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Toxic culture at Fullbright


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Well this is heartbreaking.

 

https://www.polygon.com/22610490/fullbright-steve-gaynor-controversy-stepped-down-open-roads
 

I’m on mobile so I can’t quote from the article right now but it’s essential reading.

 

Edit: I'm back with access to a keyboard. Just wanted to point out for those who haven't read the article that there's no allegations of sexual harassment or assault which is why I've started this as it's own topic rather than linking it to metoo or Activision / Ubisoft threads.

 

From the article

 

Quote

Multiple former employees, who spoke with Polygon anonymously out of fear of retaliation, described the Fullbright work environment as “controlling,” a place in which staffers felt undermined and demeaned by Gaynor. Because of Gaynor’s status as the co-founder of a beloved indie darling, some former employees say they were worried about being blacklisted from the industry — though some ended up leaving the industry entirely, anyway. These former employees said they did not experience or witness sexual harassment or explicit sexism; instead, they said, the studio’s toxic culture hid behind the veneer of inclusivity, as women were allegedly repeatedly broken down by microaggressions.

 

I'm also not using alleged as Steve Gaynor has pretty much put his hand up here in acknowledging the hurt caused.

 

 

I'll add more further down but it's worth reading the full piece over at Polygon.

Edited by Unofficial Who
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Oh man, that sucks. Gaynor sounds disturbingly similar to Joss Whedon, bullying his female staff while maintaining a veneer of inclusivity. It's refreshing to see that he's been pulled off any kind of management role already, but crazy that he's been kept on as a writer.

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I didn’t read all of that, so forgive me if I’m missing some key information, but it sounds like he’s just an asshole boss - a control freak and micro-manager that the staff can’t tolerate. That’s very common in all walks of life isn’t it? I’ve had several myself. He got ousted because the staff turnover was atypically high (which is not so common, so it’s great news).

 

The proximity to the Blizzard situation led me to draw conclusions, but there’s no sexual harassment implied here right? The phrase ‘toxic culture’ shouldn’t be attached to this IMO, because it’s just one guy with shit management skills getting his comeuppance.

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It is just one guy, sure, so not a cultural thing, and there was no sexual harassment reported, but that atypically high staff turnover was massively weighted towards women who it seems received the brunt of his bullying.

 

I'd definitely read the rest of the article, as it gives examples of Gaynor's behaviour which definitely go beyond simple micromanagement.

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7 minutes ago, Darwock said:

I didn’t read all of that, so forgive me if I’m missing some key information, but it sounds like he’s just an asshole boss - a control freak and micro-manager that the staff can’t tolerate. That’s very common in all walks of life isn’t it? I’ve had several myself. He got ousted because the staff turnover was atypically high (which is not so common, so it’s great news).

 

The proximity to the Blizzard situation led me to draw conclusions, but there’s no sexual harassment implied here right? The phrase ‘toxic culture’ shouldn’t be attached to this IMO, because it’s just one guy with shit management skills getting his comeuppance.


These were my thoughts as well. I am not justifying it but I think at the moment  these sorts of situations are gonna get lumped together when they’re not the same. There is some specific reference to women but there’s mostly reference to him being an arsehole who sees the company as being all about him. 
 

If we’re gonna start cancelling (some people will) companies for that then I’m not sure how I feel about that. 

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5 minutes ago, Dudley said:

I'd say if that "one guy" is the founder it's a cultural thing.


I disagree. It has the potential to set the tone but I’ve seen plenty of good natured companies with senior management who have questionable traits. 

Take the ‘he uses the fullbright account’ thing. I can see how as a collective staff might feel that wasn’t inclusive. But why is it a problem? He’s the founder. Another way to look it would be that he cares enough about the company to take personal responsibility for direct communication with the public. Not saying that’s the right way but it’s an angle. Of course I do t know the sort of stuff he was posting so it could have been a car crash bur fundamentally I don’t have a problem with that. 

 

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Having read that, it doesn't seem like he was taking responsibility of the company account. He was using it as his personal account, which is different.

 

I'm not sure why there is a need to defend someone who is causing 2/3 of the staff to leave because of him.

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This passage was the most eye-opening for me:

 

Quote

Women in leadership positions told Polygon that they experienced constant micromanagement that made it difficult for them to do their jobs, having to get even the smallest details approved by Gaynor. This was compounded, they said, by Gaynor’s tendency to disparage and discredit the contributions of female staffers in particular, oftentimes directly to leadership. Some of the former female staffers said they often worried about how Gaynor characterized them to other employees.

