What Actually Happenedfeatured

The story so far:

My name’s Alexis Kennedy. With my fiancée, Lottie Bevan, I run a very small game development studio out of our London flat. I used to own and run another studio, Failbetter Games, which was a little bigger (about half a dozen employees for most of my time there, ballooning to seventeen by the time I left in 2016) but was also generally indie and cash-strapped. We’ve done some good work and made some waves, but we’re not powerful people.

Three weeks ago, an anonymous Twitter account (@Abuseindustry, below) began making false allegations that I’d abused women in the games industry. Over the next day, a number of other people picked up the allegations and began to retweet them or add their own.

The allegations were that I have been working for years to recruit, gaslight, blackmail and abuse women – an unspecified number, but I’ve seen ‘a multitude’, ‘many’ and ‘dozens’.

I still can’t quite believe I have to say this, but all these claims are nonsense. I made an immediate denial; at our lawyers’ advice, we both got off the Internet; then, as often happens to people who’ve gone through something like this, I completely fell apart.

I’ve spent the last few weeks recovering and reflecting, and now, I’m ready to talk about what I actually did and didn’t do; and then I’m going to talk about what I think happened here.

All of this was a really nasty shock, but not a complete surprise to either Lottie or me. Since 2016 we’ve heard, repeatedly, that one or more people have been determinedly spreading ugly but non-specific rumours about me, and this seems to be the culmination of that. At least now we have some daylight on it, I can respond.

The rest of this post goes into a lot of detail about my private life. I don’t like that at all, but I can’t see any other way to respond to these vague, horribly damaging allegations except being extremely damn open about it all. And I want to be able to post this and then just link to it any time in the next ten years that someone asks about it.

But that means the post is going to be really long. So here are the headlines.

  • I haven’t engaged in any kind of abuse or predation, ever.
  • I did have a romantic relationship with Olivia Wood while we were working together, and while I was her direct manager. This was a real mistake on my part. I owned that at the time and I own it now.
  • But the circumstances were very different than Olivia has publicly suggested. We started a relationship over a year before we worked together. She suggested that I hire her. She explicitly requested that the relationship be kept secret. All of these facts are provable.
  • Again, all allegations of abuse, including any I haven’t yet seen, are false.

What I actually did and didn’t do

I’ve had a number of messages along the lines of: ‘perhaps you may have thought you weren’t doing harm, but you should take some time to consider it and perhaps work through it.’ This is a good and fair point. 

So over the last three weeks I’ve done just that: I’ve reflected, I’ve considered, and I’ve talked frankly to my friends and family, including my ex-wife, who describes herself as ‘neither a friend or fan’ of mine. Here’s my conclusion, and I am indebted to my very directly spoken ex-wife Ana for its phrasing. She read all the allegations, snorted, and told me:

“Look, you’re a bit of a dick, but you’re no abuser. And you can quote me on that if you like.”

A little bit more detail on how I’ve been a bit of a dick, and how I haven’t been an abuser

At Failbetter Games, the studio I founded and then ran, I did have an affair with a direct report of mine, Olivia Wood, as she announced on Twitter. This was quite a serious error of judgement on my part, and it ended badly, as relationships sometimes do. I take responsibility for my part in the bad ending. But Olivia left out some important details.

First, the relationship began in summer 2013, a very long time before we ever worked together, when Olivia was in a completely different industry – as an on-off, casual, explicitly and consensually non-monogamous relationship that was purely platonic for long periods. I didn’t initiate or engineer a relationship with her while she was my report, as she implied. I only became Olivia’s line manager in March 2015 and the relationship unambiguously and completely ended in October 2015. 

I hired Olivia at her suggestion. She wanted to cross over from publishing to games, and when we used to go running together every Sunday, she would say ‘Give me a job’ and grin, and I would tell her I didn’t need an editor; but then in fact one day I did need a bit of freelance editing resource, and she did have the necessary skills, so I offered her the gig. Later it made sense to upgrade her from a freelance to a permanent position, so I did.

About the secrecy of our relationship. Olivia specifically asked me not to reveal the relationship to anyone, because (she said) she didn’t want anyone to have the impression she’d slept her way into the job. After I ended things, she made it explicit that she still didn’t want the relationship to be public knowledge, to avoid giving that impression. So I didn’t reveal it.

And look: she really didn’t sleep her way into the job. I never have and never would hire that way and I don’t think she would have accepted a job on that basis. She’s a good editor and I needed an editor and the suggestion of bringing her in was a good one.

I do want to own up to a couple of significant mistakes. 

First, of course I should have unambiguously and permanently cut off any sexual element to the friendship when she became my direct report. But before I was her line manager, she started working with Failbetter as a freelancer, on one day a week, and freelance work didn’t seem enough reason to either of us to end things. Then over the next couple of months she did a little more work, and ultimately we offered her a permanent role.

