Steve Gaynor, the co-founder of Gone Home developer Fullbright Company, has stepped back from his role as creative lead and manager for Open Roads in an effort to “[foster] a work environment that is healthy and collaborative.”
According to a post on the official Open Roads Twitter, Gaynor will now only act as a writer on the project. This tweet went up with no other context about an hour before an extensive report on the matter by Polygon, which delved into the matter further, saying Gaynor was the subject of multiple allegations among the workers at Fullbright.
— Open Roads (@OpenRoadsGame) August 5, 2021
According to Polygon’s report, in the time since Open Roads began development in 2019, 15 employees have left the studio, and only six remain as of publication. 12 of these people said their leaving was due, at least in part, to Gaynor’s treatment of staff, women especially. Out of the 15 people that have since departed the company, 10 were women.
The work environment Gaynor helped create was described to Polygon as “controlling,” with several people feeling constantly undermined by Gaynor. Given his notoriety following the launch of Gone Home in 2013, several employees were worried about being blacklisted within the video game industry, but some chose to leave the industry after their experience at the studio. The ex-employees said they didn’t experience or witness any sexual harassment or explicit sexism, but that the inclusive reputation of the studio and its games meant the toxic work environment came from microaggressions toward women. According to a Fullbright representative, Gaynor stepped down back in March after the “pattern of women leaving” became apparent. Steps were being taken to improve the interactions between him and the workers, but they were “only yielding temporary results,” and “more drastic action was needed for the health of the team.”
According to the representative, Open Roads publisher Annapurna is acting as a mediator between the remaining developers and Gaynor, as he’s still acting as a writer on the project. As Polygon notes at the end of the story, multiple employees that left Fullbright still felt passion for the games they were making, but that Gaynor was treating the women on the team as he was while also writing stories about female characters like Open Road didn’t sit right with them.
“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 told Polygon. “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.”
Update: Gaynor has released his own statement on his personal Twitter.
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.