In a 2017 interview with Polygon, Dangen Entertainment's Nayan Ramachandran described the six-person company as an "indie-focused publisher" with a goal of bringing indie gems from the United States to Japan and vice-versa. In its first two years, the company appeared to do so successfully, snagging publishing rights to major indie titles like Crosscode, Bug Fables, and Disc Creatures. But the Osaka-based company now finds itself under fire, accused of frequent mismanagement, poor communication, delayed royalty payments, and misuse of game assets. Meanwhile, its now-former CEO is accused of sexual misconduct, inappropriate behavior, and wantonly breaking NDAs. The accusations have now resulted in CEO Ben Judd exiting the company, and key member Ramachandran taking a reduced role.
Issues between Dangen Entertainment and game developers were drawn out into the public eye a few months ago when a developer for the Dangen-published game Devil Engine mentioned legal issues with the publisher, eventually claiming that Dangen was stealing the money he would have made from the game. Tensions among the affected parties eventually culminated in a lengthy Medium article published on November 29, 2019, detailing the numerous allegations against Dangen and then-CEO Ben Judd. The article was written by an anonymous user named Dangen Warning (DW), who claimed to have been involved in three game projects with the publisher. TechRaptor has independently verified Dangen Warning as someone with knowledge of the situations. This initial Medium post has since been taken down but can be viewed in archived form.
The allegations levied against Dangen Entertainment can be boiled down to two categories: those against Dangen's business practices and those against Dangen's former CEO Ben Judd. Regarding the former, accusers claim that Dangen Entertainment caused several delays in their games due to mismanagement, missed numerous marketing opportunities, withheld royalty payments to developers and collaborators, refused to acknowledge contract terminations, and used game assets and music without their creators' permission. Regarding the latter, former CEO Ben Judd is accused of sexual misconduct, unprofessional behavior, and repeatedly breaking NDAs. Dangen responded in their own Medium article, published December 3rd, in which they attempt to refute Dangen Warning's allegations and make their own against the piece's writer. DW posted a response to that article on December 8th, refuting the first rebuttal's accusations. Like the initial article, both Dangen's rebuttal and DW's response to the rebuttal can be viewed as archived pages.
The claims against Dangen's business practices and Ben Judd are numerous, and so this article will attempt to break down the key allegations, beginning with Dangen Entertainment itself. Over the course of reporting on this story, TechRaptor reached out to several individuals with ties to Dangen Entertainment. Some requested anonymity, while others declined to comment, citing fear of reprisal or ignorance of the situations.
Update: This article was updated on December 11th to include additional comments from Digital Development Management and Dangen Warning. Those comments have been added below.
Dangen Entertainment's Mishandling of Devil Engine and Fight Knight
The controversy of Dangen's business practices revolve around their handling of two games: Devil Engine by Protoculture Games and Fight Knight by Sorcerobe. Fight Knight's developers signed with Dangen Entertainment shortly after the game's July 2017 Kickstarter, after Dangen provided a free Japanese translation of their Kickstarter demo. Devil Engine was signed in early 2018.
Devil Engine is Delayed to February 2019
Issues apparently began in late 2018. According to Dangen Warning's November Medium post and a source familiar with the matter, Devil Engine's Switch and PC builds were both ready for release in October 2018, but Dangen did not submit paperwork to Nintendo in a timely matter, causing both versions of the game to be delayed until their eventual release on February 21, 2019. Screenshots of communications obtained by TechRaptor confirm that Devil Engine's PC release was delayed in order to allow simultaneous release on PC and Switch. In its rebuttal post, Dangen claims that Nintendo Switch releases typically require a three-month approval with Nintendo before launch, and that it did not receive a product code from Nintendo for Devil Engine until November 12th.
Fight Knight's Contract Must Be Renegotiated
In December 2018, Dangen Entertainment requested to renegotiate Sorcerobe's contract with the publisher in order to include Chinese localization for Fight Knight. Rather than as an amendment to Fight Knight's then-negotiated contract, however, Dangen offered Sorcerobe a boilerplate contract—with all of the clauses that had already been negotiated between the parties back in 2017 reverted to their original state. This contract had to be rewritten entirely to include the originally negotiated clauses and to include additional protections for the Fight Knight's developer. According to Dangen Warning's November post, Sorcerobe's original contract had been negotiated at the cost of $400 in legal fees.