Even then the relationship was so casual and intermittent (until right at the end) that it seemed benign. The company was at that point a half-dozen people in T-shirts in one corner of a shared office, and everything was very informal.  So I’m saying this partly to explain myself, but also because I bet that someone who reads this will be having a benign-seeming secret thing with someone at work. ‘Someone’ – who am I kidding? Hundreds of you will. People meet in workplaces, relationships are messy. I’m not going to tell you what to do, but I am going to say this: imagine what would happen if, a half-dozen years from now, your lover decides to bring it up on social media.

It wasn’t predatory or abusive, but it was an irresponsible blurring of professional and private boundaries, and it was my mistake.

Secondly, Olivia had always been definite that we were friends first and we could just ‘delete the aspects that were datey’ if we went back to being just friends… but her one clear condition was that I didn’t get involved with anyone else at work. And as the whole world now knows, what happened next is that Lottie and I fell hard for each other, and I embarked on an emphatically monogamous relationship with Lottie (and changed the line of reporting straight off, because I wasn’t going to make that mistake twice). We’re still together, four years later. I broke things off quickly and clumsily with Olivia, and I broke my explicit commitment not to date anyone else at work. Both of those things were wrong. But that’s my business and Olivia’s, not Twitter’s.

It’s fair to say there was tension on both sides afterwards, but I apologised, I made amends, and Olivia let me know that I was forgiven. I didn’t abuse Olivia or belittle her. It’s difficult to prove a negative like that, but I can say that I transferred her to another manager very quickly, and I approved a promotion and a pay rise for her later that year. Everyone was trying to be as professional as possible.

As it happened, I left the company (which I owned) only six months later, in May 2016.

Meg Jayanth’s allegations

The only person besides Olivia Wood who has claimed that I abused her is Meg Jayanth. I can’t actually find any specific allegations of abuse from Meg, only vague claims of general predatory behaviour, and the fact that we had fully consensual sex. We did have sex; there was nothing coercive or abusive about the relationship.

So here’s our whole sexual history: I slept with Meg twice, in 2011, during my first separation from my ex-wife. Both times were casual and good-natured. She is or was in a polyamorous relationship with her partner, and I understand he was aware of our encounters.

For what it’s worth, I wasn’t ‘senior’ to Meg in the industry. By a quirk of fate, we’d both started out in mid 2009, two years before – that was why we started talking. By 2011, she was a BBC games producer and I was running a struggling startup of four people. Our careers have generally paralleled each other since then.

We remained friends, and kissed perhaps twice more over the ensuing years; she and said partner invited me to their ceremony of commitment (not a wedding, but like a wedding); eventually when she tried to kiss me, I demurred because I was back with my now-ex-wife at the time, and that was the end of it. Then I introduced her to Lottie. She’s done a couple of bits of freelance work for Failbetter, both while and after I worked there, but that was long after we slept together. 

Emily Short’s allegations

The last set of allegations that I’ll mention are Emily Short’s. She’s accused me of behaving in a way that isn’t abusive or predatory but that made her feel uncomfortable.

I don’t think this is a fair accusation. But when someone says, of conversations five or six years ago, that you made them feel uncomfortable, it’s a really difficult thing to respond to. So I’m going to try to talk about the context, and then to respond.

Emily did bits of freelance work for me, on and off, for six years. We often saw each other socially – the last time, months after I’d left Failbetter, was when she and her husband came to a dinner party at my place. I never had any authority over her at all.

For all this time, from my perspective, there was never even a hint of anything remotely sexual or romantic. For years I profoundly admired her work and talent, but in an undeviatingly platonic way. She was an early creative influence on me, and my talks and blog posts all through that time are peppered with references to her work. I liked, and was a little intimidated by, her.

But in 2016, I thought I had begun to sense a chilliness in the tone of Emily’s emails. I asked her (over email) if something was wrong. She didn’t say anything about the allegations she’s made now, but she did say among other things that she thought I found her ‘mockable’, mentioned a couple of (emphatically non-sexual) things about our interactions that she hadn’t liked, and asked for ‘a greater distance in our interactions for the time being’. I sent a mortified and apologetic response assuring her that I found her anything but mockable, and I never contacted her again. I hoped I’d hear back from her, but I never did.

Then over the next three years I started getting similar chilliness from people who’d started to work with Emily. All non-specific, none of it anything I could respond to or talk to anyone about, but it looks now like I really wasn’t imagining it.

I know men sometimes do things that make women uncomfortable, and I know it can be difficult for women to say that to men, and I think it’s fair to expect men to examine their behaviour. But I also think it’s fair that if you have a six-year friendship with someone, if they’ve met your child and eaten at your table, and you email them and ask really carefully whether there’s a problem, it’s reasonable to expect them to raise it. 

So the only guess I can make is this: in 2016, someone told Emily something untrue that made me sound irredeemably dangerous and vile, and she re-interpreted everything I had done in light of that. I don’t understand what has happened, but that is the closest I can get to making sense of it.

Every other allegation about me that I have seen is total nonsense

The claim that I have been methodically seducing and abusing ‘a multitude’ of young women, like some sort of Svengali Dracula, and threatening them with retaliation if they go public – this claim is so daft that I find it difficult to grapple with seriously, but here we go: 

I have some professional reputation in the industry for the work I’ve done, but I have no power to speak of. I run a microstudio out of my living room with my partner. I couldn’t get anyone fired, let alone end anyone’s career. Portraying me as a shadowy cult abuse mastermind would be silly if it wasn’t so horrible.

