Industry veteran Brandon Popovich has accused Kena: Bridge of Spirits developer, Ember Lab, of “maliciously” forcing him out of the studio.
Popovich, who has previously worked for developers like Insomniac Games, reached out to Video Games Chronicle with his claims and shared email exchanges with the publication that apparently back his claims up. VGC was also contacted by another former Ember Lab contractor, who claimed that not only did the studio not fulfill its promise of a full-time job, it also didn’t pay for overtime.
Popovich further claimed that he had created 95 percent of Kena‘s code at the time of his departure from Ember Lab. However, the studio disputed this claim. In a statement to VGC, Ember Lab said that Popovich made “a number of false accusations” and that he only worked on Kena for seven months. The studio also disputed Popovich’s claims of unpaid work and low compensation offer, stating that his offer was “above market value.”
According to VGC, the emails shared with the website show that Popovich was an influential part of Kena‘s development team – enough that he was offered the position of lead designer in January 2017. In light of the studio’s financial constraints, he continued to work on Kena for low pay, and had to do another job on the side to make ends meet.
Over time, due to a lack of a publishing deal and Ember Lab’s ongoing financial woes, Popovich ended up in debt. He claims that his salary was reduced by $50,000, and he was basically asked to take it or leave it. Eventually, he was pushed out.
“This was the project that was meant to make me a big deal and suddenly it was over,” said Popovich. “I was depressed, emotional, and felt an urge to self-harm.”
When Kena was unveiled during the PS5 event, it raked those feelings up for Popovich.
“I had hoped the game would never be announced or released,” he continued. “And then I saw the PS5 announcement. The grief and terrible feelings welled up inside.”
Ember Lab is adamant that Popovich was appropriately compensated for his work and called his accusations “hurtful.”