Sweet Baby Inc. Doesn’t Do What Some Gamers Think It Does

Sweet Baby Inc. Doesn’t Do What Some Gamers Think It Does

Sweet Baby Inc. is not the largest narrative design company in the games industry. Nor is it solely responsible for the characters and stories in recent high-profile releases like Alan Wake 2, God of War Ragnarok, and Suicide Squad: Kill the Justice League. But good luck telling some gamers that.

Late last month, one of the company’s consultants discovered a Steam group dedicated to “detecting” games that Sweet Baby Inc. has worked on. The purpose? To encourage people to avoid those games because the group had deemed SBI was pushing a “woke” agenda by working toward greater diversity, equity, and inclusion. The Steam group now has more than 100,000 followers and its own Discord that boasts nearly 2,000 members. But this ire against Sweet Baby Inc. (and DEI initiatives in general) isn’t new—an October 2023 KiwiFarms post shares similar sentiments, stating that the company’s involvement in Remedy’s award-winning 2023 action game Alan Wake 2 was “possibly one of the biggest scandals in gaming history.”

The conversation around Sweet Baby Inc. has ignited a fundamentally misinformed, GamerGate-esque firestorm. Its employees have faced rampant harassment as a direct result. Industry figures have had to deny allegations that SBI comes in and completely changes their games. I spoke with several employees of Sweet Baby Inc. to learn what the company actually does and how the misunderstanding of its role in the industry highlights a far broader problem.

Image: Shift Up

What bad actors think companies like Sweet Baby Inc. do

The games industry has had its fair share of struggles lately, from massive layoffs to wildly expensive games like Suicide Squad falling short of expectations. According to the loudest members of the Sweet Baby Inc. Detected Discord, the company is directly responsible for those failures—not the studios that employed them in the first place—because of the content Sweet Baby allegedly “forces” into games.

Even games that are widely considered to be successes are not safe from these conspiracy theories. Alan Wake 2 game director Kyle Rowley took to X (formerly Twitter) on March 3 to dispel rumors that Sweet Baby was the reason protagonist Saga Anderson was Black (a rumor first traced back to the aforementioned October 2023 Kiwi Farms post). “It’s absolutely not true,” Rowley wrote. But Rowley’s concise statement (and similar ones made by other industry members) has not silenced the conspiracy theorists.

Screenshot: Kotaku / Discord

On March 5, I managed to spend an hour or so in the Sweet Baby Inc. Detected Discord before I was booted from the space, likely because I identified myself as a Kotaku journalist. In it, members shared posts referencing Feminist Frequency founder Anita Sarkeesian, Marcus Aurelius quotes, and pictures of idealized female bodies in games. One image showed several pictures of the protagonist Eve from Korean developer ShiftUp’s upcoming action game Stellar Blade, juxtaposed against female characters from Overwatch, Forspoken, and Life is Strange. “Embrace tradition. Reject modernity” is emblazoned on the collage.

“Almost 2K members, there are already a bunch of infiltrated [sic] people here screenshotting everything, sadly…so just keep it cool brothers. We can’t let this server or the Steam group get taken down. That’s all I ask, keep it cool,” read a post from March 4, which was shared again on March 5. Several people in the Discord expressed concerns about “glowies,” a term coined by members of the far right for those suspected of being federal law enforcement officials or their informants attempting to infiltrate their online spaces and set them up for legal consequences.

Two members that spoke with me via Discord DM shared similar sentiments about why they believe the Steam page and subsequent Discord are important: so they can “identify” games that were developed with support from Sweet Baby Inc. and make an “informed decision” when purchasing them. “Sweet Baby Inc. is a symptom of other ideological worldviews that I believe have taken hold of the Western world, media, and gaming as a whole,” a 31-year-old member of the Discord told me. He also insisted, without providing evidence, that Sweet Baby Inc. adds “race and identity group quotas to everything they are involved with.”

