Award-winning studio Fullbright, known for games like Gone Home and upcoming Open Roads, is now going through an internal crisis. Toxic environment and Fullbright co-founder Steve Gaynor’s controlling behavior eventually led to a once close-knit team losing its female employees and essentially falling apart.
On August 4, Polygon published an investigation, based on testimony from 12 former employees.
Key points from the report
- 15 staff members have left Fullbright since the development of Open Roads began in 2019. At least 10 of them are women. At one point it seemed like women were leaving Fullbright on a monthly basis.
- According to former employees, they expected a toxic culture at AAA companies, but not at a studio like Fullbright. However, constant reports of inappropriate behavior from one of the key devs led to the studio bleeding a lot of its talent over the years.
- According to Polygon, there are now around six people currently working at the studio. A small but once close-knit team almost fell apart. And the latest report cites Fullbright co-founder Steve Gaynor as the root of the problem.
- Former employees described the environment at the studio as controlling, saying that they were stifled by Gaynor’s “demeaning presence.” Although they didn’t experience or see sexual harassment, they subjected to constant micromanagement, belittling treatment, and other toxic behavior.
- According to a former employee, Gaynor reminded her of a “high school mean girl,” as he allegedly used to embarrass people in front of their colleagues. Other employees said that they have been gaslighted by Gaynor.
- To make matters worse, Fullbright had no HR staff, so employees couldn’t report Gaynor’s behavior. Some of them tried to confront him personally but it didn’t lead to any results.
- The studio hired a third-party consultant, with some employees leaving anonymous notes about the necessary changes.
- Some staff members tried to reach Annapurna and report the toxic environment. One employee described her time at Fullbright as the “worst professional experience [she’d] had in games.”
- In March, Gaynor stepped down from his role as creative lead on Open Roads. “My leadership style was hurtful to people that worked at Fullbright, and for that I truly apologize,” he said in a statement, adding that he needs to improve and rethink his relationship to the work at the studio.
- Gaynor, however, still works as the game’s writer, although he doesn’t closely collaborate with the rest of the team on a daily basis. Annapurna acts as a mediator between the developers and Gaynor.
- “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,” a former employee said.
- As a result, the future of Open Roads now seems hazy. The game was expected to come out in 2021, but it most likely won’t happen due to the mass exodus of the staff and internal problems.
- The morale at the studio is now low, as the toxic environment affected almost all team members. However, some employees are still passionate about working at Fullbright.
Fullbright was founded in 2012 by three people (including Gaynor) who previously worked on the Minerva’s Den DLC to BioShock 2. Its first game Gone Home, which tells a story of a young girl returning home only to find her family missing, won multiple awards, including “Best Debut” at the 2014 BAFTA Game Awards.