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Sonic the Hedgehog Roblox game studio can’t stop its workers from discussing pay

Gamefam settled an NLRB complaint with a programmer

Sonic charging forward into Mr. Roboto in Sonic Speed Simulator Image: Gamefam/Sega

When Joshua DeBoer realized he was doing the work of a position above his own, he started asking around — what were other workers at Gamefam, a developer of games and experiences within Roblox, experiencing? DeBoer realized others were being underpaid, too, he alleged. “People were definitely being paid very unfairly in comparison to me, by a noticeable amount,” DeBoer told Polygon.

DeBoer approached Gamefam CEO Joe Ferencz about salaries, bringing market rate comparisons. He added that he’d spoken to colleagues about salaries — something that Ferencz wasn’t happy about. “He absolutely blew his lid at me,” DeBoer said. “He was like, ‘Do you think it’s good to go among your colleagues and spread dissafaction? You need to be seen as a leader if you want to stay here long.’” Later, Ferencz put DeBoer on paid leave, suggesting it was to give DeBoer time to determine whether he wanted to be a “team player” or a problem for the company, according to chat records reviewed by Polygon.

DeBoer ended up taking the issue to the National Labor Relations Board in January. There, DeBoer alleged that Gamefam retaliated against him for discussing pay with his coworkers. Gamefam settled with DeBoer, agreeing to pay him $5,000 in unpaid bonuses. The company also agreed to post a notice and send an email reminding Gamefam workers of their rights. “WE WILL NOT tell you that it is toxic or poisonous to the company if you talk to coworkers about pay,” it reads.

Gamefam has not responded to Polygon’s request for comment. The company had also previously declined to comment in early February after the original documents were filed. Polygon has also reached out to the NLRB to confirm the settlement details.

Gamefam is a global company that makes Roblox, Minecraft, and Fortnite games and content — typically for major brands like Sonic the Hedgehog, the NFL, Hot Wheels, and plenty more. It has staged concerts in Roblox for the likes of The Chainsmokers and Saweetie. It lists Marvel Studios, Mattel, Hasbro, Samsung, Ubisoft, Sega, Netflix, and Paramount Plus as its partners. In March, Fast Company called Gamefam one of the “world’s most innovative companies.”

Last year, the company announced it had raised $25 million from investors. Its team, it said, also grew to more than 100 people.

DeBoer’s NLRB complaint comes on top of controversy swirling around the Roblox developer over its allegedly overworked and underpaid developers. Several people claiming to be former Gamefam employees spoke publicly about low pay and crunch on Sonic Speed Simulator and other games. Gamefam released a public statement on Twitter stating that it pays developers “equitably” and ensures a “healthy, happy work environment with tremendous support and flexibility.”

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