DW claims that later, in May 2019, then-CEO Ben Judd promised to compensate Sorcerobe $400 for the fees as a gesture of goodwill. This $400 has not been paid as of the time of writing. The publisher's rebuttal post acknowledges this, stating "This is absolutely a mistake on Dangen’s part. We were in discussions to cover this loss when the developer went dark [in July 2019], preventing us from continuing this conversation." It should be noted, however, that multiple screenshots within Dangen's rebuttal post and DW's December Medium post show them to have been in contact with a representative of Sorcerobe as late as September 2019, well after Dangen claims they lost contact with Team Sorcerobe. TechRaptor asked Dangen to clarify this discrepancy but did not receive a response in time for publication.
Dangen Ignores Requests to Translate Fight Knight's Steam Store Page
According to Dangen Warning's November Medium post, Dangen requested a new Chinese-language Switch build of Fight Knight to be demoed at a gaming expo in Taiwan, presumably the 2019 Taipei Games Show which occurred in late January of that year. Dangen Warning claims that the Fight Knight team spent half a month away from developing the game to prepare this demo, but that they saw "little to no change" in their Steam wish list numbers after the show because Dangen failed to respond to repeated requests for the publisher to create a Chinese translation of their Steam store page.
Dangen's rebuttal post does not address Fight Knight's claim of requesting a Chinese translation. As of the time of writing—nearly a year after the alleged incident—Fight Knight's Steam page still displays English in place of Chinese text. Dangen did not respond to TechRaptor's request for comment on the issue prior to publication.
Dangen Uploads Devil Engine's Soundtrack Without Permission
In March 2019, shortly after the release of Devil Engine, Dangen Entertainment uploaded the game's soundtrack to their YouTube page (it should be noted that Devil Engine's soundtrack is sold separately from the game). Dangen Warning claims that this was done without the Devil Engine team's permission, but that they did not issue a DMCA notice to Dangen because "their views are too small to bother with." Dangen's rebuttal post claims that they did not expect this to be a problem, writing:
Dangen did in fact upload the Devil Engine soundtrack to YouTube when it became aware that a non-affiliated third party had uploaded the entire soundtrack to YouTube of their own accord. The purpose was to direct YouTube viewers to an official channel that included the Devil Engine Original Soundtrack store page at the top of the description for legitimate, promotional purposes. Dangen took this initiative to better the sales of the Devil Engine Original Soundtrack and apologizes if their intentions were unclear. The [November] Medium article was the first time Dangen was made aware of the developer’s wishes regarding this issue, and Dangen has since removed the videos.
In an email to TechRaptor, a representative for Dangen further clarified that "The Devil Engine team never requested that we take them down. The claim in the Medium article was slanted to sound as though we did this maliciously or for personal gain, which is not true."
Despite Dangen's claim that they had removed the videos in their December 3rd post, the videos actually remained on their channel until December 6th, shortly after Devil Engine's composer complained of their persistent presence on Twitter.
Dangen's Miscommunications Regarding Nintendo of Japan
Dangen Warning claims that in early April 2019, their point of contact at Dangen Entertainment notified Sorcerobe that a new Switch build of Fight Knight was needed to present to Nintendo by April 19th. DW claims that this request was sudden and lacked details on what Nintendo wanted to see, and that Fight Knight's developer spent the next several weeks away from completing the PC version of the game in order to work on a new Switch build. The sudden deadline and ambiguous specifications reportedly caused the development team much confusion and stress, and the build was not submitted to Dangen until April 29th.
After this deadline passed, Dangen Warning spoke with Ben Judd over the phone regarding the issue. According to a Discord message from the time, Judd then confirmed that the request for a new build had stemmed from Dangen pitching Fight Knight (among several other games) directly to Nintendo, and that the April 19th deadline was fabricated.
A source familiar with the situation confirmed to TechRaptor that Dangen required Sorcerobe's approval for all marketing efforts related to Fight Knight, making the pitch to Nintendo both unauthorized and unexpected.
