Steve Gaynor, co-founder of The Fullbright Company which developed Gone Home and Tacoma, has stepped back as creative lead and manager over allegations of fostering a work culture detrimental to employees.
After reports of Gaynor perpetuating a toxic work environment surfaced via a report from Polygon, Fullbright issued a statement noting that Gaynor stepped away from his joint roles back in March of this year.
While he will remain a writer on the studio's upcoming game Open Roads, he will not have day-to-day interactions with staffers. The game's publisher, Annapurna Interactive, has been tasked with acting as a mediator between the studio and Gaynor.
According to the report, Gaynor created an undesirable situation at the company due to his management style, and his main target seemed to be women who worked at the studio. This caused women to leave the company on what seemed like a monthly basis.
Various employees were concerned about the exodus and left anonymous digital Post-It notes on the company server in late 2020. One note stated that four women had left Fullbright within the last year, and said the studio needs to ensure it was "creating an environment that results in women feeling respected."
Exit interviews conducted by department leads when employees left the studio mentioned the toxic work environment constructed by Gaynor. While there were no reports of sexual harassment or "explicit sexism," it was stated that he was “controlling” and had a “demeaning” attitude, sometimes going so far as to "laugh at people’s opinions and embarrass them in front of other people.” It was also claimed Gaynor constantly micromanaged women as well as belittled and besmirched their contributions.
“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,” a 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 the assessment and stated that due to the lack of a human resources department, staffers were forced to deal with Gaynor directly.
After the Polygon report surfaced, Gaynor issued a statement regarding the allegations, admitting his "leadership style was hurtful."
"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 the 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."
Originally set to be released in 2021, Open Roads is no longer expected to release this year. As it stands, there are only six remaining employees at the studio, as 15 staffers have quit since work began on the game in 2019.