The story of Aleksei Nehoroskin is a mirror of this era marked by an increasingly individualistic and frayed society, it is almost no longer surprising to read about abuse and harassment in the workplace, as well as aberrant conditions to which to submit and, paradoxically, more voices of dissent and accusations towards their executioners, the more we come desensitized to the issue. Large studies in recent years have been blamed for periods of crunch excessive or abusive behavior and almost always the protests have been dismissed as unfounded - without a precise reason - or mild whining, if not simple spite of former employees. This position that oscillates between the disinterested and the incredulous arises in the meantime from a side - at times even unconscious - that the public has towards the studies against which the finger has been pointed. After all, if an important developer has created one of my favorite games and overflowing with feelings and poetry, it is not possible that inside it there are unfair or criminal behaviors, right? Moreover, and this is perhaps even more serious and childish, requests for help, or even just understanding, towards suffocating work rhythms and unlivable contexts are accused with equal simplicity because "Things work like this everywhere", as if at some point we had decided that two wrongs actually make a right, and that if someone accepts unfair working conditions and contexts, then everyone else would do well to put their hearts in peace and continue to work without turmoil or without even twisting the nose. Mind you, it is clear that every situation must be analyzed case by case and that in entertainment - especially audio / video - there are periods of strong stress close to a deadline, almost always including overtime hours that are more pressing than usual. , but it is still possible to draw a line, a limit beyond which excessive effort overrides the basic rights of workers, and which in no way should be accepted.
How long the story can easily be recognized as a terrible but isolated fact, it is natural to wonder how many other studies have been or are today in situations not too distant from those experienced by most of the people who have worked on Aeon Must Die! (from now on AMD) and on the other projects followed by the studio under the leadership of CEO Yaroslav Lyssenko.
This article is not intended to be a full-bodied summary of the story or a compendium of the documents currently available to the public - of those I imagine there are already many - but an analysis and a point of view on what has been disclosed so far, at the same time however, it is necessary to have a light smattering of each other before continuing. Anyone interested in deepening the discussion and delving into mole of files regarding Limestone Games and the AMD affair can always consult the full-bodied dropbox file put online by former employees who today ask for their voice to be finally heard.
First of all, we need to clarify the figure of Aleksei Nehoroskin, Creative director and founder of the software house Paekivi (which later officially became Limestone Games) and to all intents and purposes creator of AMD. Nehoroskin together with Oleg Tsurikov, who will fill the role of Technical Director (CTO) while Nehoroskin holds that of Head of Compliance Control (CCO), are leaving their jobs to focus exclusively on the AMD project. At this point, at the invitation of Nehoroskin who could not and did not want to manage everything by himself or with only Tsurikov's help, Lyssenko comes into play, as Chief Executive Officer. The trio was born based on the fact that all parties are equally important and with the same decision-making rights and responsibilities. Although Nehoroskin may not notice it at this embryonic stage, Lyssenko's first step towards total IP control takes place almost immediately, as by deciding to deal exclusively with all the "useless paperwork" from that moment on, this will prove decisive for the future of the firm. Without going into too many details, the development starts but there are already some problems related to the hiring of an artist illegally brought from Russia with a tourist Visa and put in such a way as to decide to leave the studio in conjunction with the expiry of the document. This and other problems lead Nehoroskin to have to work on four or five positions simultaneously, given the lack of staff, and even when he manages to find new collaborators with great difficulty, the amount of work does not stop. The advent of a new investor and Lyssenko's promise of a solid economic future (Nehoroskin should get about 100 thousand euros of overtime alone and only related to this first period) convince the CCO to work with renewed enthusiasm on the project, although the investor seems to be asking too many privileges over production control. Also, already at this point there are some alarm bells as Nehoroskin comes forced to put his apartment as security, money that is added to the 10 thousand euros initially requested as a loan to start the study. The chain of events continues for about a year already in precarious conditions, with underpaid staff exposed to increasingly frequent crunch periods as well as work with cracked and unlicensed software (and even today these programs have never been purchased) but a glimmer of hope lights up when after Gamescom Nehoroskin is contacted by Focus Home Interactive and after the necessary negotiations, Limestone Games is officially welcomed by the publisher. Here perhaps begins the real spiral of destruction of the studio, as Lyssenko forces an almost impossible deadline for the delivery of the game and while not agreeing, Nehoroskin decides to trust once again the CEO and continue his work together with the team. The documents presented show an endless series of small and large difficulties in the following time between abuses of power, sexism, manipulation, threats and defamation of all the members, especially Nehoroskin and it is easy to understand how Lyssenko, later also backed by Tsurikov, did all to ostracize Nehoroskin and remove him from the project, trying to turn every member of the studio against him and the rest of the staff determined not to submit to his decisions.