 

“This is going to sound like a joke, but I’m completely serious: Working for him often felt like working for a high school mean girl,” one former employee in a leadership position told Polygon. “His go-to weapon was to laugh at people’s opinions and embarrass them in front of other people.”

 

Six other former employees corroborated this characterization.

 

Hence my Whedon comparison, as it sounds like a very similar environment to his shows. 

 

I don't think anyone is "cancelling Fullbright". This is absolutely about one guy, and from the sounds of it he's been doing a grand job of cancelling the company on his own after driving so many staff away. There's a tiny team left working on Open Roads from the sounds of it, with Gaynor now purely a writer held at arms length by Annapurna Interactive. It doesn't sound like the game will be out this year.

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41 minutes ago, JohnC said:

 

I'm not sure why there is a need to defend someone who is causing 2/3 of the staff to leave because of him.


I know what you mean. I guess I’m not defending him in particular. I’m saying that if a collective of ex staff from most companies (Any industry) got together they could put together a decent assault on the senior management which, if given oxygen would sound pretty much like this. And lumping it in with illegal, discriminatory, sexual or racial misconduct focused behaviours (which this will be) muddies the water. 

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59 minutes ago, Yiggy said:


I disagree. It has the potential to set the tone but I’ve seen plenty of good natured companies with senior management who have questionable traits. 

 

 

 

Those companies probably had more employees though. "6 other employees agreed" in that passage above for instance.

 

In 2016, around the release of Gone Home, Fullbright apparently only HAD 8 employees total.  They currently apparently have 6 according to that article.

 

That's the entire workforce having the same experience essentially.

 

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2 minutes ago, Yiggy said:

And lumping it in with illegal, discriminatory, sexual or racial misconduct focused behaviours (which this will be) muddies the water. 

Nobody's doing that though, with the exception of the discriminatory bit as he was absolutely targeting female employees based on that report. It also sounds like it's led to direct action, which can only be a good thing.

 

I don't think it would be right to keep this sort of thing hushed up just because there's a worse situation at other developers.

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Just now, Dudley said:

 

 

Those companies probably had more employees though. "6 other employees agreed" in that passage above for instance.

 

In 2016, around the release of Gone Home, Fullbright apparently only HAD 8 employees total.  They currently apparently have 6 according to that article.

 

That's the entire workforce having the same experience essentially.

 


That’s a fair point. I had not considered the size of the company and whilst it doesn’t change my overall opinion that this situation is very different to the others it does change the dynamic of this particular situation a bit. Probably for the worse as there would be less protection from a middle management layer. 

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One individual in a position of power, which inevitably spreads to toadies trying to emulate them, absolutely can create a toxic culture at a workplace. Also have no problems with the use of the term 'toxic' its absolutely fitting for the environment described, otherwise we're starting to venture into the territory of this really weird zero sum game of well he didn't rape any employees so it wasn't that bad there.

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8 minutes ago, Mogster said:

Nobody's doing that though


If that’s the case then good. 
 

Though I’ve seen tweets doing a fair bit of conflation. Twitter does that a lot I guess!

 

Its horrible that these situations happen when an ego doesn’t allow people to consider others and make their lives unpleasant in the process. 

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16 minutes ago, Harsin said:

One individual in a position of power, which inevitably spreads to toadies trying to emulate them, absolutely can create a toxic culture at a workplace. Also have no problems with the use of the term 'toxic' its absolutely fitting for the environment described, otherwise we're starting to venture into the territory of this really weird zero sum game of well he didn't rape any employees so it wasn't that bad there.

I think it was "culture" specifically that people were calling out, as in this case it really does sound like it was a single person causing the problem. I don't think anyone would argue that it wasn't a toxic environment. I agree though that it's absolutely the kind of behaviour that could have spread in larger workplaces.

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So cards on the table here. This was a really hard post to set up.

 

I love Steve Gaynor's past work.

 

Bioshock:Minerva's Den is the perfect distillation of everything that made the original Bioshock games good in a tight condensed format.

Gone Home was a "walking simulator" with real heart. I suspect we wouldn't have other works like Life Is Strange without it. It rekindled my love of riot girl bands.

I was late to the party with Tacoma but I fell in love with it to the point of playing it all over again with the commentary on.

 

Open Roads was going to be a day one purchase.

 

I also feel like I know the guy having listened to dozens of hours of him talking about his work and other things via the Idle Thumbs podcast.

 

So reading this feels like a bit of a gut punch. However this shrinks in comparison to how these people must have felt getting a job there and having a shitty time.

 

As a manager or team leader it's hard to keep everyone happy. You're always at risk of frivolous complaints from the odd underperformer. However there's a pattern here.

