Steve Gaynor, co-founder of the acclaimed indie studio, Fullbright, is no longer creative lead or manager on its latest project, Open Roads, after allegations of fostering a “toxic culture” at the company.
A report by Polygon found that 12 former employees left the company “at least in part” due to Gaynor’s behaviour towards workers. At least 10 of the employees who have left are female.
Claims were made that Gaynor was a “controlling” presence, leading to staff feeling “undermined” and “demeaned”. Because of his status as an indie darling, some former employees said they were worried about being blacklisted from the industry.
While the accusations don’t involve sexual harassment or explicit sexism, the former employees explained that the “studio’s toxic culture hid behind the veneer of inclusivity, as women were allegedly repeatedly broken down by microaggressions”.
A Polygon source described working for Gaynor as “like working for a high school mean girl”, with his “go-to weapon” being to “laugh at people’s opinions and embarrass them in front of other people.”
The report also had one ex-employee explain that “it turns my stomach to think that [Gaynor] 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.” Notably, Gaynor remains involved as a writer on Open Roads despite being dropped as creative lead.
According to the Polygon report, Fullbright lacks a dedicated HR department that contributed to the issues, with employees having to resort to anonymous digital Post-It notes and exit interviews to raise any issues.
A Fullbright representative has confirmed to Polygon that Gaynor stepped down from his role in March due to the “pattern of women leaving” the company. The representative explained that “it became clear that the steps that were already being taken to improve his interactions with the team were only yielding temporary results” and that “more drastic action was needed for the health of the team”.
A representative for the publisher, Annapurna Interactive, told Polygon that it supports the Open Roads team as it makes “changes to its structure”.
Steve Gaynor also released a public statement on Twitter about his departure, explaining that “stepping back has given me space and perspective to see how my role needs to change”.
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.
— Steve Gaynor (@SteveGaynorPDX) August 5, 2021
It’s uncertain when Open Roads will be released. While it was previously expected in 2021, several former employees have stated that production timelines have been disrupted by the “constant state of flux within Fullbright’s staff”, with a Fullbright representative telling Polygon that the game will no longer be released in 2021.
Elsewhere, Blizzard’s head of HR has left the company after allegations its HR department worked to cover up abuse within the company, and Ubisoft employees have asked management to “properly acknowledge [their] demands” after calling for industry-wide changes against harassment and abusive behaviour.