Dangen Entertainment rebuttal post gives the following statement regarding these claims:
This is completely inaccurate. 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. In the end, as is the case with first party processes, the timeline and final decisions were completely out of Dangen’s control. This is a standard as far as first party processes go. In these cases, it’s up to the discretion of the developer whether or not they want to spend the time to create assets for first party evaluation. There is also no guarantee that these evaluations will result in opportunities for the title in question. All of this was clearly conveyed to the developer.
Dangen Promises New Trailer and July Release on Sorcerobe's Behalf
Around this same time, a representative for Dangen Entertainment was also in talks with a third party publisher regarding new assets to be delivered from Fight Knight. The Dangen representative allegedly told the publisher that Fight Knight would be ready for release sometime in July, and that a new trailer would be released soon. In a Discord message provided in the November Dangen Warning post, one of Fight Knight's developers expressed that neither of these communications were cleared with them first, nor were they accurate.
Dangen did not respond to these allegations in their rebuttal post, though DW does note that the representative apologized at the time. TechRaptor contacted the company for comment but did not receive a response before publication.
Dangen Doesn't Include Devil Engine in Steam's Golden Week Sale
Steam's 2019 Golden Week sale ran from April 29 to May 6. Dangen agreed with Protoculture Games to include Devil Engine in the sale but then forgot to submit the forms necessary to do so.
Dangen admitted to this mistake in the above Slack message and in their Medium post. Later in May—during the same meeting in which the publisher agreed to pay Sorcerobe's $400 in legal fees—Dangen agreed to compensate the Devil Engine team 600,000 yen (approximately $5500 at the time of writing) for the missed sales opportunity. A source familiar with the matter confirmed to TechRaptor that this amount was paid alongside Devil Engine's Q1 and Q2 sales, which also became a point of contention (see below).
Dangen Ignores Requests from Third Parties Interested in Devil Engine
Dangen Warning claims that at some time in May, one of Devil Engine's developers received a direct message from a third party interested in publishing a physical edition of Devil Engine. DW claims that this third party said they had attempted to contact Dangen Entertainment regarding this opportunity for Devil Engine, and that Dangen's representative had "simply given them vague answers and wasted quite a bit of their time." They go on to allege that Devil Engine's developers were never informed of Dangen's discussions with this third party or of any similar propositions from other interested parties.
Dangen Warning claims that following this issue, Dangen was ordered to forward all communications related to Devil Engine directly to them, and that at least four physical media and merchandise companies had reached out regarding Devil Engine that the developers had not been made aware of.
Dangen did not respond to these allegations in their rebuttal post. TechRaptor contacted the company for comment but did not receive a response before publication.
Dangen Employee Uses Devil Engine's Music Without Permission at BitSummit
An employee of Dangen Entertainment DJed at BitSummit 2019, a large indie game-focused festival that took place June 1st through the 2nd in Kyoto, Japan. A video recorded by a third party shows the Dangen employee playing a track from Devil Engine in their music set, which Dangen Warning claims was done without permission or credit to the source of the music. In Dangen's rebuttal post, the publisher claims that the employee received verbal permission to use the song from Devil Engine's BitSummit representative—Dangen Warning themself—the day of the show, writing, "[DW] expressed excitement at the idea and made [the DJ] aware that they would be taking video of it to show the other [Devil Engine] developers. It was not the intention of Dangen to disrespect the composer or misuse the music of Devil Engine in any way, but rather promote the game and the music at BitSummit where it was being shown."
In Dangen Warning's second post, the author asserts that they did not agree to this, but instead directed the DJ to ask the composer of the piece instead. Devil Engine's composer chimed in on the issue on Twitter, claiming Dangen's above response is irrelevant as they did not ask for his own permission.
Issues With Devil Engine's Q1 and Q2 Payment
Tensions between Dangen and the two development teams had slowly risen over 2019 due to the above issues, but those tensions apparently reached a boiling point in July 2019 when the time came for Dangen to issue Devil Engine's first royalty payment. According sources familiar with the agreement, Dangen Entertainment was to deliver Devil Engine's royalty statements for each calendar quarter's sales within sixty days of the end of that quarter. Q1's earnings were initially due by the end of May, but due to delays, both parties eventually agreed to wait and bundle Q1's payment with Q2's, along with the agreed-upon 600,00 yen compensation for missing Steam's Golden Week Sale.
