Fullbright co-founder Steve Gaynor has stepped down as the creative lead on the studio’s upcoming game Open Roads. Gaynor’s move follows complaints about his leadership, and particularly his treatment of women.
Gaynor stepped down as lead back in March, and will remain as a writer on the game. However, he will have no day-to-day interaction with the team, with publisher Annapurna acting as a mediator between Gaynor and the studio.
The complaints against Gaynor are laid out in a report published by Polygon, which reports an attrition problem at Fullbright – particularly among women, who were leaving the company on a seemingly monthly basis. According to the report, 15 employees have left the studio since work on Open Roads began in 2019, and just six staff members remain.
While former employees state that they did not witness or experience sexual harassment or explicit sexism, they nonetheless report a toxic culture perpetuated by Gaynor’s “controlling” and “demeaning” leadership style.
According to the report, women at Fullbright experienced constant micromanagement, having to get even the smallest details approved by Gaynor. Additionally, Gaynor was known to disparage and discredit the contributions of female staff, often directly to leadership. Gaynor would laugh at other people’s opinions, and assert his control over Open Roads, believing it to be his game, not the team’s.
“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,” said one former employee to Polygon. “His go-to weapon was to laugh at people’s opinions and embarrass them in front of other people.”
With no dedicated HR team at the company, outside of the occasional third-party consultant, employees were sometimes forced to confront Gaynor directly. When these attempts were unsuccessful, some employees took to leaving anonymous digital post-it notes on the company server in late 2020.
“This sprint marks the 4th woman to leave Fullbright in the last year,” wrote one employee. “How do we ensure we are creating an environment that results in women feeling respected. HR, accountability, training, something needs to change. We all have a part to play in creating a safe working environment, change doesn’t happen without discomfort.”
A Fullbright representative confirmed to Polygon that Gaynor had stepped down as creative lead in March 2021, due to the “pattern of women leaving” the company. Additionally, the representative added that Annapurna is “aware of the situation at Fullbright and has been instrumental in helping the Open Roads team make changes to its structure.”
Gaynor meanwhile issued his own statement:
“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.”