Ion Fury is a very good shooter, but its launch has been something else entirely. Just after its release earlier this month, transphobic and sexist comments made by a couple of developers in the Ion Fury Discord were discovered and shared publicly. Developer Voidpoint initially tried to defend the comments as being taken out of context, but then homophobic language was found within the game itself: The use of the word "Fagbag," and an in-game item labeled "Ogay," apparently a play on "Olay."
Following that, Voidpoint and publisher 3D Realms issued statements apologizing for the behavior and content: 3D Realms told Eurogamer that the company "has taken pride empowering marginalized groups, as evident by our strong female protagonist Shelly 'Bombshell' Harrison and the makeup of our team," and that going forward, all contracts with developers "will include terms which would allow us to sever relationships if a contractor does not abide by our zero-tolerance policy for hate speech."
Voidpoint's apology was more full-throated: "We recognize these statements are insensitive, unacceptable, and counterproductive to causes of equality. We unequivocally apologize both for these comments and language as well as for any pain they have caused the gaming community, particularly women and members of the LGBTQ community. We take full responsibility for any damage that has been done to the relationships we've worked so hard to build," it said.
"Moving forward, Voidpoint will institute a zero-tolerance policy for this type of language and all employees and contractors will undergo mandatory sensitivity training. As part of our efforts to contribute to the work that must be done to further support these communities, we are donating $10,000 from Ion Fury's release day proceeds to The Trevor Project. We are also patching Ion Fury ASAP to remove all unacceptable language."
Not everyone saw this as a fair outcome. Review bombs came flooding into Steam, simultaneously praising the game and castigating the developers for responding to criticism and engaging in "censorship." The numbers weren't massive—Ion Fury isn't Metro Exodus—but it was enough to pull recent user reviews on Steam to "mixed," although overall it remains at "mostly positive."
The review bomb has had the desired effect, however, as this morning Voidpoint and 3D Realms issued a joint statement saying that the "Ogay" item will not be removed after all.
"We’ve caused a recent controversy suggesting Ion Fury game content was to be censored. We will absolutely NOT be censoring Ion Fury or any of our other games, now or in the future, including but not limited to by removing gags such as gaming’s most controversial facial wash," the Steam update says.
"We do not support censorship of creative works of any kind and regret our initial decision to alter a sprite in the game instead of trusting our instincts. 3D Realms and Voidpoint stand together on this matter."
The statement said nothing about the status of the promised donation to The Trevor Project, a non-profit organization dedicated to suicide prevention among LGBTQ+ youth, but Voidpoint said on Twitter that it is "absolutely still donating." The studio also said that it sees no incongruity between donating to an LGBTQ+ charity while refusing to remove homophobic content from Ion Fury.
In subsequent tweets, the studio said that the "fagbag" term used in the game was "a legitimate error" by a developer who lives in a non-English-speaking country, and will be removed (it is unclear what "fagbag" could possibly mean in another country). It also said that "Ogay" is not homophobic, and implied that it was forced to walk back its promise to remove the content after a PR firm tinkered with its initial apology.
We came up with an unoffensive joke we liked better, but the PR company responsible added an entire extra sentence to our original apology statement that made tons of customers think we were censoring the whole game. All we could do is come out and say "no censorship."August 26, 2019
Publisher 3D Realms has also issued a statement indicating that it stands behind Voidpoint's new position. It acknowledged that the joke was made at the expense of the LGBTQ+ community and said that such things will not be tolerated in the future—unless, apparently, enough people think it's funny and cool.
"We at 3D Realms spoke with Voidpoint today and they reaffirmed their commitment to honoring their original statement, including the donation to The Trevor Project and sensitivity training. However, the soap bottle will not be removed," it said. "The use of the word “f*gbag” in an area that was inaccessible without hacking the game, and was added by one developer without approval from anyone else, was removed a few days ago. We once again apologize for this text as it does not reflect the values of 3D Realms or Voidpoint."
"Jokes at the expense of marginalized communities will not be present in future games published by 3D Realms. However, a portion of our community made it loud and clear they felt removing 'Ogay' was censorship and should be protected by free speech. Voidpoint wanted to listen and we respected this decision."