Chucklefish has issued a statement responding to multiple accusations that it took advantage of unpaid volunteers who assisted with the development of Starbound.
The incident came to light when one of the game's writers Damon Reece tweeted that they "worked hundreds of hours" on the game "and wasn't paid a single cent." They were 16 years old at the time.
Reece noted there were "around a dozen other unpaid workers" on the project. Sure enough, similar claims emerged from graphic artist Rho Watson and concept artist Christine Crossley, while composer Clark Powell reveals he turned down the chance to work on Starbound when he learned it was unpaid.
Chucklefish has issued a statement to PC Gamer, emphasising that "everyone was credited or remunerated as per their agreement."
"We're aware and saddened by the current allegations against Chucklefish regarding Starbound's early development," the studio wrote. "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."
Reece has since responded to this, telling PC Gamer that "deadlines were absolutely in place -- if not formal, the definitely heavily implied."
"I was a naive newcomer to the industry and my trust was utterly betrayed," they continued. "There is no moral defence for this."
Much of the frustration stems from the fact that Starbound went on to sell more than 2.5 million copies, and fuelled the growth of Chucklefish.
In its statement, the company insists it has grown 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," it concluded.
Reece maintains it is "massively unethical" to allow anyone to contribute significantly to a project while unpaid when the leaders of the team are "walking away with millions of dollars in personal revenue share."
"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."