A new report by Polygon has revealed that development on Fullbright’s upcoming game, Open Roads, has fallen behind schedule due to the state of the company at this time. Multiple allegations involving Co-Founder Steve Gaynor and his alleged treatment of employees resulted in a mass exodus at the company. It was announced that Steve Gaynor has left his position as Creative Lead and Manager of Open Roads and has transitioned to the role of a writer.
— Open Roads (@OpenRoadsGame) August 5, 2021
Talking to Polygon, 12 former employees of Fullbright said that they left partially due to Gaynor’s alleged behavior towards workers, specifically women on the team. Multiple employees described the work environment as “controlling.” According to the employees, there were no issues of alleged sexual harassment or explicit sexism but it was a place where staffers allegedly felt undermined and demeaned by Gaynor. The employees were worried about being blacklisted from the industry due to his status as the Co-Founder of a beloved indie darling. Fullbright created Gone Home and Tacoma. The employees said that the studio’s alleged toxic culture hid behind the veneer of inclusivity, as women were allegedly repeatedly broken down by microaggressions.
Former employees described their time at the studio as close-knit and supportive of each other but they also said that they felt stifled by Gaynor’s “controlling” and “demeaning presence” who allegedly saw Open Road as his game and not the team’s game. Women in leadership positions told Polygon that they experienced constant micromanagement that made it difficult for them to do their jobs, having to get the smallest details approved by Gaynor. They said that this was compounded by Gaynor’s tendency to disparage and discredit the contributions of female staffers in particular, oftentimes directly to leadership. Some of the former female staffers said that they worried how Gaynor characterized them to other employees.
One former employee in a leadership position told Polygon, “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. His go-to weapon was to laugh at people’s opinions and embarrass them in front of other people.” Six other employees corroborated this characterization. Employees told Polygon that they wanted to report his behavior but “there’s no infrastructure to escalate,” a former employee said.
A former employee she saw the GamesIndustry.biz report on Scavengers Studio. The report was about the studio’s Creative Director being accused of belittling, screaming at, and groping employees. The former employee approached Gaynor and said that a similar report could be about him. “[The team was] already in consultation training for communication for the team due to [another former employee] quitting because of him,” she said. “And I told him, I have these concerns. When I read this article, I saw a lot of parallels. Not one-to-one, but a lot of parallels.”
There were numerous attempts by the employees to raise their concerns from anonymous digital Post-It notes to exit interviews to report the studio culture that Gaynor allegedly perpetuated. At least two employees reached out to Annapurna Interactive who is partnering with Fullbright to publish Open Roads. One employee wrote, “My personal experience of having Steve as my manager was a toxic and unhealthy dynamic. I can confidently say that I do not want my career to be associated with him.” Another employee wrote in a letter to Annapurna and described her time at Fullbright as “the worst professional experience [she’d] had in games.”
Other former employees believed that the behavior at Fullbright was dangerous. Fullbright’s games focus on female characters and tend to attract women as prospective employees. Employees recalled that you might expect a toxic culture at triple-A studios and not at a studio like Fullbright, but these allegations were reported consistently and lead to the studio losing a large portion of its staff over the years.
As Fullbright had to hire new employees, the leads remaining at the company were hesitant to hire the qualified, talented women out of fear of how they’d be treated by Gaynor. Former employees saw what they perceived as a pattern of young women, early in their careers, being broken down by their time under Gaynor. Multiple sources told Polygon that they feared more promising talent would be driven out of the industry, like the others. Some former employees felt they “changed” following their time at Fullbright. Many questioned their abilities and have sought out therapy to deal with the trauma associated with the development on Open Roads and company culture. Former employees in leadership described “intense guilt” in leaving the company, “leaving [the] team to fend for themselves.”
A Fullbright representative confirmed that Gaynor stepped down in March due to the “pattern of women leaving” the company. “Steve stepped down in March 2021 after it became clear that the steps that were already being taken to improve his interactions with the team were only yielding temporary results,” the representative said. “More drastic action was needed for the health of the team.” The representative also said that “Annapurna is aware of the situation at Fullbright and has been instrumental in helping the Open Roads team make changes to its structure.” A representative for Annapurna told Polygon that it supports the Open Roads team. Steve Gaynor also released a statement, saying
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.
Open Roads was expected to be released sometime in 2021 but several former employees told Polygon that they think there’s no way that will happen, noting that production timelines had been disrupted by convoluted decision-making processes and the constant state of flux within Fullbright’s staff. A Fullbright representative told Polygon that the game will not be out in 2021.