Dangen Entertainment isn't as well-known as other names in gaming, but as an indie-centric publisher that helps bridge the gap between Japan and the West, chances are you've probably played something due to the result of its work. Through publishing, localization, and marketing services, Dangen's work has touched games such as Bloodstained, Momodora, CrossCode, and Iconoclasts.
Over this last weekend, an anonymous blog post brought forth allegations against the publishing house, ranging from professional incompetence to personal accusations of sexual harassment against the company's CEO. This was part of an ongoing escalation of accusations on social forums like Twitter, where developers have been airing out grievances with Dangen Entertainment for a while.
The post was taken down and put under review, though it still exists in archived form. It's caused a wave of backlash against Dangen, as current and former employees defend the team and others corroborate the original source's claim, even bringing forward stories of their own. Others have come to Dangen's defense, and the company itself published a rebuttal where it claims, among other things, that the post was motivated by selfish reasons.
We reached out to Dangen Entertainment, as well as a number of sources familiar with Dangen Entertainment and the developers involved, to better understand the ongoing friction.
It all began in August when Alex, a designer familiar with Dangen Entertainment, posted a thread detailing their experiences with Judd, including harassment and profane language.
That's it that's all I want to say about that. It's an open secret that this guy is a predator and creep but he ingrained himself in the Japanese indie scene now. Stay away from him. That's all I want to say.- Alex[Shield] (@dirtbagboyfren) August 28, 2019
It picked up again in November, when one developer wrote a post encouraging piracy of their own games, rather than paying money toward Dangen. Everything came to a head in a lengthy Medium post posted over Thanksgiving weekend, which collected many issues surrounding both Dangen and its employees.
In the initial post, titled "Dangen Entertainment Warning," an anonymous author who claims to have worked with Dangen on several titles as a proxy lays out their issues with the publisher. USgamer has verified the authenticity of the author's identity, but will be keeping their name private.
The post is fairly long, but outlines two key issues with Dangen Entertainment. The first are a number of professional complaints, ranging from mishandling of marketing materials and royalty payments to use of a developer's music without consent. Most of the post centers around the development of two games, Fight Knight and Devil Engine, starting in 2018 and continuing on through 2019. But another, more troubling part focuses on accusations against the CEO of Dangen Entertainment: Ben Judd.
Ben Judd's profile on the Dangen Entertainment site describes him as a 15-year veteran of the games industry, working at Capcom Japan and DDM. He was also involved in Mighty No. 9, worked on Bionic Commando Rearmed, and founded Dangen in 2017. Multiple sources told us about how prominent he is in the overseas scene, running meet-ups and other social get-togethers for industry members.
In both the original Medium post and tweets since, Judd has been characterized as someone who oversteps personal boundaries, casually breaks NDA, and veers into shades of predatory behavior. Emails contained in the first post, sent by one game designer to the author, show Judd pivoting from a business discussion to flirty behavior.
Hey this is important: I was sent this detailed post about Ben Judd's many many transgressions and misbehavior in the games industry by someone I trust. It includes emails I've gotten from Ben back in 2013. This is legit. Please read and share.https://t.co/ZkwYB8Qz56- Alex [Shield] (@dirtbagboyfren) November 29, 2019
That person, a former partner of Judd's, has tweeted before about their relationship, saying they have more texts showing Judd's behavior. In previous tweets, they detail situations where Judd was "pulling out his balls in public spaces" and harassing women, and that it's an "open secret that this guy is a predator and a creep." They have also shown screen captures of when they've voiced these issues to Dangen employees in the past. They declined to speak further when reached by USG.
The author of the Medium article detailed their own experiences with Judd, which they say included several in-person meetings that put them in uncomfortable situations. They included a meeting in a nightclub (Judd referred to it as a "DJ set" in his personal statement) where Judd reportedly pivoted quickly from business discussions into personal matters. The author says Judd probed them about their romantic life, and suggested he would like to date them. In another example, the author says they were asked to leave their belongings at the Dangen offices and relocate to another nearby cafe to talk about matters.
The company disputed parts of the story in its rebuttal, saying it was "an absolutely professional business relationship and nothing more." Through several interactions, Dangen Entertainment maintains that Judd acted in a strictly business sense.
Some have spoken up in defense of Judd, including a freelance translator who has worked with Dangen Entertainment. In Dangen's rebuttal, Judd wrote a personal response to the accusations brought forth alongside the company's rebuttal of the author's claims.
