be clear: This is absolutely false […] none of that happened during these evenings".
Other are talking about his demoralizing management and constant pressure on the teams. During a day of National Solidarity (extra day of work for funding the autonomy of old and handicapped people) he sent a collective email that Le Monde consulted: "I have received a demand from staff delegates that left me wondering. I am asked If we have to work as an usual day or we can stop working after 7 hours today. For people jealous of civil servants, I inform you 4.000 jobs of jail guards are available."
Guillaume Juppin de Fondaumière defended himself by saying that this mail shouldn't be taken out of context.
In the days of #MeToo, de Fondaumière 's behavior seems a bit more than "borderline" but I will grant that French culture is somewhat different than my own. Le Monde also recently published a letter in which several high-powered French women including actress Catherine Deneuve shot back at the #MeToo movement for going "too far." So there might be some internal bias on the part of Le Monde's editorial board when it comes to sexual misconduct in the workplace, as it seems reactions to #MeToo have divided the feminist community, with second wave feminists arguing the movement has gone too far, while fourth wave feminists argue it has not gone far enough.
That said, as a female person who has dealt with issues of sexual harassment in the workplace, de Fondaumière's behavior seems aggressive and inexcusable. Of course, this is entirely my own opinion and you can do with that what you will.
But that is by not the only the allegation facing both co-founders. As Eurogamer reports, "One particular area of contention is a cache of some 600 controversial photoshopped images dating back to 2013. Canard PC's report has a header image with some of the photoshopped pictures in. Mediapart's is the third report.
"The most shocking [images] present Quantic Dream's collaborators in sexual positions, adorned with homophobic or sexist slurs, or even made up to look like Nazis," said Le Monde's report, (translated by Eurogamer.)
Those photo-shopped images were sent around in group emails around the company, including to Cage and de Fondaumière. But it was only in early 2017, when the company's IT manager was the subject of a photoshopped image, the full cache was found and complaints made. Cage and de Fondaumière claimed not to have seen the worst images before then, only ones which "were funny or more or less amusing".
The Le Monde article later goes into the reactions of both Cage and de Fondaumière which should give you some serious pause considering they appear to be two of the instigators of the workplace disharmony at Quantic Dream. "President and Founder David de Gruttola (aka David Cage), Legion of Honor in 2014 (French high distinction), and its General Manager, Guillaume Juppin de Fondaumière, Medal of the Order of Merit in 2008 and also Co-Founder and former President of the National Syndicate of Video Games, say they are "very surprised", "shocked" and "outraged" by these accusations. After long interviews in early January inside the company, the two leaders evoke the "rant" of former and "frustrated" employees" who have told them about these issues. Close to management, the Staff representatives describe a well-organized, functional company where employees can thrive."
It is also worth noting that in 2015 and 2016, 50 employees left Quantic Dream, including high profile employees recruited from foreign countries. Additionally, you might want to consider this final, somewhat damning detail from Le Monde:
In the meeting room where Le Monde met with David Cage two times, he assures that "Quantic is not a rugby cloakroom". Just behind him, on a board, a dick with testicules farting was drawn.
These allegations will absolutely undermine the upcoming release of Detroit: Become Human, which is set to release this spring. But, they very rightly should undermine the game's success.
A preliminary investigation for harassment and discrimination has been opened by the Paris public prosecutor's office.
As Eurogamer were one of our sources for this story, we've included their update about the translation of the Le Monde piece. That update is below:
This article previously translated a passage of a French report to say Guillaume de Fondaumière was accused of "pushing kisses" on staff at parties, but the translation is incorrect, as de Fondaumière himself later pointed out to me. After further consultation we have a more accurate translation. The accusation revolves around the common French greeting of air-kissing when two people meet. Guillaume de Fondaumière is accused of making more contact with his kisses than is considered appropriate.
Guillaume de Fondaumière went on to tell me: "Please note I categorically refute all allegations, in particular 'hitting on staff'.""
We have not updated the body of the article above to reflect this change as we feel the clarification does not directly affect the allegations against Guillaume de Fondaumière's penchant for uncomfortable behavior with female colleagues.