Image: Remedy Entertainment

Sweet Baby Inc. isn’t forcing diversity, it’s happening naturally

Though these kinds of social media posts argue that companies like Sweet Baby Inc. somehow “force” game studios to include diverse characters and storylines, the reality is vastly different. Sweet Baby Inc. is a narrative design company, meaning most of its work is focused on writing stories and dialogue—they are not a DEI consultancy firm. That means they ensure a game’s plot points make logical sense and are satisfying to players, and that characters speak and behave in consistent ways. Narrative designers may also provide a final round of polish, like a Hollywood “script doctor.” For example, the team worked on Suicide Squad long after the story was written—and even then they joined just to write in-game ads, audio logs, and NPC “barks,” CEO Kim Belair tells me over video call. She continues:

Sweet Baby is, at its core, a narrative development company. That means anything from script writing to narrative design to narrative direction, to story reviews. One of the things that we do offer is cultural consultations or authenticity consultations. For us, that generally means that we might be asked to look at a story if there’s a character in it who is marginalized in certain way, and [the studio] wants us to connect them with a consultant who can bring a little bit of authenticity…But the perspective is never that we’re coming in and injecting diversity…For the most part, it’s the reverse. It’s that a company has created a character and they want to make that character more representative and more interesting.

Sweet Baby cofounder David Bedard adds that, contrary to popular belief, the people making these games want to make the experience better for all players—and that more diversity and representation is a byproduct of that. “[Detractors] would rather believe that there’s a shadowy cabal of people forcing them to put that stuff in…they would rather believe a make-believe fairytale than accept that,” he says. “Making something more representative and more joyful for a marginalized person in a video game is not a zero-sum game. It doesn’t make anything worse for the male character in the game, for the white character in the game.”

The assumption that team members at Sweet Baby Inc. (or any marginalized person, for that matter) can only offer up content that is based on their identity is incredibly frustrating for the team—and for marginalized industry members at large. ”People can’t imagine that we might do anything else but DEI,” Belair says. “They can’t imagine that we’re just talented writers, that we’re talented narrative designers and that people are hiring us because we tell good stories, because we collaborate well, and because we write video games. They have to diminish our accomplishments to our identities. They can’t imagine that the work I did on Spider-Man was story work versus adding pride flags, you know?”

Despite the intensity of the backlash over the past few weeks, it’s business as usual for Sweet Baby Inc. The companies they work with haven’t been scared off—they’ve actually offered advice and best practices for how to move forward, practices they have developed after facing harassment of their own, Belair tells me. With that kind of support in their corner, and a shared love for writing good stories, the team at Sweet Baby Inc. is determined to forge on and keep working on a litany of games—both announced and under wraps.

“We are a narrative company. That primarily is our work. We are not censors. We have no interest in false diversity or in tokenization. We have an interest in making stories better, and making characters more interesting, and in developing a stronger language around narrative design…Those are the things that we are really passionate about,” Belair says toward the end of our conversation. “If you’re gonna come for my work, you can do that. If someone says I wrote a story and you say it’s not good, that’s totally fine. But if you’re gonna come for me at least come correct…don’t be loud and wrong.”

After chatting with Sweet Baby Inc., I returned to my Discord DM with one of the members of the group rallying against them. With the help of Belair’s own words, I explained what SBI actually does—its core focus on narrative work, and how DEI is only a small part of their remit. He wouldn’t budge: “With all due respect, it really just seems like the same thing to me but just a bit more hands-on in the writing process. The end goal is to insert DEI-type stuff into the project they are working on.”

Sweet Baby Inc. and other industry leaders suggest that this dogged insistence on believing one company is forcibly injecting diversity into games is a side-effect of a widespread misunderstanding of how games are actually made.

Until the industry is more willing to openly discuss development processes, the lack of transparency will continue to be used as a straw man for bad-faith arguments that characterize DEI as an imposition by nefarious, unseen forces rather than an effort to cultivate a more accurate reflection of the world around us.

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