This week, two former employees of Gamefam, the studio behind Sonic Speed Simulator on Roblox, have made public complaints about their treatment at the company while employed there and the lack of transparency in their dismissals.
In a TwitLonger post, a 3D artist who worked on Sonic Speed Simulator going by the handle Digital Purgatory paints a grim picture of Gamefam as a studio, describing their behavior as “predatory.” Digital Purgatory cites being underpaid compared to industry standard, salaried at $30,000 annual. Salary estimates for professional 3D modeling jobs vary, but this falls significantly below even the lowest estimates of roughly $50,000, and is less than half of the average estimate of $75,000.
Beyond this, Digital Purgatory describes a pattern of crunch and lack of communication at the studio. Sonic Speed Simulator’s frequent update schedule placed heavy demand on Digital Purgatory with little-to-no additional support: “Essentially I slaved away every week, working the nights while also taking care of my dad […] just to be belittled and ignored and put on half-time cutting my pay in half.” Following submission of assets for Sonic Speed Simulator’s Werehog update, Digital Purgatory was informed that they were terminated without significant prior notification: “I get a notice that I was terminated from the company that I did not even notice until the next Monday to check on my tasks for the week.” We attempted to contact Digital Purgatory for additional comment, but have not received a response at time of writing.
This crunch and lack of communication is mirrored by former associate producer Alice in a separate TwitLonger post. While Alice was originally hired at a salary she was satisfied with, it did not ultimately match the demands of managing two high-demand projects, including training on the Roblox platform, managing international teammates across global time zones, and working within a culture that seemed to expect intense crunch: ‘One such comparison was my boss telling me a fellow producer “Stayed up for an entire week” before his project launched, implying I should be more like him,’ Alice describes.
As her projects’ progress was falling behind, she also became subject to a bizarre, opaque weekend dismissal like Digital Pergatory. Alice describes, ‘The reason: “Leaking company secrets.” When I asked what led him [the CEO] to believe this, I was told he had no proof but that it was the “only explanation” for my lack of productivity.’ Her previous contract terminated over the weekend, Alice was offered a new contract to come later, and continued working until the new one was finalized; however, she would not get any clear answers as to when the new contract would start, its salary, or what compensation she would receive for her work between contracts. Alice adds, ‘I was even told that I need to “Watch my tone” and “Be grateful” I was even being given a chance.’ She opted to leave the position at the end of that week. In her post, she notes that she had not been compensated for her time between contracts or with previously offered severance pay.
This comes at a time when Gamefam’s website is touting major brand partnerships, including WildBrain, who recently premiered Sonic Prime’s first episode within Sonic Speed Simulator. When asked for comment, Gamefam directed us to this public statement on Twitter:
Fallout from these incidents have led to community backlash against Gamefam, including the hashtag “SonicSweatshopSimulator” trending on Twitter. On the official Sonic Speed Simulator Discord, there have been reports of users being banned for discussing the topic:
Both Alice and Digital Purgatory stress not to harass other employees at Gamefam. Alice closes her post by stating “If you want to make change, focus your attention at the top of the pyramid – where it matters most,” while Digital Purgatory added this message to their thread:
While it could be very easy to cynically lump this in with the broader controversies surrounding the Roblox platform, it is worth noting that Gamefam, according to its website, maintains over 30 Roblox games with millions and billions of plays, partners with major brands for specialized content, and expects professional education and experience in its job listings. This is a studio that absolutely presents itself as professional and leans heavily on its engagement successes. This is not a fan project gone astray, this is a global game development studio allegedly putting the intense pressures of an ever shifting marketplace onto its employees without appropriate communication and resources.
Whether or not you play Sonic Speed Simulator, it’s important to understand that, even in the best circumstances, professional game development is a demanding field made even more so when the game in question is built on maintaining regular updates. Crunch, insufficient pay, and even a lack of basic respect multiply the demands involved in professional development. This pushes hard-working, talented creators to further life stress, burnout, or worse. As fans of the Sonic series, it’s important for us to be aware of who SEGA partners with and how they operate, as the ethics of partner behavior reflects back on SEGA itself. Sonic games, and all games, cannot exist without the work of developers, artists, testers, producers, and more. Each deserve fair compensation and humane treatment.
Thanks to Blacklighting, SSF1991, and Nuckles87 for providing resources for this story.