11 votes

How the founder’s toxic culture tore apart Fullbright, the studio behind Gone Home

13 comments

  1. [10]
    arp242
    Link
    One thing that strikes me about this article is that in spite of being somewhat lengthy, it doesn't really state what exactly the problem was very clearly; the closest it comes is: This seems to...

    One thing that strikes me about this article is that in spite of being somewhat lengthy, it doesn't really state what exactly the problem was very clearly; the closest it comes is:

    [T]he Fullbright work environment as “controlling,” a place in which staffers felt undermined and demeaned by Gaynor.

    [..]

    [C]onstant 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.

    [..]

    “His go-to weapon was to laugh at people’s opinions and embarrass them in front of other people.”

    This seems to be a just a bad manager, perhaps with some assholery mixed in. I've seen my fair share of these over the years.

    It's not entirely clear to me that he's the horrible sexist asshole that this paints him as in a thinly veiled not-very-subtle way. There are no anecdotes from male staffers (at least not explicitly), and if you read carefully it seems to me that he was like this in general, and not exclusively towards women. This makes a big difference, because one is active discrimination against people, the other one is just being bad at your job.

    Stuff like this:

    Some of the former female staffers said they often worried about how Gaynor characterized them to other employees.

    Well okay, I'm worried about a lot of things; everyone has this kind of general "social anxiety" from time to time. Sometimes it's justified, a lot of times it's not. The question is, is this actually the case? Did he actually do this? Or is it just reporting on people's social anxieties that we all have? Just because you feel something does not make this true.

    Indeed, the article itself adds some nuance with:

    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.

    It all seems very wishy-washy to me. Based on this article, this person does not seem like a great manager to me, based on the very thin description of the actual problems. But he also doesn't seem like he's unique targeting women, or that there's somehow a problem with women in particular.

    There's been a lot of talk about women in IT, and that's all very good, but at the same time we must be careful not to give credence to people's worst impulses, and to not validate every emotion and suspicion as being "the truth".

    14 votes
    1. [4]
      TheJorro
      (edited )
      Link Parent
      This may take some extra context that this article assumes people have. The problem isn't that he was overtly sexist or harassing, it's more that he is false. Normally this wouldn't be a big...
      • Exemplary

      This may take some extra context that this article assumes people have. The problem isn't that he was overtly sexist or harassing, it's more that he is false. Normally this wouldn't be a big problem for a manager in a company but Fullbright has positioned themselves as a very progressive, inclusive company from the outset, even before they released Gone Home.

      It started with this blog post during the height of the Penny Arcade Dickwolves controversy. Look at the date and message they're sending here. This is pre-Gamergate. This stance they had openly is why Fullbright and Gone Home were some of the main targets of that harassment campaign—Fullbright was everything those tiki-torchers hated. Gone Home getting all that praise and approval from the industry was like a beacon to their moth-like flocking.

      And Fullbright weathered that storm just fine. They kept their head above it and put out another game that was received well, while being identified as the developers that started a movement of new, interesting games that pulled in whole new audiences to the medium of gaming. All while maintaining their status as a vanguard of progressiveness.

      But this article indicates that that was a facade from Steve Gaynor. He's what some might describe as "fake woke", like those people on Twitter who can't wait to accuse someone of cultural appropriation without first checking if their target may actually be of that culture. Look at what this article is saying about the women that worked with him. That rate of attrition of one sex is concerning and a clear sign that something is wrong when the whole appeal of this company is progressive, feminist, and inclusive. This doesn't happen from a company or due to a person who actually believes and practices progressivism. That happens when someone uses it like a cudgel inappropriately.

      And some of these behaviours here have actually been on display for years. The bits about how women thought he was demeaning and laughed at opinions? That goes beyond social anxiety when we look at the full quote from the article about it because the explanation actually reveals quite a lot (my emphasis included):

      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.

      Let's go back to that PAX blog post: any amount of research shows that many of those claims are half-truths, taken out of context, or purposeful mischaracterizations of the actual situations or statements made. There were many good reasons to be aghast and upset in that situation without any need for embellishment like that but Steve Gaynor (the de facto voice and face of the company despite it being a four-person team) chose the Mean Girls approach of pretension and hypocrisy of tearing others down to build himself up.

      This is how he launched his company. So we can almost certainly imagine he does this privately as well. This is the kind of behaviour that's (finally) becoming intolerable and called out in most social media. It's no #MeToo movement, but it's a clearing of house that's been coming for a while. It's not even because he's an asshole, it's because he's a dishonest asshole perpetuating behaviour in a company that is supposed to be avoiding it, poisoning the culture that people thought they would be coming into. He is—in a word—toxic.