 

Quote

Speaking with Polygon, 12 former employees said their departure was at least in part due to Gaynor’s behavior toward workers, specifically women on the team. At least 10 of the employees who left since Open Roads production began were women.

 

For a small company that's a high burn rate.

 

And this is the tragic bit.

 

Quote

Because of Gaynor’s status as the co-founder of a beloved indie darling, some former employees say they were worried about being blacklisted from the industry — though some ended up leaving the industry entirely, anyway.

 

Reading the article with an eye to being generous towards Steve Gaynor one could make the case that he was a creative that should not have become a manager. And I don't think he should be irredeemably cancelled. He stepped down from his leadersship role a few months back and he released this statement today.

 

Quote

Hi all. I have a statement to share about my role at Fullbright.

Earlier this year, I stepped back from my role as creative lead on Open Roads. My leadership style was hurtful to people that worked at Fullbright, and for that I truly apologize.

Stepping back has given me space and perspective to see how my role needs to change and how I need to learn and improve as part of a team, including working with an expert management consultant, and rethinking my relationship to the work at Fullbright.

I care deeply about Open Roads and the Fullbright team. I’m sad to have stepped back from day-to-day development of Open Roads, but it’s been the right thing to do. The Open Roads team has my full faith and support as they bring the game to completion.

 

That's not a perfect apology but it's a start. It stands in contrast to the Activision / Blizzard statements.

 

This case also shows the issue with small indies. At Activision and Ubisoft the case can  be made that HR totally failed in it's remit. At Fullbright there was a different issue.

 

Quote

Employees told Polygon that they had wanted to report Gaynor’s behavior but had no actual process to do so. The company had no dedicated human resource employees, other than the occasional third-party consultant. “There’s no infrastructure to escalate,” a former employee said. Several former employees said they confronted Gaynor directly while they were still employed at Fullbright, telling him their concerns about how they believe his behavior negatively impacted the staff.

 

I think Open Roads is possibly at risk of not happening. And one ex employee made an excellent point.

 

Quote

“It turns my stomach to think that he still gets to write these games about women’s stories when this is how he treats them in real life, with presumably no sign of stopping,”

 

I think that's an issue with the industry at large at the moment. Women's stories are being told....by men. I'd hoped Fullbright would become a sort of incubator for raising up and pushing forward female talent, sadly it appears the opposite is the case.

 

I think Gaynor and Fullbright are in for a tougher time than Activision and Ubisoft. On the one side fans of the company are going to have a low tolerance for anyone who talks the social justice talk but doesn't walk the walk. As for those who feel the company is "too woke", I've already seen them on social media both celebrating Gaynor being "found out" while simultaneously calling the complainants snowflakes.

 

Sad news though, and it sucks that we've lost more diverse talent.

 

 

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Yeah this one really hits hard. Not sure I can add anything that hasn't already been said.

 

Glad he has come out and met things head on, but not sure that in and of itself is anywhere near enough. I hope we see some action to show he is going to do better.

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2 minutes ago, bradigor said:

Yeah this one really hits hard. Not sure I can add anything that hasn't already been said.

 

Glad he has come out and met things head on, but not sure that in and of itself is anywhere near enough. I hope we see some action to show he is going to do better.

 

It's a tough road if he actually wants to do it properly. I've only ever seen two men do it, James Gunn and Dan Harmon. It involves being accountable, copping the fair (and unfair) criticism on the chin and resisting the urge to be defensive or to accept relief from really toxic people. I've seen plenty more men flub it or double down, refuse accountability and become more toxic. He'll also have to live with accepting that apologies he makes might not be accepted and deal with the weight of knowing that he might not be able to undo the damage done.

 

I don't envy him this path at all but I don't think he's irredeemable like some at Activision / Blizzard / Ubisoft.

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Has he met it head on, he stepped down in March, presumably everything was "known" then.

 

The best part of 6 months on sufficiently little has changed that employees and ex-employees are whistleblowing.

 

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1 hour ago, Dudley said:

Has he met it head on, he stepped down in March, presumably everything was "known" then.

 

The best part of 6 months on sufficiently little has changed that employees and ex-employees are whistleblowing.

 

From the sounds of it, Gaynor currently doesn't have any direct contact with the rest of the team now. He's purely a writer now, and has to submit work to Annapurna. 

 

The ongoing issue is summed up in the last paragraph, which argues that he shouldn't be involved at all:

 

Quote

“It turns my stomach to think that he still gets to write these games about women’s stories when this is how he treats them in real life, with presumably no sign of stopping,” one former employee said. “I want women in the industry and this studio to feel valued. I want vulnerable young women who are new to the industry to be supported, not preyed upon. I want women to not have to fear retaliation from a powerful ‘auteur’ figure for speaking up. I want women to feel safe here. I want women to know that this is not normal. More than anything, I just want him to stop. He shouldn’t be allowed to keep getting away with this.”