According to Slack messages within Dangen Warning's November post, Devil Engine's developers were originally told to expect their Q2 sales reports on July 1st, but were then told to wait until July 16th so Dangen could receive the Switch sales numbers for June as well. A source familiar with the issue told TechRaptor that when the royalty report finally was shared, it contained numerous issues including removed dates, totals that did not add up, and taxes that should not have been applied. DW claims the initial report failed to account for roughly $7000 in sales and deducted over $1000 in unapproved expenses.
But the biggest issue, according to Dangen Warning and a source close to the issue, revolved around handling Japan's withholding tax. By default, Japan taxes royalties paid to a foreign company at a rate of 20.42%. However, a 2003 treaty between Japan and the United States—where developer Protoculture Games is located—lowers that rate to 0%, so long as the appropriate paperwork is filed with the government of Japan. Screenshots from the time show that Dangen Entertainment was not prepared to handle this paperwork.
A source with firsthand knowledge of the situation told TechRaptor that Devil Engine's team eventually filled out the paperwork themselves, but that Dangen still declined to submit it. After about a week of delayed payment, the Devil Engine team designated Dangen Warning as their proxy in Japan so they could receive the money on the developer's behalf in order to expedite payment. Their intention was for the royalties to be paid to the Japan-based proxy without the withholding tax deducted so that the proxy could file the paperwork necessary for the reduced tax rate themselves and then distribute that money out to the US-based developer. Dangen agreed to the use of the Japan-based proxy, but insisted on applying the 20.42% tax when paying them. Whether this tax rate should or should not be applied when paying the Japanese proxy was a subject of debate between the two parties.
Dangen Warning claims that they eventually accepted the payment—20.42% deducted—with the expectation that Dangen would provide them with the necessary materials to apply for the tax refund from Japan themselves. These materials were not received until September 27th, a delay that the publisher claims was due to DW asking for the wrong type of document. Dangen Warning claims that the document that was delivered was a "a poorly made Word document with Dangen’s business address on it" that "does not contain any information to prove Dangen paid withholding tax to the government, such as the date the tax payment was made, the location of the tax office, a transaction number, official stamps from the tax office, etc." Dangen Warning further claims that they have faced difficulty in distributing this large amount of money outside the country due to the lack of a paper trail behind it. A source familiar with the issue described the money "stuck in Japan, as every bank on the island thinks it's Yakuza money."
Dangen, in their rebuttal post, argued that these delays in payment were due to Dangen Warning's misunderstanding of Japan's tax laws, claiming:
...this particular transaction between Dangen and [DW] (as a proxy) is one where the withholding tax applies. After confirming that the information on the above websites [link] did not apply in the way that [Dangen Warning] argued, Dangen’s Japanese accountant asked us to wait until we could proceed with the proper method. This proved to be the proper course of action. If we had listened to [DW] and made a mistake with the withholding tax, a severe tax penalty could be lobbied against Dangen as a company. We decided to listen to our Japanese accountant instead of [DW].
It should be noted, however, that Dangen contradicts itself later in their rebuttal when they write that:
In the end, due to the unusual proxy payment, the withholding tax fit in a unique category. Dangen ended up overpaying. After Dangen requested that [Dangen Warning] pay the overage back so that accounting records could be corrected, [Dangen Warning] ceased contact. This was the last official communication Dangen had from [DW] until they wrote their article.
In the above statement, Dangen admits that how they handled the withholding tax when distributing the payment to Dangen Warning was incorrect, but asserts Devil Engine's developers now owe them for Dangen Entertainment overpaying that tax. It is unclear how it is possible for the Devil Engine team to owe Dangen that money, as the 20.42% was deducted from Devil Engine's share of the earnings, not Dangen's. TechRaptor contacted Dangen Entertainment to clarify this discrepancy and elaborate on this accusation but did not receive a response before publication.