      And this is where the article isn't wishy-washy or vague about it. A lot of the concerns are pretty specific and in-line with a toxic leader:

      • high attrition of one sex
      • mass exodus of employees (multiple times?)
      • company leads actively hesitant to hire women due to worries of how they would be treated
      • no proper HR or escalation process for employees
      • employees notifying publishers of their exits, or asking the publisher for help
      • leaders feeling the need to protect staff from Gaynor

      This isn't some overblown case of people's feelings becoming truth. This is the result of a toxic leader. Maybe if this was Activision-Blizzard and Bobby Kotick, then nobody would care. But this is Fullbright, a company that was supposed to be the antithesis of that.

      10 votes
      1. [3]
        arp242
        Link Parent
        That women are more attentive to an assholery management style than men are could also explain why more women are leaving. This is not necessarily a bad thing, but also doesn't mean he's horrible...

        That women are more attentive to an assholery management style than men are could also explain why more women are leaving. This is not necessarily a bad thing, but also doesn't mean he's horrible to women in particular.

        I also really dislike the whole judging of a person's character and (re)-judging what he did based on just this, especially things that were said or done years ago. People are complex. Sometimes people with good hearths do bad things; sometimes for years. Everyone has their demons.

        3 votes
        1. [2]
          TheJorro
          (edited )
          Link Parent
          It's more than a little ridiculous to claim that women are both more sensitive to assholes, and more likely to leave a company over it. There are plenty of men who can detect and will leave a...

          It's more than a little ridiculous to claim that women are both more sensitive to assholes, and more likely to leave a company over it. There are plenty of men who can detect and will leave a company over that too. This is not a good enough blind assumption against the details we have been provided in this article.

          Further, this is not a situation where someone brought up a crass Tweet someone made 10 years ago and have never done again or have apologized for already. This is not a James Gunn situation. If someone did something years ago, then did it again now, and there's an article where multiple people have claimed they did it more times over the years in-between, then it's quite a leap to say they were a changed man and thus cannot be judged for something they did years ago. The only way to do that is to purposefully ignore that they exhibited multiple times over the course of those years.

          People may be complex but that does not excuse shitty behaviour causing a toxic workplace. That is actively causing harm, and it isn't acceptable. Especially in a company that portrayed, built itself on, and proudly proclaimed to be against things like that. Read another way: they lured people with the promise of safety and then didn't make them feel safe. "Let assholes be assholes" is a defense that should be reconsidered.

          7 votes
          1. arp242
            Link Parent
            I never said "let assholes be assholes" or excused anything; I essentially just said there's different kind of assholes, and that this distinction matters. How are you going to address a problem...

            I never said "let assholes be assholes" or excused anything; I essentially just said there's different kind of assholes, and that this distinction matters. How are you going to address a problem if you don't fully understand it? Reading it again, I can't say I learned anything from it, other than "assholes are bad for business", but I knew that already. With the best will in the world, I cannot call this article anything other than vague and lacking in important details and specifics. These things really matter, because sometimes things are as they appear at first sight, and sometimes they're not.

            It's more than a little ridiculous to claim that women are both more sensitive to assholes, and more likely to leave a company over it. There are plenty of men who can detect and will leave a company over that too. This is not a good enough blind assumption against the details we have been provided in this article.

            I forgot to put "on average" in there. I don't think that it's especially controversial to say that this is the case on average? It seems fairly clear that men on average have a higher tolerance for this kind of thing. Whether that's a good or bad thing and the causes for this are different matters altogether.

            1 vote
    2. [4]
      kfwyre
      Link Parent
      This feels very dismissive to me, and even somewhat selectively quoted. The sentence before that in the article is: And it's followed by a direct quote from a former employee: I think there's...

      Some of the former female staffers said they often worried about how Gaynor characterized them to other employees.

      Well okay, I'm worried about a lot of things; everyone has this kind of general "social anxiety" from time to time. Sometimes it's justified, a lot of times it's not. The question is, is this actually the case? Did he actually do this? Or is it just reporting on people's social anxieties that we all have? Just because you feel something does not make this true.

      This feels very dismissive to me, and even somewhat selectively quoted. The sentence before that in the article is:

      This was compounded, they said, by Gaynor’s tendency to disparage and discredit the contributions of female staffers in particular, oftentimes directly to leadership.

      And it's followed by a direct quote from a former employee:

      “His go-to weapon was to laugh at people’s opinions and embarrass them in front of other people.”

      I think there's enough here that we can say that the women's anxiety was a real thing happening for real reasons.