 

@Unofficial Who made a good point that this also highlights the issue that while it's great that we're seeing more stories about women, they're so often still written by men. When those men are treating real life women like Gaynor has been, it makes that all the more ridiculous.

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Agree with the posts saying that this hits hard. I loved Gone Home and Gaynor reaching out to me on Twitter to thank me for playing afterwards was a nice touch.

 

Such a shame.

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That last paragraph kind of changes the feel of the article to me. It sounds initially like he's a creative who it turns out isn't capable of managing people, in particular women. This happens, and it's nasty, but not too uncommon unfortunately. That last paragraph makes out like he's more than just a bully and perhaps takes some sort of sick pleasure from bullying women. "He shouldn't be allowed to keep getting away with this." Getting away with what? Is that he's still bullying people from a distance or get away with working for the company he founded? Also the usage of "preyed upon" makes this sound a whole lot more sinister. Is he a bullying asshole or is there something more going on here? 

 

I have no skin in this game, I've never played any of the games produced by this studio and they don't look like they really appeal to me, it's just unclear what the staff are looking for as a resolution to me. If they want him out of the company, is there even a company left at that point? 

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19 minutes ago, phillv85 said:

That last paragraph kind of changes the feel of the article to me. It sounds initially like he's a creative who it turns out isn't capable of managing people, in particular women. This happens, and it's nasty, but not too uncommon unfortunately. That last paragraph makes out like he's more than just a bully and perhaps takes some sort of sick pleasure from bullying women. "He shouldn't be allowed to keep getting away with this." Getting away with what? Is that he's still bullying people from a distance or get away with working for the company he founded? 

This is weird. It being 'not too uncommon unfortunately' isn't the satisfactory end state of treating women with respect and dignity in the workplace.

 

If he can't do it, then he has no business running a company that can employ women (99.999% of all companies).

 

Why is that hard to understand?

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15 minutes ago, Lovelyman said:

This is weird. It being 'not too uncommon unfortunately' isn't the satisfactory end state of treating women with respect and dignity in the workplace.

 

If he can't do it, then he has no business running a company that can employ women (99.999% of all companies).

 

Why is that hard to understand?

 

You've haven't answered the question though so I'm still none the wiser.

 

Is that it then, is he cancelled? Should he hand over the keys and just disappear into the ether? Can he not seek redemption on this? Can he not take a back seat in the company he founded and continue to work without having to manage anyone (which it seems he's clearly incapable of doing)?

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Just now, phillv85 said:

 

You've haven't answered the question though so I'm still none the wiser.

 

Is that it then, is he cancelled? Should he hand over the keys and just disappear into the ether? Can he not seek redemption on this? Can he not take a back seat in the company he founded and continue to work without having to manage anyone (which it seems he's clearly incapable of doing)?

 

He can seek redemption, probably on his own time and own dime. Fullbright is his company though so there are few solutions.

 

The most likely solution? Annapurna buy Fullbright off him and he walks into the sunset.

 

Other solutions which might be more just but would leave him seriously low on resources. He walks and leaves the company behind to the women who still work there and they rehire those that want to come back or he redistributes the money from the sale of the company to the complainants. 

 

I don't think he can continue to run and manage employees, definitely not in the short term. He'll still be given opportunities to write, the tougher road might be for him to give up those opportunities for some of the women disadvantaged.

 

I don't know, I'm spit balling here. Some form of restorative justice would be more appropriate than the usual wait a year in silence and then come back declaring either "I've learned my lesson!" or "Actually I was in the right!"

 

I do think he's going to face greater criticism for his poor management than the exec's with their golden parachutes who will never need to work another day in their lives. But that's the cost of talking the talk, if you have feet of clay in that position then you're going to be criticised from all sides.

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17 minutes ago, Lovelyman said:

Cancelled isn't a real state a person can be. 

 

He should probably quit. 

 

You've still missed the point of my post. You've made out like I'm trying to excuse him when what I'm actually trying to say is that the last paragraph is in a hugely different tone to the rest of it. It goes from "he's the workplace bully and is a fucking asshole" to something a whole lot more sinister. The way I read that last paragraph is that it's either still happening, or worse, some of his hires he hired just so he could treat them extremely badly. My point was what is the actual scenario here? I don't think he can be forced out in scenario 1, even if he should leave of his own will. If it's scenario 2 then he needs raking over the coals, not just putting in a position where he can't be nasty anymore.

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