Fight Knight's Developers Attempt to Terminate Their Contract
Due to the many issues faced thus far, Fight Knight developer Sorcerobe attempted to terminate their contract with the publisher on July 24th in writing via Slack, which Dangen seemingly confirms to have received below. Dangen, however, continues to operate under the assumption that its contract with Sorcerobe is still in effect. In the rebuttal post, Dangen writes:
Dangen asserts that it has never sent any threats, nor received any official contact from the FK developer that could be considered a legal separation as per the contract. There was a one-sided slack message that came from the developer on July 23rd. This does not constitute a legal separation as per the contract. Furthermore, Dangen did make an approach to the developer via their counsel to go over some of the misunderstandings that the developer was under. Context was provided and explanations were made, but the developer never sent any response.
According to Dangen Warning's initial post and verified by TechRaptor, the "approach to the developer via their counsel" was a letter sent from Dangen's U.S. legal team to the developer's residence a week after the Slack message. The letter did not acknowledge the contract's termination and requested that the Fight Knight team contact Dangen CEO Ben Judd to discuss the issues.
TechRaptor reached out Fight Knight's lead developer Thomas LeBlanc to ask whether they were aware of Dangen's continued enforcement of the contract. LeBlanc replied:
I have been aware that Dangen believes the contract break to be illegitimate, since they continue to use my music without my permission and [Fight Knight] is still on their website against my will, but I can't really do anything to stop them from doing that stuff. Regardless of whatever they claim about this, the fact is that there's really nothing they can do to compel me to work with them.
By the terms of the contract, either party can terminate the agreement with just cause, and I'd notified them of the many many contract breaches, I gave them months to make good on those breaches, and they made no attempt to do so. And so, I notified them of contract termination on July 24th, 2019.
LeBlanc also refuted Dangen's claim that the developer never sent any response. LeBlanc informed TechRaptor that he'd attempted to pay Dangen back for the costs the publisher accrued during the development of Fight Knight, but that the publisher demanded additional money to pay for their "legal fees" and "man-hours", which LeBlanc asserts are completely outside the bounds of their contract. According to a source with knowledge of Devil Engine's contract negotiations and screenshots in Dangen Warning's second article, Dangen had made similar demands of the Devil Engine team when they attempted to terminate their contract earlier in the year.
The initial Dangen Warning post and Dangen's response both contain additional accusations regarding the others' motivations and behavior. DW also claims that Dangen repeatedly promoted itself as a label over the games that it represented, which Dangen refutes. Dangen accused DW of attempting to profit off their Medium post because they desire to become a game publisher themselves, which DW refutes in their second post. All three posts document a Devil Engine developer's verbal aggression towards Dangen, which Dangen Warning attempts to explain the reasoning of in both posts. These allegations can be read within the articles themselves and are representative of the apparent animosity between the parties.
Dangen's Former CEO Ben Judd Accused of Sexual Misconduct, Inappropriate Behavior, and Breaking NDAs
According to Dangen Warning, the issues with Dangen Entertainment were not just confined to their business practices. The post also accuses Ben Judd of past sexual misconduct and inappropriate behavior towards a female colleague, as well as casually sharing sensitive information from clients within the games industry.
Ben Judd Breaks NDAs
In addition to his former role as CEO of Dangen Entertainment, Ben Judd served as an executive vice president of Japan-based Digital Development Management (DDM), a video game publishing, distribution and funding firm whose clients have included From Software, Beamdog, Game Freak, Paradox Interactive, and SNK, among many others. In his role there, Ben Judd is privy to sensitive information regarding projects and the internal workings of developers and publishers. Dangen Warning, in their post, alleges Ben Judd frequently disclosed this sensitive information to third parties in casual settings. Dangen Warning cites four instances and provides two screenshots of Ben Judd disclosing such information. It should also be noted that while neither Dangen Warning or TechRaptor claim to be privy to the precise terms of Ben Judd's non-disclosure agreements (NDAs), the information provided in the post can be reasonably assumed to fall under standard NDA terms.
TechRaptor reached out Digital Development Management for comment on the accusations regarding the NDAs and sexual misconduct but did not receive a response in time for publication. As of the time of writing, however, Ben Judd has been removed from the company's staff page.
