Dozens of staff at Fusebox Games, which makes Love Island: The Game in collaboration with the broadcaster, were told they faced losing their jobs weeks after raising concerns about the treatment of LGBT+ characters in another of the company’s games.
Love Island: The Game, which has been run by Fusebox since June 2018, involves short narratives in which users play a fictional character and chat with other contestants on the island. Players choose between pre-set responses that could be “flirty, mischievous, sweet, or sassy”, according to the game’s description, to continue through a choose-your-own-adventure style storyline in a similar style to the main reality show.
But, while the latest series began on ITV in June, the game has been delayed from its initial launch date at the end of July following concerns from some Fusebox staff over how their complaints about game content were handled.
These concerns came to a head with the development of content for Matchmaker: Puzzles and Stories, another Fusebox mobile app.
In Matchmaker, a third-party company wrote a storyline in which the user, playing a divorced female character, meets a “handsome” man who is “maybe too young” but still engages the player in conversation.
The male character takes the player’s drink without their consent and refuses to return it unless they kiss him (the game gives no option to avoid kissing), and is said to fetishise bisexual experiences of the player’s character.
The storyline caused distress to a number of Fusebox’s employees, many of who are part of the LGBT+ community, staff members told The Independent. They said they had been told their concerns were taken on board and the storyline would be removed, only for it then to be available on an international version of the game.
An open letter sent on 24 May and signed by 31 members of Fusebox staff, warned of “problematic content” on Matchmaker: Puzzles and Stories.
“This is what upsets me, and just made me cry”, one employee told The Independent. “I feel so used and hurt. I feel like I put so much love and effort into something and I’m not getting the bare minimum of respect as a worker [that] I should deserve.”
Fusebox’s website currently says it believes in “writing inclusive stories that reflect the diversity of our players”. But employees told The Independent it felt like Fusebox was being “performative” with those principles – espousing positivity towards the LGBT+ community while ignoring the concerns of its LGBT+ employees.
In a statement to The Independent, Fusebox said the content of its games are “naturally a subjective area” and that its “games reflect the stories that are often shared in the reality shows that we work with, and as such, delivering content enjoyed by players of the game, and fans of the show alike”.
It also said that it was “saddened by the personal impact our restructure had on team members affected” but that it was “the right decision for the long term success of the business”.
Sources say that a meeting to resolve the situation with Paul Virapen, the chief operating officer at Fusebox, led to at least four complaints being submitted to the company’s HR team. Mr Virapen allegedly refused to answer questions put to him and displayed disrespectful behaviour before abruptly leaving the meeting – shutting his laptop while the meeting was ongoing, one employee described. Mr Virapen did not respond to a request for comment from The Independent.
Fusebox Games said that it wants to facilitate “an open and positive working environment, where all viewpoints are valued and considered, supporting inclusivity” before adding that any issues are dealt with “at the highest levels of professionalism, in line with our own high ethical standards and legal guidelines”.
But three weeks after the open letter was delivered, a number of workers, including those who signed it, were informed that their jobs were at risk, as the company was suffering financial problems, sources say. They also say they were told the game was moving to “sunset mode” – a euphemism for the game being indefinitely delayed – just as the television series was beginning on ITV, which employees said would usually lead to a sharp rise in revenue.
ITV told The Independent that it did not “require a specific launch date” for the game, while Fusebox said the latest season of Love Island: The Game is “currently in development to ensure it meets the high standards of the previous seasons” and will be released towards the end of the year.