      8 votes
      1. [3]
        arp242
        Link Parent
        How do they know it was "female staffers in particular"? Did they measure this? I don't think these kind of questions are dismissive; I have no doubt people feel like this, but that does not make...

        How do they know it was "female staffers in particular"? Did they measure this? I don't think these kind of questions are dismissive; I have no doubt people feel like this, but that does not make it so. In particular very much implies that his behaviour was very similar across the board and not unique directed against women.

        Maybe everything in this article is true; there is no real way for us to know one way or the other. But I don't see it as very clear-cut at all. Serious allegations require something more substantial; of course I'm not demanding people start ticking this off on a scoreboard – that would be silly – but some clearer anecdotes really would help, everything in this is quite vague.

        The other quote talks about people, not woman. As I said, it's a very important distinction; one is being an asshole who is bad at their job, the other could potentially explode and mean you're branded as a sexist woman-hater for many years to come and mean you're unemployable in the industry for a long time.

        Imagine someone said "I feel Bob stole something from the inventory". Maybe he did, maybe he didn't, but your feelings could be wrong. The appropriate response would be to neither believe nor disbelieve anything, but rather say this isn't enough information and that you can't really do anything with that.

        2 votes
        1. [2]
          emnii
          (edited )
          Link Parent
          I think in your haste to discredit this report, you skimmed past the first paragraph too quickly. Here's a relevant quote: The reporter is reiterating what they've been told from their sources....

          I think in your haste to discredit this report, you skimmed past the first paragraph too quickly. Here's a relevant quote:

          Fifteen employees left the studio since development on Open Roads began in 2019; around six staff members remain. 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.

          The reporter is reiterating what they've been told from their sources. Their sources say the way Steve treated people, especially women, lead to their departure. It does not say that all of their sources are women who were mistreated by Steve.

          Their sources say 15 people have left the company over the course of two years with "at least 10" of those employees being women. It doesn't say how many current employees are men or women. It says that 15 people left and at least 10 of them were women. Whether Fullbright is exclusively employing women, or employing women more than men, isn't stated. But more women have left Fullbright than men. That's raw numbers.

          What's not said is that Steve is a raging sexist or a woman-hater. In fact, it says the contrary; that there is no explicit sexism or sexual harassment at Fullbright. What it does say is that a lot of people have left this very small company, that the vast majority of them cite the way Steve treats people is the reason they left, and that more women left than men.

          You can say there's no smoke, no fire, but Fullbright apparently has an issue with employee turnover, that issue stems from the founder's treatment of people, and the issue mostly affects women employed by Fullbright.

          edit: you seem to have read into this article that everyone contributing to it is a woman with an axe to grind, so try this thought experiment. Read it as if all of the reporters sources were men. That would be impossible given how many women have left the company, but try it. The sources wished to remain anonymous anyway, so it's not hard to assume that men and women would've given information. Do you still think the reporter is unfairly painting Steve as a woman-hater?

          7 votes
          1. arp242
            Link Parent
            If you think that my only goal is to "discredit" the report and that I didn't have the basic decency to actually carefully read the article – the first paragraph even! – then there is clearly...

            I think in your haste to discredit this report, you skimmed past the first paragraph too quickly. Here's a relevant quote

            If you think that my only goal is to "discredit" the report and that I didn't have the basic decency to actually carefully read the article – the first paragraph even! – then there is clearly nothing to discus. The implication is clear: there is no possible way to disagree on this other than being a fool who needs to have the article repeated to them. Okay, whatever 🤷

            2 votes
    3. NaraVara
      Link Parent
      In my experience a lot of things that are outwardly DEI issues are very often generally bad management issues in disguise. It's just that a cohesive team dynamic can paper over bad management and...

      In my experience a lot of things that are outwardly DEI issues are very often generally bad management issues in disguise. It's just that a cohesive team dynamic can paper over bad management and bad processes, but the people who get left out of those dynamics are often the ones who aren't an easy fit for the dominant culture of the team so they often end up eating all the shit that rolls down.

      1 vote
  2. Qis
    Link
    If you liked Gone Home so many years ago, try the much less adolescent Dear Esther!

    If you liked Gone Home so many years ago, try the much less adolescent Dear Esther!

    4 votes
  3. [2]
    nothis
    Link
    How can there be an entire article without one example of a concrete thing he said?

    How can there be an entire article without one example of a concrete thing he said?

    3 votes
    1. emnii
      Link Parent
      This article would reveal its sources to Gaynor if they quote something Gaynor said verbatim. He's the last person they would want to know who spoke to Polygon.

      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.

      This article would reveal its sources to Gaynor if they quote something Gaynor said verbatim. He's the last person they would want to know who spoke to Polygon.

      5 votes