Update: Digital Development Management later confirmed to TechRaptor that Ben Judd is currently "on leave" from DDM.
Sexual Misconduct and Inappropriate Behavior
As is noted in Dangen Warning's initial Medium post, Alex—a romantic partner of Judd's in 2013—Tweeted about their relationship with Judd in August this year.
Dangen Warning claims that this prompted them to reach out to Alex, as they had witnessed similar behavior from Ben Judd. Following this exchange, Alex shared emails with DW that show Ben Judd (45) attempting to initiate a romantic relationship with the then 24-year-old colleague. These emails were published in Dangen Warning's initial Medium post. TechRaptor reached out to Alex for comment, but did not receive a response in time for publication.
In a later Twitter thread, Alex also claimed that Ben Judd would forbid them from acknowledging their relationship at industry events and discredit other accusers who attempted to warn Alex.
Alex later shared a screenshot from Judd dated April 2014—after the pair's relationship had ended—in which Judd claims that he is the victim.
Dangen Warning recounts similar experiences with Ben Judd, albeit with the stipulation that they were never involved in a romantic or sexual relationship with Judd. DW claims that in March 2019, Ben Judd invited them to a night club under the pretense that they would discuss the issues related to Dangen's handling of Devil Engine and Fight Knight. Dangen Warning claims "we discussed business for about 5 minutes, and then he changed the topic to my personal life," with Judd asking her about her relationship status, romantic interests, and how one would hypothetically ask DW out. DW also claims that Ben Judd frequently pushed for face-to-face meetings and phone calls with them in lieu of emails and Slack messages.
Dangen contends this portrayal of events in their own post, writing:
The suggestion that business was not discussed and instead this was some kind of ploy by Ben Judd to lure a young woman into a seedy night club is completely false. Plans to discuss the project were made and both THE WRITER and Ben Judd met for coffee. Due to THE WRITER being late to the meeting, there wasn’t much time to discuss business without missing the promotional event.
A source with secondhand knowledge of the meeting supported Dangen Warning's take on the event. A developer who requested anonymity told TechRaptor that they were aware of allegations made against Judd in the past and that they no longer trusted Dangen after their lack of any meaningful response. These comments were made prior to Judd's exit from the company.
Response from Dangen and Ben Judd
Ben Judd addressed these claims directly in Dangen's rebuttal post, writing,
Several months ago, an ex-partner whom I dated for about a year accused me of being a racist, misogynist, and sexual predator.
The people who know me, work with me, and spend time with me know those characterizations to be false.
This was a mutually consented to relationship between two adults. I am a very private person who has no Twitter and largely keeps private things off of social media. The past few months have been incredibly hard for me because I don’t understand why a person I loved would do this.
Ongoing Issues, Exits
In the meantime, there appears to be no end in sight for the conflict between Dangen and the two developers. A source familiar with the issue confirmed to TechRaptor that the Devil Engine team has been removed from Dangen's official Slack channels, and Dangen continues to utilize Fight Knight on their website and in promotional materials. Officially, the publisher still denies the allegations made against it, but on December 11, the company posted a notice on its website that it will be restructuring, with Ben Judd exiting the company he founded and Nayan Ramachandran—who was frequently cited as an issue in the posts—shifting to a freelance role. The post states that Dan Stern will take over as the interim CEO until "we settle on a long-term management solution."
Whether this change in management can repair the relationship between Dangen and the developers remains to be seen. TechRaptor will continue to follow this story as it develops further.
Update: In regards to Judd's statements and Dangen's restructuring, Dangen Warning told TechRaptor,
Their "apology" does not apologize to me, who they outright lied about, smeared, and exploited without pay for the majority of the year. Their "apology" does not apologize to the lead developer of Devil Engine, who they stalked across the internet and mocked for his disabilities, on top of withholding royalties, tampering with sales data, and denying access to sales reports. They had the time to delete Ben Judd and Nayan Ramachandran off their website, but still have Fight Knight listed, and still use Fight Knight's promotional art as their own. ... I urge people to not fall for Dangen Entertainment's manipulation.