New projects start within Limestone Games, one of which stands out "Project 5“, A simulation title created specifically for an unspecified publisher who should, however, be able to make the studio make the leap in quality, especially from an economic point of view. Lyssenko and Tsurikov put all their energies on this new title, removing personnel from AMD and pressuring the remaining employees on the project to accelerate and finish as soon as possible, in order to finally be able to move on to focus 100% exclusively on Project 5. This is probably one of the crucial points of the story, the CEO loses interest in AMD as a project that is too small and not very profitable and decides to follow the development of the new title which, however, seems to be diametrically opposed to the ropes of Nehoroskin and the other team members, who instead are putting sweat and passion on the game , the title for which Limestone Games itself actually exists. In the period leading up to 2020 the situation becomes more and more unsustainable, Nehoroskin works continuously for a year without holidays or sick leave and even during the lockdown period due to COVID his duties do not allow him to adequately keep up with the care of his parents, both sick. Nehoroskin, however, is not the only one subjected to grueling rhythms and a suffocating and tremendously oppressive work environment, most of the members working on AMD are brought to the brink of nervous breakdown and diseases due to excessive stress. At this point Lyssenko, having made Nehoroskin sign some documents with deception, has complete control of all decisions and the IP of AMD, leaving the CCO devoid of virtually any right or say in the software house. Nehoroskin tries to clarify with the major investor at this point, that he shares his vision on Lyssenko but does not want to change anything at least until the exit of AMD and even in the future it is not certain that the CEO will be pushed to resign due to his actions. . As a last resort, finally the CCO, backed up by about a dozen other people, contacts Focus Home Interactive, explaining the situation and asking to be able to complete the development in a healthy environment and at the right pace, outside of despotic control. by Lyssenko. And it is here that the situation becomes smokier and, if possible, even more critical.
Currently, as a publisher, Focus Home Interactive has made a name for itself ready to shed light on events within Limestone Games, providing adequate measures in case the allegations of the former developers prove to be well founded.
Something is wrong However, the publisher's response seems to specify that only after the State of Play did he become aware of the allegations, while Nehoroskin and the rest of the team claim to have sent an e-mail (the content is attached in the dropbox file) about two months before the event, initially receiving a very similar response - and completely understandable in that case - to that reported in the tweet above. Basically Focus asks the members, who in the meantime have already delivered their resignation letters, to be patient while they try to shed some light on the matter. Not only does Lyssenko ignore these letters but somehow becomes aware of the e-mail and its contents that were exclusively sent to Focus, and tightens its grip on its employees even more with new threats and power plays. Urged by continuous requests from the team and its lawyers, after about a month, Focus says it is ready to intervene, but needs proof. Hence the now famous dropbox box filled with testimonies, documents of all kinds and even audio files in support of the thesis of Nehoroskin and the others. Not all documents are freely available as they are drawn up and made entirely available only to the legal team and to Focus itself, in order to avoid further bureaucratic problems but by examining those available it is possible to get an already quite clear idea. Meanwhile, the August event is approaching, the developers know that AMD will be present at the State of Play and therefore ask Focus to provide an answer or at least explanations, and the day before the presentation the answer arrives, but it is not what they hoped for. According to the former team members, in fact, the publisher's reply very curtly specified that they saw no problem with what happened over the years of development and the next day's presentation, so there was no reason to stop the press release or slow down development in any way. Focus Home Interactive would therefore have added that the presentation would have been "An exceptional boost for the game" and that the team should have cooperated fully thinking only about the future of the title. It should be noted that at the moment the former team has not been able to disclose the audio containing this precious discussion, always for legal reasons of course, but it seems to be implemented with all the other "circumstantial" evidence contained in the folder and it is natural to ask yourself at this point what interest would the team have in lying about an issue so delicate and unrelated to the firm's internal problems.
