The developer of Love Island is reportedly facing disagreements between staff and management over the content of its games, with developers concerned about sexist content and the mistreatment of LGBT+ characters.
The allegations were surfaced by The Independent, which reports that the dispute has contributed to the delay of the upcoming season for its flagship Love Island game.
Staff concerns centre around another of the studio's mobile titles, Matchmaker: Puzzles and Stories, which also features Love Island-themed content. 31 members of staff are said to have signed an open letter on May 24, warning of "problematic content" in the game.
An example includes a story in which a male character takes the female player character's drink during a date without their consent and refuses to return it unless they kiss him. Players apparently have no option but to comply in order to progress.
Matchmaker is also accused of "fetishising" bisexuality, as The Independent puts it. In one example conversation, the female player character appears to pretend to be bisexual "to make [herself] sound more interesting."
This storyline, written by a third-party company, reportedly distressed a number of Fusebox's developers, many of which were LGBT+. After they raised concerns, they were told the studio had taken them on board and would remove the storyline -- but it was then made available in an international version of Matchmaker.
Just three weeks after the open letter was sent, several members of staff -- including some of the signatories -- were informed their jobs were at risk.
News of potential layoffs emerged last month, with at least nine staff confirmed to be seeking new employment -- primarily narrative writers and designers.
At the time, Fusebox told GamesIndustry.biz it was still in a consultation period, and attributed the redundancies to a restructure that would shift the studio to a new business model focused on a "more agile co-development approach."
During this time, The Independent's sources say the next season of Love Island was being indefinitely delayed, despite the fact this year's series was just starting (and has since finished).
These employees told the publications Fusebox's principles of "writing inclusive stories that reflect the diversity of our players" -- as stated on the company's website -- are "performative."
They accused the studio of publicly showing support for the LGBT+ community, while ignoring the concerns of its LGBT+ members of staff.
Fusebox Games told The Independent its games "reflect the stories that are often shared in the reality shows we work with," adding that the content of any in-game stories are "naturally a subjective area."
The statement added that the company was "saddened by the personal impact our restructure had on team members affected" but maintained this was "the right decision for the long term success of the business."
Update: Fusebox has issued the full statement to GamesIndustry.biz. It defends the decision to use a third-party company to write storylines for its games, including the one flagged by staff.
It also claims the appearance of the story staff were concerned about is purely for testing purposes as part of a soft launch in select markets.
The statement reads: "We took the hard decision recently to re-evaluate how we build our games. We felt that using external partners for development, alongside our core internal expertise for concept creation, product management, marketing, and business intelligence, was the most scalable model for the future. This was of course a tough decision, as we understand the impact on team members affected. We wholeheartedly thank them for their hard work and support during their time with us.
"The content concerns raised were addressed, and appeared in a soft launch version of the game, while we were testing broader KPIs with a limited audience, which is standard practice in mobile games. It was collectively agreed that this content would be updated ahead of a future release.
"We're very proud of the culture we have built inside our business. We have always encouraged an inclusive and collaborative approach to the creation of our games, that focuses on the player rather than individual perspectives or preferences. It's this focus, balanced by data, that has led to our successes and is the cornerstone of our growth.
"Season 4 of Love Island The Game is currently in development to ensure it meets the high standards of the previous seasons. The release date of Season 4 was not tied to the airing of the TV show and we anticipate releasing the new season towards the end of the year."