Alexis Kennedy, co-founder of Failbetter and writer and designer on Fallen London, Sunless Sea and Cultist Simulator, has been accused of being an abuser and “well-known predator” by several prominent women in the games industry, including an allegation from a former colleague at Failbetter. The allegations came as part of a recent wave of similar stories shared on Twitter, among them allegations made against composer Jeremy Soule and developer Alec Holowka. Kennedy has denied the allegations on Twitter and via a statement given to RPS, while Failbetter say they “believe and stand with everyone who has come forward.”
Kennedy is one of the best known writers in the games industry. He co-founded Failbetter in 2009 and led the creation of Fallen London and Sunless Sea before departing in 2016. He then co-founded Weather Factory, who released the commercially successful Cultist Simulator last year. He’s also written under contract on Stellaris, a Dragon Age project, and as a freelancer on a cancelled project for Telltale Games, and is a regular speaker at industry events such as GDC.
On August 28th, Meg Jayanth, primary writer of 80 Days, tweeted a long thread in which she alleged that Kennedy was a “well-known predator”, and that his behaviour shows a “pattern of abuse perpetrated by an older man who uses his professional, financial and social power to exploit women sexually + professionally.”
“If you have not heard this before it is because Alexis Kennedy has retaliated against people who have spoken out against him in the past, and many he has harmed the most are rightly afraid to come forward,” wrote Jayanth. “He has frightened and threatened a lot of women into silence.” Jayanth declined to comment for this story.
Kennedy denied the allegations to Jayanth via Twitter, writing “I deny this. I have had a small number of fully consensual relationships with other people in the industry. Everything else here is a malicious misrepresentation. I have taken legal advice and I am making a police complaint about what seems to be a campaign of harassment.”
Later on the 28th, Failbetter writer and editor Olivia Wood alleged in another Twitter thread that she was in a relationship with Kennedy for two years while both worked at Failbetter, and that, “He was my line manager the entire time. It was kept a secret from the whole company, including the board.”
Wood claims that during their relationship, Kennedy cheated on her “with people brought to company events, and who were wanting to work with the company,” and that he broke up with her “by messaging me that he’d cheated on me with a colleague (also his direct report) at the office Halloween party.”
Wood further alleges that Kennedy’s “attitude towards me and my work changed the moment I was no longer his partner.”
“I was shouted at and sworn at in front of colleagues; I was given opportunities – only to have my work belittled. I was kept anxious and uncertain. I was made to feel that my only recourse was to leave the company, but that I would not be able to get work anywhere else in the industry.” Wood says that she had to request that Kennedy no longer be her line manager after the relationship ended. A later tweet alleges that, “When Alexis left the company, he asked for reconciliation, stating that he ‘didn’t want to do anything out of hurt or spite’. I took this to be a threat against my person or my career, and decided to protect both by keeping quiet.” Wood declined to comment when contacted for this story.
After these two Twitter threads went viral, a number of other women in and out of the games industry tweeted support, with some alleging that they had experienced what they described as “boundary-testing” behaviour in their own interactions with Kennedy. Emily Short, who is currently the Chief Product Officer at Spirit AI and who has worked as a freelance writer for Failbetter (and also for RPS), alleged via Twitter that Kennedy made numerous inappropriate and sometimes sexual remarks in ways that made her uncomfortable. Other women who Kennedy arranged to meet or sought out at events, or who had worked with him briefly, alleged via Twitter and in email exchanges with RPS that they’d experienced similar, with one describing the behaviour as “raising flags”.
Allegations first surfaced about Kennedy’s behaviour earlier last week, when an anonymous Twitter account called ‘AbuseIndustry’ wrote on August 27th that Kennedy had been “abusing” women in the industry for years. The anonymous account has since been deleted, but Kennedy responded on Twitter the same day to deny the allegations, saying at the time that “As far as I know, this is a malicious lie and there is no actual information about it.”
After seeing that exchange with the anonymous account – and prior to the public allegations made by others – I contacted Kennedy via email for further comment on the subject. “I haven’t ever been involved in anything even remotely non-consensual,” Kennedy told RPS via email.
“There are one or more exes who I have had less than amicable break ups with, which is not a rarity or newsworthy. I have heard from various individuals that one ex has been spreading horrendous rumours about me for years. The situation is muddied because at one point I was quite promiscuous, and some of my affairs were with industry people. But I know I never even hinted that someone would get professional benefits for personal benefits, and I am absolutely confident that I have never been involved with anyone whose consent was anything less than clear and enthusiastic. There are two sides to every story, and I’ve been involved in messy relationships where I and other people had our feelings hurt, but absolutely nothing that crossed that line.”
Kennedy also wrote that at this point he’d only ever heard “two specific allegations” made against him. One, that he was Lottie Bevan’s boss at Failbetter at the time they started dating, which he admits and says he has been open about before, referring to an article in PCGamesN in which he and Bevan discuss the topic. “The other, weirdly minor, allegation, is that I remained her direct manager even after we started dating, and that’s actually provably untrue.”
“If someone wants to provide a specific allegation, I really, really, really want to know, so I can refute it.”
I reached out to Failbetter for a response to Kennedy’s statements. A company representative refuted Kennedy’s assertion that he was not Lottie Bevan’s manager during their relationship, alleging that Failbetter’s company records show that Kennedy continued to act as Bevan’s line manager until changes were made in May 2016 in preparation for his departure from the company.
I contacted Kennedy again after Jayanth, Wood and Short’s Twitter threads went public and he directed me to his lawyer, who declined to comment on his behalf. Kennedy denies the allegations of abusive or coercive behaviour.
This isn’t the first time that Kennedy’s personal life has been in the press. In December 2017, the aforementioned PCGamesN article profiled Kennedy’s working and romantic relationship with Lottie Bevan. The two met while working together at Failbetter, later co-founded Cultist Sim developer Weather Factory together, and are now engaged. In describing the first time the two socialised as a pair, Kennedy told PCGamesN that he brought up the topic of power dynamics in work relationships, and how both parties need to be aware of status. “I wasn’t trying to make the point that there could never be anything between us, but I was obviously worrying about it constantly,” said Kennedy.
The article states that it was at a Failbetter Halloween party where “the pair, emboldened by booze, made their feelings clear to each other. Kennedy immediately made the decision that his co-founder should be assigned as Bevan’s manager.” Bevan is later quoted saying that “Failbetter, who peg themselves as this empathetic, liberal company, clearly didn’t know how to deal with [the relationship].” Olivia Wood is not mentioned in the article.
Following the allegations by Wood and others, the official Failbetter Twitter account tweeted that they “believe and stand with everyone who has come forward to speak out about Alexis Kennedy tonight.” They also tweeted that “Alexis left Failbetter three years ago. We no longer have any ties with him personally, creatively or financially.” A number of participants in Weather Factory’s mentorship program have also ended their involvement in light of the allegations.
The allegations against Kennedy were made alongside those made against several others within the games industry, including those made last week against Jeremy Soule, Alec Holowka and Splash Damage’s Luc Shelton. Alec Holowka died on Saturday. Other allegations include those made against Monument Valley’s Ken Wong, and Oculus co-founder Michel Antonov.