"Several months ago, an ex-partner whom I dated for about a year accused me of being a racist, misogynist, and sexual predator," Judd writes. "The people who know me, work with me, and spend time with me know those characterizations to be false."
In speaking to other sources who wished not to be named out of fear of retaliation, several corroborated that Judd's behavior with others has been poor. "I have many reasons to believe the allegations against Judd are at least partially true," one source with knowledge of the Japanese game development scene says, but the prominence of Judd in the scene stops them from speaking up. "Many studios at least partly rely on Judd to stay in business, so it's a moral conundrum."
Alongside issues with Judd, developers on Devil Engine and Fight Knight, as well as others in the industry, have expressed frustration in working with Dangen Entertainment in professional matters as well.
Devil Engine's developer has raised issues with Dangen before on various social media, prompting an initial response from Dangen Entertainment prior to the Medium article's publication.
In screenshots of workplace messaging app Slack, as well as Discord and email, the Medium author paints a picture of Dangen Entertainment's issues with partnered developers. The complaints range from being unresponsive and missing critical timings for launches and publicity, to disputes over contract negotiations.
In one instance, the game Devil Engine was never submitted for a Golden Week sale on Steam. Considering the game was popular in Japan and Golden Week is a very popular holiday season in the region, the developer was eager to have it included, but things seemingly never got set in motion by their point of contact, Dangen co-founder Nayan Ramachandran.
From the Medium post that has since been removed:
"However, when the Steam Golden Week sale went up, DE was not included. Nayan had forgotten to submit DE into the Steam Golden Week sale during the signup period, something that could have been done within 5 minutes at any time between when Nayan asked DE for approval and when the signups closed weeks later."
Meanwhile, the Dangen staff was accused of using the time to produce self-promotion videos, and being otherwise unavailable during that time, missing the sales window.
"The DE team was furious and upset. A majority of the launch mistakes in February 2019 could've been forgiven as the growing pains of a new publisher. However, putting a game into a Steam sale is something the DE dev could have easily done himself if he'd been given access to it. DE dev was forgiving and understanding of Dangen's failings up until this point, but this was the beginning of the end of any trust he had left for Dangen."
Alongside these issues, the developer of Devil Engine both privately and publicly voiced issues with receiving payment from Dangen Entertainment. Devil Engine's developer tweeted out coded messages saying Dangen was "robbing" them, and even suggested potential players pirate the game rather than pay for it.
We reached out to the developer, who referred us to the Medium post and their own tweets, but did not reply to further inquiries. Dangen claims in response that they did eventually make the correct payments to the writer, who was acting as a proxy for the Devil Engine developer at the time.
We were able to verify some of these instances independently. The composer of Devil Engine, for example, has still not been compensated for Bandcamp sales of the soundtrack, and they told us that their music was indeed used without permission during a DJ set at the BitSummit indie event, despite having a "clear line of communication" to ask for permission. Dangen also uploaded the entire soundtrack to YouTube, reasoning that it was already uploaded elsewhere and Dangen Entertainment's uploads would have links to the store page included. The videos have since been deleted.
In regards to the music played at BitSummit, Dangen maintains it obtained verbal approval from the author of the original post; a source familiar says they did not, as does the composer.
Neither did they ask my permission to upload the Devil Engine OST to YouTube in it's entirety, despite us being in a private Slack channel, meaning they could get in contact with me extremely quickly. They acted completely outside of my consent in that regard. (end)- Qwesta (@Qwesta6) December 3, 2019
Sources speaking to USG corroborated more of these experiences, with one characterizing the handling of sales and game pages by one member of Dangen Entertainment as "incredibly lazy," often having to take matters into their own hands to get pieces moving.
In Dangen's rebuttal, it owns up to some of the issues including the missed sale, which it says it compensated the developer for in a lump sum, and in other cases—like a $400 legal fee over a contract dispute—Dangen says it was unable to reach the developer after they went "dark" to resolve the issue. In other cases, it disputes that issues came down to the author's misunderstanding of Japanese tax law.
In an email response to USG, Dangen Entertainment says it plans to honor all obligations with both the Fight Knight and Devil Engine teams. "We are still awaiting [on] an invoice so that we can complete payment of the soundtrack royalties which are listed in the sales report," a Dangen spokesperson says. "It is still our intention to take responsibility for the legal fee the FK developer paid for the contract check once we resume normal business discussions with the developer."
