On the first of March 2018, Sony and Quantic Dream announced the release date for Detroit: Become Human, the latest directorial effort from David Cage, previously of Beyond: Two Souls and Heavy Rain. Normally, this sort of thing would be a big deal, and paraded around all over the place. Detroit itself has been a staple of PlayStation stage events for most of 2017, having big presence at E3, Paris Games Week, and more. But the release date just gets a PlayStation Blog post, and while the PlayStation Blog is popular enough, usually there’s more to release date drops. But Detroit has been a drama point since the last few events, and so has Quantic Dream.
Detroit itself has become a point of controversy for similar reasons David Cage-fronted games have in the past. All of these games present themselves as serious, poignant, film-like dramas, and often tackle serious subject matter. Heavy Rain infamously tackled sexual assault (poorly), and Detroit has heavily leaned on a scene of child abuse in its recent demonstrations. This has caused a lot of fervor and reactions from people who A) just react to the subject at all or B) don’t trust Quantic Dream to push it above the level of exploitation. However you feel about that, it’s something that has likely affected the game’s subsequent marketing.
More importantly, from this perspective, is the recent story of allegations against Quantic Dream as a company. The story continues to develop, but last year several French outlets reported on multiple ex-employees of Quantic Dream speaking out and claiming the work environment there was a disaster. We’re talking extreme crunch, racism, sexual harassment, the full grand slam of stuff employees shouldn’t have to deal with at work. The brass at Quantic Dream of course responded aggressively and denied all these allegations, and threatened to pursue legal action against those who made these claims.
Of course, the story continued from there. Quantic Dream continues to fight what it calls a “smear campaign” against the company and its founders. At the same time, the Paris Council is cracking down on the company, not only going after Quantic Dream for the above, including crunch and its termination procedures, but also digging into the company’s use of public funding. This part is still developing, but if the Council finds Quantic Dream indeed guilty of these practices, the company may be forced to pay back its public funding to the French government.
So what? Well, lately, a narrative building around a game can be a fatal wound to the game’s sales and reception before it even comes out. Just look at something like Metal Gear Survive, where people who legitimately enjoy the game face an uphill battle against middling reviews, and the long-running narrative that Konami is doing something ethically bankrupt in developing and releasing the game. There could be a ton of heat on Quantic Dream right now, and by osmosis, Detroit. Sony could be rethinking its approach to the game, hence the lower-key release date announcement. Things might be quieter while the situation at the company develops, leading up to the game’s release.
Regardless of the marketing, Detroit still has the hurdle of public opinion. People have been divisive on Quantic Dream’s output already from a quality perspective. If you add corporate misbehavior to the fire, that’s some serious fuel. For every person who is capable of just playing the game and enjoying it devoid of context, there are just as many who don’t want to unwittingly support a company that flagrantly mistreats its workers. If there’s a verdict on all this before the launch date, we’ll likely see a proportionate impact on how people feel about the game. It’s interesting to see it all shake out, but it’s a real shame that the individual boots on the ground in development are all caught in the middle.