Nicalis president accused by former staff of being ‘controlling and exploitative’

Former staff from Nicalis, publisher of The Binding of Isaac and Cave Story, are accusing the studio’s founder and president, Tyrone Rodriguez, of being “controlling and exploitative,” among other criticisms. Four external developers and seven former Nicalis employees are the source of the accusations, speaking anonymously for fear of retaliation. Some of the developers ended up leaving the company, while others were let go.

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According to the anonymous sources reported by Kotaku, Rodriguez is described as a friendly but difficult boss, allegedly pressuring the staff to drink heavily, and demeaning those who fail to comply with his requests. Racist jokes and antisemitic comments are also attributed to Rodriguez, as well as ignoring the developers’ requests for months on end. The fate of some games was shaky due to lack of communication, and some employees wasted days and weeks of work because Rodriguez wouldn’t return their messages.

One former employee said that “the level of control he has over his employees is definitely a problem,” adding that it was a case of “anything I tell you to do, you have to do this, because I’m the boss.”

Sometimes, Rodriguez would act out of personal grievance, according to two former Nicalis employees. They would be scolded for going to the doctor, taking care of a sick relative, or having dinner during crunch hours.

Kotaku even received some Skype logs revealed by former Nicalis employees where Rodriguez is allegedly communicating with his staff in dubious ways. There are records of him making ableist and homophobic slurs at these employees. The logs even show that he was saying racial slurs as well, even aiming one at former President Barack Obama while congratulating himself on another racist remark that was “one of [his] best.”

Other former Nicalis employee who is overweight and suffers from health issues was often told by Rodriguez to go for walks. In one occasion during a business trip to Japan, Rodriguez asked the employee to join him in on a trip to a nearby landmark, but he declined due to the extreme thigh pain that he was enduring from a previous walk. Rodriguez persisted by saying “Who do you think paid for your trip?” and soon afterwards fired the employee.

These are just a few testimonies amidst several others that involve mismanagement, punishment for refusing to go on trips, and failure to communicate with developers working for Nicalis.

This is another grim picture of the video games industry, closely following on others such as Monument Valley’s Ken Wong, the lack of pay for some Chucklefish employees, and the tragic events surrounding Alec Holowka and his alleged victims.