Rocksteady Studios, the creators the Batman: Arkham games and the newly-announced Suicide Squad: Kill The Justice League, on Friday night issued a response to the week’s reports of sexual harrassment and discrimination. These allegations stemmed from a 2018 letter of complaint written to management by most of their female employees, one of whom felt the company hadn’t done enough since then and shared the letter with a newspaper. Rocksteady say they investigated all formal complaints and disciplined or terminated some staff back then, and now have called in a independent third-party to help investigate any potential further complaints.
In 2018, 10 of Rocksteady’s 16 female employees (at a company of over 200 people) signed a letter to management raising complaints about sexual harrassment and other inappropriate behaviour. One signatory felt the company hadn’t done enough since then and shared the letter with The Guardian, claiming that some of the women had left the company due to management’s inaction. After that, the former senior writer of Rocksteady’s Suicide Squad to say she had drafted the letter, that she felt pressure not to rock the boat, and that she believed she lost her job as a result of it. At this point, Rocksteady should have responded with their own public statement addressing the matter. Having been contacted by The Guardian before publication, they had days to prepare a response. Instead, Rocksteady’s bizarre and inappropriate first public response was to post a new “unsolicited letter” sent by seven of the eight remaining signatories of that 2018 letter.
In this letter, the women said they wished the matter hadn’t been made public, that they felt the Guardian report was not a fair representation of the issues, and that the company had improved more than suggested. Two days later, 28 hours before before Suicide Squad’s big announcement, Rocksteady management posted their own statement on Twitter on Friday.
“In response to the initial communication, we met with all our female staff, we listened, and we dealt with the issues raised,” they said. “All formal complaints were thoroughly investigated, addressed appropriately, and a number of serious measures were taken in response to the issues that were surfaced, including discipline or termination of staff.
“Since then, we have introduced new ways of ensuring we are making good on our commitment to inclusion, such as asking all female staff to provide feedback about the portrayal and behaviour of characters in the games we make. We are dedicated to listening and improving, and have employed specialists to help further enhance equity and representation at Rocksteady.”
Seeing as talk of discipline only covers cases where formal complaints were filed, they say they’ve also called in an independent third-party to confidentially speak with any employees who might have other issues to raise. They also plan to reach out to every former female employee who has left in the past two years, which is a questionable move. If someone left Rocksteady because of something they suffered there, as the Guardian report said at least one did, they might want to be left alone and not raise that again.
I still think Rocksteady were wrong to post the letter from female employees before making their own statement. This whole situation is Rocksteady’s responsibility. It’s their fault that the studio was in such a state that female employees felt a need to write to management in 2018. It was their responsibility to change then. It is their responsibility to lead their public defence now. If they have improved, that’s grand. I understand that these seven women wanted to talk about their own experiences and I support that, but it shouldn’t have become Rocksteady’s first response. My criticism is of Rocksteady’s management, not the new letter’s writers. By holding it up in a ‘Look, most of the women say we’re good now’ way, Rocksteady initially deflected the matter while pitting women against each other.
In recent months, hundreds of people (mostly women) have stepped forward with allegations of sexual harrassment, discrimination, and abuse against many video game developers, streamers, YouTubers, PR people, and press. Ubisoft were the subject of many accusations, with reports alleging that the company not only didn’t take it seriously, they actively protected high-ranking employees. Ubisoft vowed to fully investigate and fix their culture, and have already pushed out several executives. The person who shared the Rocksteady letter with The Guardian said she was partially inspired by Ubisoft’s recent changes. It’ll be years before it’s clear how meaningful initiatives and vows from the industry actually are.