Obviously at this time it is not possible to assume that Focus Home Interactive has actually sided with Lyssenko, providing private emails or even ignoring the requests for help from the developers but it is certain that they will have to answer these accusations and clarify their position. . If this should still be confirmed by the lawyers of the former Limestone, it would be a very serious episode to the detriment not only of the developers in question but to the concept of creativity itself and to the rights of those who work in this industry. It should also be remembered that Focus Home Interactive ran into a hard fight with another well-known team of developers, Frogwares, a story that probably it has already been forgotten but that had brought the publisher in a bad light, raising many doubts about the same. Regardless of the veracity of the serious allegations, it is now very likely that Focus Home Interactive has not been able to better manage the issue, leaving the developers at the mercy of Yaroslav Lyssenko.
Life Will Change (?)
It is reasonable to expect new developments on the issue in the weeks to come, although the statements could probably stop in the near future given the legal entanglements that harness both sides, but we can still begin to draw conclusions, focusing again on the figure of Aleksei Nehoroskin and of the people involved with him in the matter. The creator of AMD is perhaps destined to become an icon, a symbol of a concept of work, which extends beyond the boundaries of the video-game sector, which is still profoundly fallacious. The impossibility of having a union to which to appeal, for example, as well as the constant conception, deeply rooted also in our country, that work - especially linked to the artistic or entertainment fields - is a favor that is granted and to which therefore we have to go against with the head bowed and ready to continuous compromises, deleterious to employees, they are only two complicit aspects in the history of Limestone Games. Nehoroskin must not become a pariah or a martyr, he committed a big misjudgment in the figure of Lyssenko and, above all, it turned out extremely naive from a working perspective, trusting blindly in too many cases, even when it was now clear that something was not going the right way. However, his whiteness has turned into a noose around his neck, bringing him to the edge of the abyss. At the same time it is necessary to point out that Aleksei was only trying to follow his dream e give life to one's creature, followed by a small but very determined group of people. The hope is that the former members of Limestone, the real developers of the project, can return owners of the IP as soon as possible and return to build their work in a safe and healthy working environment. However, it is difficult to make predictions about the legal outcomes, too many doubts and angles are present in the history of AMD and consequently the events could again take different turns from those desired. Beyond the darker parts that still need to be shed light on, Limestone Games could - and should - become example of everything that doesn't work in the industry. It could be the straw that breaks the camel's back and lead other voices to rise, inspired by the fortitude of a group of people who have never stopped giving up for their right to work. A vein of rebellion cannot fail to transpire in what is happening, the despotic figure of Lyssenko, who tries to put everything and everyone against Nehoroskin in order to be able to exploit intellectual property at will without caring about the thoughts of others or the pain inflicted on colleagues and dependent, it becomes almost archetypal in the banality of its petty actions driven by pure avarice. Precisely for this reason, and aware of the fact of slipping into a certain partiality, I would like to close this piece with the words of Nehoroskin.
Currently I have lost my intellectual property, the company I started. I owe the investor 50 euros (100% of this money was used for the development of the game) and my apartment. The CEO could sue me for at least 12 minimum wages, presumably just for the fact that I "wrote a letter to the Publisher" that only I signed. I am sued for many other things (check my contract termination) that could destroy my life forever.
For my dream I accepted and endured agreements on the verge of legality with the CEO and the investor, even though I felt that it was all very shady, I did not have confirmation until a lawyer finally answered my questions honestly. I was convinced that we were fighting in the name of art and that we were an extraordinary team, but I was very far from reality. I have always had disagreements with this person and I have regretted working together since 2017. but it was still worth it and my life would have made sense if the game had been good and if we had been able to live on what we loved to do.
My biggest and strongest hope has always been to make my own game, ever since I saw "Super Mario" in a TV commercial. I was willing to sacrifice everything for that hope, but now I have nothing more to sacrifice.
I funded the entire legal operation with our lawyers, which is now slowing down and I had to get even more debt for it, just to keep the truth from dying.
In all of this, I also lost members of my never family, the same ones who encouraged me to tell this story and create this project and the others I wanted to dedicate myself to. Friends weren't lost though, I found real people.
I'm going to finish this story on my own terms, one way or another. It is too important to me. I wrote this story to upset the petty tyrants in the world and to point out to people their existence even before my experience with LSG. Having a real tyrant in front of me reinforces my belief that this story needs to be told. Aeon was a representation of everything LSG and the CEO currently embody. I hope the irony does not escape you. "