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The makers of sci-fi sex game Subverse apologized after teaming up with a racist YouTuber, then backtracked

Cover art for Subverse
(Image credit: FOW Interactive)

Update 01/12/20: After retracting a previous apology, on Tuesday evening a member of StudioFOW re-apologized on behalf of the creators of Subverse, saying "it is disappointing that under my watch this mess happened."

Posting on Subverse's Kickstarter page, a developer named Tibor provided a summary without addressing the controversy in any specific terms: "We just finished some neat gameplay and wanted to show it off on Youtube. Following the publishing of the video, things got out of hand. I am not a PR expert (as evidenced by Saturday’s events) I'm just a regular old software guy who sailed into some very uncharted waters! As a result I made multiple mistakes with communication and take full personal responsibility for the incompetency. Instead of leading the team with competency, I let conflicting messages, posts and statements appear on our communication channels." The statement leaves out how the studio ended up collaborating with such a controversial figure. While the statement does not disavow Arch in particular, it also does not mention him by name. "I let the backers down, I let our amazing Discord moderating team down by putting them into an impossible situation, and I let our fans down. This is a game to be enjoyed by everyone, and the last thing I wanted to do was create division within the fanbase," reads the post.

Tibor finishes by stating the studio will not work with Arch, or indeed anyone outside the team, in a promotional capacity again—though once again it avoids mentioning his name, simply saying, "In the future I will ensure we promote the game by letting the team do what they do best – animate awesome videos and trailers."

Update 04/12/20: Following publication of this article, Arch contacted us to further object to being described as a racist: "As a YouTube channel I neither have, wish or can discriminate against any one. Furthermore, I have repeatedly and loudly argued against racism in multiple videos and also confronted alt right personalities in debates against their views, I have a documented and provable history of this as demonstrated by my comment on the article." Arch also stated that Wargaming.net never raised objections to the contracted terms and that he remained under contract with Wargaming.net for the entire period of the agreement. This appears to contradict Wargaming.net tweets earlier this year on terminating the partnership early.

Original article follows:

Subverse

(Image credit: StudioFOW)

Subverse is the Kickstarter success story that crowdfunded over a million dollars with its promise of a sci-fi RPG with tactical combat where you get to be captain of a spaceship, recruit sexy alien companions, and then bang them. Since developers Studio FOW canceled plans to release Subverse in Early Access, players hadn't actually seen gameplay of it yet—even though its first chapters (of which there will be 10) are due in early 2021.

So there was some anticipation around the exclusive first look reveal of its "Tactical Grid Combat, Waifus and SHMUP Gameplay!" However, that exclusive first look was granted to a YouTuber named Arch, a controversial figure whose commentary on the platform led to him being blacklisted by Games Workshop. As well as the complaints about feminism and how Warhammer and Star Wars have been ruined by SJWs, Arch has a second channel devoted to topics like Islam, immigration, and his right to use the n-word.

Subverse has no political affiliation, it's a game to be enjoyed by everyone.

—StudioFOW

Arch used to post videos under the name Arch Warhammer until Games Workshop decided it wanted no association with the guy: it made him remove the word 'Warhammer' from his channel, and convinced World of Warships creators Wargaming.net to end their promotional relationship with him earlier this year in the midst of a program that brought Warhammer 40K-styled warships into the game. In a statement Wargaming said "we were specifically warned by Games Workshop not to work with this influencer, and agreed to it." 

He's a banned topic on r/40KLore, and the guy a former Total War community manager called a "dickhead".

That's why, when the Subverse gameplay reveal was given to Arch as an exclusive, people were upset. When the video was posted to r/Games over the weekend there was such a backlash the mods eventually stated, "we will be automatically removing any future content made by this YouTuber to our subreddit."

Subverse creators Studio FOW responded quickly and apologetically. Community manager FOWChan posted on Discord that, "We were not aware at the time that he had made racist and other controversial statements in the past" and "we did not look into his background as much as we could have, and we know now this was a mistake."

Subverse game

(Image credit: StudioFOW)

However, that post was soon deleted and followed by one that reversed position, from the same poster FOWChan. They wrote: "In terms of the previous statement regarding Arch, we were bombarded suddenly with posts from different political groups, and as a result we acted in haste." There was also an apology for the earlier apology, which was subsequently deleted (archived here): "We would like to make it absolutely clear, we have no problems with Arch personally. We simply wanted him to showcase some of our gameplay together, which Arch did professionally and he was very gracious with his time. We appreciate his time and want to say we are sorry for jumping into a politically charged situation so quickly. Subverse has no political affiliation, it's a game to be enjoyed by everyone."

The claims that "we have no problems with Arch personally" and "Subverse has no political affiliation" sit uneasily together. It's worth being explicit about the kind of things Arch has said in the past. The Warhammer community doesn't like him, and has previously collected a bunch of Discord leaks showing his language and views. Arch has blamed black people for slavery, as well as calling Asian people "ching chongs" and saying "god does hate yellow people." He also dislikes travellers, lamenting that it "used to be possible to shot [sic] them" and referring to the Warhammer creatures Gnoblar as being the "gypsies" of that universe and a "sub-species." In the same video, he goes on to say Gnoblar have slave-like qualities and calls them "house n*****s" (boasting that this term is something "for which this channel is rightly famed", before subsequently de-listing the video).

PC Gamer reached out to StudioFOW for comment and received the following: "Thanks for your inquiry. We have no further comments at this time, and are excited to reveal more Subverse footage to the public in the coming months!"

Arch himself has claimed that his statements are part of his sense of humor. Reached via email, he told PC Gamer "Racism is absurd and therefore makes for a good joke because it is universally recognised as absurd, if you don't view racism as absurd and don't see obvious jokes for what they are then that's your problem not mine."

Partnering with a YouTuber to promote your game necessarily gives up some control over how people react to your product, but StudioFOW's claim that it "has no political affiliation" is strained by the fact that it collaborated with a person who regularly produces reactionary, explicitly political videos. Between frequent discussions of Warhammer lore, in the past six months of Arch's channel has published 10-minute monologues criticizing things like Games Workshop's statement that "Warhammer is for Everyone," celebrating the US government's ban of federal agencies conducting racial sensitivity training, celebrating Trump's threat to "destroy Twitter and other online platforms," decrying that "White Lives Matter is now a controversial statement," mocking Riot Games' attempts to create a more inclusive workplace in the wake of a class-action discrimination lawsuit, and other incisive topics.