The company does dispute issues over a build submitted to Nintendo of Japan. In the Medium post, the author details a situation in which Dangen asked for a Switch build of Fight Knight that they wanted ready in April 2019 for presentation to a Nintendo representative. The author says they were sent through to Judd, who explained that Fight Knight was one of eight games pitched to Nintendo and they had requested a build of Fight Knight, different from another Switch build that had already been sent. There was confusion as to what it was for—"they're asking for a new build because there is a new opportunity, like I said potentially a Direct, or something that's much stronger support than normal," one screencapped reply from Judd said. But building a completely new version for the Switch would require even more work from the developer.
From the Medium post:
"If Nintendo wanted to see Switch exclusive features as well, while the FK dev had ideas on what he wanted to implement, he was busy focusing on finishing the PC version of the game as his primary obligation to his Kickstarter backers and would not have time to implement any Switch exclusive features depending on when Nintendo wanted to see the new build by."
They submitted the new Switch build on April 29, and reportedly never heard back. The author of the post sees this as a failing, while Dangen contends it did its best to pursue the opportunity.
"Due to the sensitive and private nature of Nintendo of Japan's procedures and policies we cannot discuss this in detail, but we maintain that we did pursue this opportunity to the best of our abilities," Dangen writes.
Through the posts here and several other tweets from other developers, as well as our own discussions with multiple sources, it paints a picture of a publishing company that, at best, has struggled to keep apace with its projects, and at worst, actively mishandled business relations with its developer partners and other companies. The consistent threads are a frustration from the developer side in lacking communication and late payments.
Dangen Entertainment, meanwhile, contends the developer of Devil Engine specifically was toxic, and the author of the original post was working in bad faith for personal benefit, saying they have an ulterior motive of profiting from the Medium article. "Clearly the core focus on the article was the business issues, but The Writer strategically pushed the Alex tweet first to focus on the shock factor instead of the true purpose of the article which was to force Dangen into a position where it must relinquish publishing rights," the spokesperson claims.
There are also issues of requiring devs to do extra work, like recording a video for a Kinda Funny showcase that never aired or submitting a build that wasn't needed for Nintendo. In Dangen's rebuttal, it characterized this as "an unfortunate reality of video game marketing and promotion" in the case of the former, and that it "did pursue this opportunity to the best of [its] abilities" in the case of the latter.
"As with any business, occasionally mistakes and human errors are made," Dangen writes in its rebuttal. "They can be anything from a missed approval to delayed game development. We strive to have strong, friendly and successful relationships with our developer partners, in the hopes of finding real success for their games."
In one case, the Medium author says they were told by Judd that if issues with Fight Knight weren't resolved, they would also drop their support from Devil Engine. A spokesperson for Dangen Entertainment says this is "blatantly false," calling it "illogical."
"Dangen relies on developer revenue to survive," the spokesperson tells USG. "Dangen wishes to value the contractual obligations it has with its developers and intends to honor them. Even in a bad situation, one title's terms will not affect another."
Other developers tell USG they haven't had issues with Dangen Entertainment. For some, however, there were other intermediaries who created a buffer compared to the author of the Medium post, who was a point of contact for three separate games.
The long series of allegations, and the response to them, has created a muddy and tense situation around the publisher. While we've reached out to a number of sources either close to the studio or directly involved with them, the responses vary from person to person. For some, these accusations seem out of left field, and others, a long time coming.
In general, they come back to two points: one, an issue with Dangen Entertainment's handling of royalties, contracts, and communication with several partners; and two, issues with Judd specifically, highlighting his unprofessional and allegedly abusive behavior.
A Dangen spokesperson, in response to questions about threats of legal and PR reaction to these allegations, says that "a legal response is always the last option."
"Misunderstandings are not valid reasons for breach of contract so Dangen hopes a dialogue with the developer can continue in good faith," a spokesperson tells USG. "[Fight Knight] is an amazing game and with our continued efforts as publisher, Dangen wants to support it on as many platforms as possible. It would be a shame for it to be only released on PC due to misunderstandings."
Relations between Dangen and its developers clearly soured over the course of several months. With this kind of fallout, combined with pent-up tensions over the alleged actions of one of its lead staffers, it's tough to imagine any reconciliation.