Update: Scavengers Studio have since responded to the allegations, apologising for "the harm caused" and committing to doing better for their staff. Read their full statement below. Original post from 26/01/2021.
Last year, the makers of the Darwin Project, Scavengers Studio, announced Season, a lovely-looking bicycle adventure about a traveller "recording the last moments of different cultures before they’re washed away." It looks like a beautiful and relaxing experience, but a new report paints a dark picture about what's allegedly been going on during its development. Multiple employees have accused the studio's creative director of sexual and verbal harassment, and described the studio as a hostile and toxic work environment.
According to a report by GamesIndustry.biz, current and former staff claim the behaviour of Scavengers Studio's co-founder and former CEO, Simon Darveau, contributed to a "boys' club" culture in which women were frequently belittled and infantilised by their male colleagues. Several employees who spoke to GI.biz also allege that many women were victims of sexist comments, inappropriate behaviour and harassment.
The sources describe one incident during a company party in 2019 where they say Darveau was "in full predator mode", allegedly groping multiple female employees. They add that one of the women he reportedly harassed quit the following Monday, while another left the studio shortly after. According to the report, this incident was enough that an investigation took place, though the results were allegedly never made clear to staff. They say the outcome was that the studio cut back on alcohol being available at events, and Darveau would no longer drink at work events at all.
"It felt very frustrating to put that on the back of people being drunk, because Darveau was still pretty shitty before he drank," one staff member who was at the meeting told GI.biz. "It felt like an excuse."
While the report details multiple incidents of sexism and harassment, GI.biz's sources say that going to HR wasn't really an option, because the team was simply too small for dedicated HR. As a result, conflict resolution fell to co-founder and current CEO, Amélie Lamarche, who was reportedly in a romantic relationship with Darveau up until the last few years. Everyone GI.biz spoke to flagged this as a conflict of interest, with some of them claiming Lamarche made an effort to protect Darveau.
"Darveau… has lots of charisma and he gets away with a lot," one source said. "But [Lamarche]... is actually worse. Because she covered a lot of what he did or what he does."
GI.biz writes that nearly everyone they spoke to said the problems at the studio were ultimately the faults of Davreau, Lamarche "and the handful of favourites they enabled." In particular, there are concerns within the studio about the future of Season, since Davreau recently began working on it (a decision the sources say was made by Lamarche).
Some sources accuse Davreau of being a disorganised leader who doesn't listen to others, and say the game has already seen "a considerable shift and focus in scope" since he started working on it.
"Now I don't even know what's been announced because it's so different from what we had planned," one source stated. "I don't even recognize the game."
Others who know less about the content of the game want to shed some light on the dissonance between Season's cozy, inclusive pitch, and the alleged toxic work environment it's being made in.
"If half of what [I know of Season] is true then the game is going to be great, and I do not want to remove that from all my friends who are working on it," another stated. "But I also do not feel comfortable with Scavengers being praised as a fun, cool, indie, inclusive place."
Scavengers Studio responded to GameIndustry.biz with the following statement, as well as detailing the measures they've put in place to "prevent harassment situations and maintain a safe environment".
"Scavengers Studio appreciates that there have been situations during its rapid growth and takes the position that any type of harassment is unwelcomed and unacceptable and takes any complaints in this respect very seriously. You should note that Scavengers Studio has taken positive steps to look into its culture to see what aspects need to be adjusted," they said.
"In early 2019, Simon Darveau was replaced as CEO by Lamarche who took full control of the company. As a new female CEO, Lamarche started to build a mid-management team composed of competent team members to continue to lead the company in its mission of creating new gaming experiences with very strong and innovative empathetic twists. The new management team has since then recreated a sense of calm and happiness in the workplace where talents are gathered around interesting and dynamic projects and where differences are embraced."
The measures they claim to have taken to make the workplace better include setting up a harassment prevention policy, providing harassment prevention training, and implementing a complaints process, amongst other things. GI.biz say these correspond with what their sources told them, though their sources said these were unclear and ineffective.
You can read the whole report on GamesIndustry.biz.
Update: Scavengers Studio's Amélie Lamarche responded to these allegations last night in a post on the developers' website. Here's the full statement:
"Following the toxic workplace allegations brought forward in the media, Scavengers Studio wishes to apologize for the harm caused. Allegations such as these are serious, and we are committed to doing better for our employees, our fans and our partners.
"Our company held an emergency Board of Directors meeting to discuss the best course of action moving forward. Effective immediately:
- Simon Darveau is indefinitely suspended from all responsibilities within the company and from the Board of Directors.
- An external auditing firm will conduct an independent workplace assessment and audit of our culture and practices.
- Daisy Lilly Best, currently Director of Operations, is appointed as Chief Operating Officer and will be reporting directly to the board of directors for the duration of the audit to ensure complete transparency and accountability.
- The audit report will be shared in its entirety with the team and presented by Daisy to the board for further actions to be taken.
- To ensure a transparent, fair and unbiased process, I offered to temporarily step down from my role as Chief Executive for the duration of the audit. I will remain available to support the studio’s normal course of business.
"In the meantime, we ask for the community’s patience and understanding as we go through this process. The Season team has poured their hearts into the project. We have full confidence in their creative direction and will continue to support the amazing work of our talented team."