I’ve seen claims that there is a much larger number of women ready to come forward, but that I am known for my retaliatory behaviour, and they daren’t. This is also nonsense. I think the most retaliatory thing I’ve ever done is ‘write a slightly pointed subtweet’, except in Olivia’s case, where my retaliation was ‘approve her promotion and then leave the company.’

My departure from Failbetter Games was entirely my choice

I’ve seen insinuations that I was forced out of Failbetter by the current board because of some sort of cloud related to all this business. This is false, provably so. I owned the company and I appointed the board.

But in my last year there, the company grew to the point where I was doing very little creative work. One day I decided I wanted to give up managing people and go be a writer again, so I sold my majority stake in the company for a small fraction of its value and walked away, surrendering all rights to the IP. At a stroke I voluntarily gave up all of my power and, overnight, became a freelance writer with a cash lump sum but no authority over anyone. It was unusual, quixotic, and I think now rather naive of me, but there is a really solid paper trail to show that this is exactly what happened.

I’m not planning to sue anyone

Lottie and I did report this incident to the police, because that’s what the Metropolitan Police website told us we should do. We literally got in an Uber and went to report it in person because we were frightened out of our minds by what was going on, and we wanted to talk to a flesh and blood police officer. We phoned our lawyer for advice, too, because that’s what you do in this situation.

But I’m not planning to sue anyone. I never have sued anyone, or even threatened to.

Any other allegations I might not have seen

There might be other allegations of abuse that I haven’t seen. I am going to deny them, now, confidently and pre-emptively. They’re false.

I saw tweets from some people along the lines of ‘I’ve been hearing these rumours for years, so I believe it’. Of course they did. If someone – perhaps more than one person, I’ll never know exactly – has been spreading rumours about me for years, everyone will hear them in the end, and they’ll hear them echoed back from however many directions. That’s how echo chambers work. That’s what makes rumours so dangerous, and the last few years have been a good time to be spreading this particular kind of rumour.

I’m not going to talk about any of the rest of my sexual history at all, because it isn’t relevant. I’ve had some relationships or encounters sometimes with some other people. I’ve parted on good terms from some of those people, and less good terms with others. In every sexual encounter I have ever had, my partner enthusiastically consented to everything that happened. Beyond that, my sexual history is private.

“Then why did they do this?”

To paraphrase Jon Ronson, everyone involved in a social media shaming thinks they are doing the right thing. And I imagine that a lot of the people who participated, either in passing on rumours about me or in cluster-bombing me on Twitter, genuinely thought that I was a powerful and dangerous man engaged in a widespread abuse campaign. After all, they’d heard rumours from people they trusted. Who had heard rumours from people they trusted.

But here’s the most important thing: why not say anything to Lottie? For four years no-one has said anything to the woman most at risk from me if I were actually a predator. Not a message, not a whisper, not a single anonymous email. Even if someone was worried she might tell me, where’s the anonymous warnings? Anything at all? As Lottie rather bitterly remarked, so much for the sisterhood.

If I start speculating about motives, I’ll be moving from things I know to things I’m guessing. I’ve been on the wrong end of a lot of unfounded assumptions myself recently and I don’t want to get into that game. So the last thing I want to say is this:

It will take a long time to recover from what just happened. My reputation is shredded. I’m angry, I’m sad, and I’m still in a pretty fragile mental state. If you’ve read this far and you’re sympathetic, you have my sincere thanks. But nothing good ever comes from a social media shaming. So please, if you sympathise with me, please don’t be horrible to anyone on social media or elsewhere. Good people in mobs do bad things, and Lottie and I want to take the high road on this as much as we can. This has been a hideous waste of life for everyone involved, and this is where it should stop.

Thanks for reading. The slightly expanded tl:dr;

  • I haven’t engaged in any kind of abuse or predation, ever.
  • I did have a romantic relationship with Olivia Wood while we were working together, and while I was her direct manager. This was a real mistake on my part. I owned that at the time and I owned it now.
  • But the circumstances were very different than Olivia has publicly suggested. We started a relationship over a year before we worked together. She suggested that I hire her. She explicitly requested that the relationship be kept secret. All of these facts are provable.
  • Again, all allegations of abuse, including any I haven’t yet seen, are false.
  • I’m just a nerd in a flat. I don’t have the power to get anyone fired or ruin anyone’s career. Even when I was running Failbetter years ago, it was a little indie shop that nearly went bankrupt twice.
  • If the purpose of this is to defend women, why has no-one ever approached my partner Lottie, ever?

UPDATE: My ex-wife Ana read this post. She reminds me that she actually said something general about how she was happy to go on the record with the quote about me being a bit of a dick, rather than specifically ‘you can quote me on that’. She points out that ‘you can quote me on that’ makes her sound like ‘a third-rate TV show character.’

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