“FAILGATE”

You’ve read exposés of games studios before. But in the whole history of the games industry, there’s never been anything quite like this: almost a hundred pages of evidence compiled from dozens of sources – evidence of harassment, deceit, bullying, intimidation, and spite. The guilty parties are the execs at Failbetter Games, the studio which I founded and where Lottie worked. Three years ago they unleashed a smear campaign against us. We’ve tried again and again to talk to them, and to fix the situation. Their response? In public, to go silent; in private, to escalate.

So in self-defence, we’ve published what you’re about to read. If they want to keep behaving like this, they’ll have to do it in the open where everyone can see what, little by little, they’ve become. Not monsters, or even really villains: just ordinary people who were given power, yielded to the temptation of spite, kept doubling down when challenged, and lost their way back. It reminds me of kids who’ve egged each other on to paint an ugly word on a neighbour’s door, and then can’t bring themselves to admit it was wrong.

 

FAILBETTER’S ONLINE HARASSMENT

First, the Failbetter Report: a collaboration between a veteran investigative journalist and a team of data mavens, following a similar approach to the analysis of the networked harassment of Carole Cadwalladr. It describes in detail, with evidence, the malicious behaviour of the execs at my old company –  how they were unmistakably the prime movers of the smear campaign against Lottie and me. The headline findings: just how much of the ‘spontaneous’ Twitter assault came directly from Failbetter; the grossly misogynistic abuse that Lottie was subjected to; the total absence of evidence for the horrible things said about both of us, and about our families.

You might remember that Failbetter have resolutely tried to block any formal investigation into the whole business. You can probably now imagine why.

The networked harassment of a British video game developer and his fiancée

“Failbetter Games employees, past and present, accounted for nearly a quarter (21.93%)
of all the tweets directed at Kennedy and Bevan, including employees who had never worked with [Kennedy…] We identified 339 tweets specifically targeting Bevan which were sexist, misogynistic and/or sexually explicit […]
Our data analysis shows that the abusive content is found to be cross-pollinated through significant retweeting and quote tweeting by various individuals associated with Failbetter.”

 

FAILBETTER’S MISTREATMENT OF WOMEN

This is an employment tribunal complaint made against a game development studio by a woman. The complaint is of sexual discrimination, direct and indirect, against her and others, and of a years-long campaign of bullying. The studio didn’t deny a word of it. They just got their corporate lawyers to intimidate the woman in question into withdrawing it. The woman was Lottie Bevan. The studio was Failbetter Games. Our experience suggests they’ll already be reaching for a lawyer to send us yet another letter (we’re on #12, I think). They might reconsider if I point out that we would both be happy to testify under oath; the execs, less so.

‘What would a kind, progressive, benevolent company who cared about women do, if a female employee complained of mistreatment? What if she said their actions had really damaged her life? Most would investigate her claims. Some might apologise. Others might ask if they could discuss it informally over coffee, like humans. Alternatively, they could hire expensive lawyers to block information requests, suppress employment tribunals and threaten repeatedly to sue her. Wait.’

Lottie has written about this in more detail, and summarised the most important claims.

 

 

FAILBETTER’S MISUSE OF PERSONAL DATA

Third, this is the evidence we compiled for a complaint about Failbetter’s breaches of data privacy law.  Their CEO, Adam Myers, has fought for years to prevent us accessing the evidence that would prove him a liar – but as the saying goes, it’s not the crime, it’s the cover-up. The Information Commissioner’s Office upheld complaint after complaint. Adam has responded with contempt and spent tens of thousands on corporate lawyers to slow the ICO’s roll and to intimidate us. It began when he used his power as CEO to snoop through our private messages and use carefully selected quotes, mingled with outright lies, to smear us – while keeping us from accessing those private messages ourselves, on the pretext that he’s protecting the privacy of others.

“In 2019, Adam Myers leaked a phrase from a private DM conversation between Olivia Wood and Alexis Kennedy, where Wood came to Kennedy for advice on a raise. The phrase is ‘holy shit’. Myers characterises this as evidence of abuse. He omits to mention that Wood was requesting the biggest pay rise in the company’s history…. or that Kennedy took her request to the board, and fought to secure the pay rise, on the grounds that she was worth it. Myers repeatedly refused GDPR requests to turn over any of Kennedy’s other statements from that conversation.”

But it also shows how the privacy of others only mattered when Failbetter could use it as an excuse to keep our own data from us. It details how they eagerly sent us almost a hundred screenshots of remarks about us from the ‘moderated’ Failbetter Discord, because they knew the many nasty ones would upset us. (They didn’t ask consent of any of the people making those remarks, or tell them about it. If you said anything about me on the Failbetter Discord before March 2020, I’m afraid Failbetter harvested it and sent it to me personally, though I probably haven’t read it.) It describes how when I asked for my own photos, they inexplicably sent me photos with clear, unredacted images of literally every female employee from my time at the company, including the one they pretended I’d ‘abused‘, and ignored our incredulous query about that. (Failbetter didn’t ask their employees’ consent or tell them about it, either.)

‘Lottie Bevan and I made a Subject Access Request follow-up to Failbetter Games on Friday 12th June 2020. In the early hours of Monday 15th June 2020 we both began to receive anonymous, threatening, violent, sexualized emails. These emails included clear references to information in our DSAR follow-up message.’

I wouldn’t often recommend you read a colour-coded spreadsheet, but this one is astonishing. Have a scroll through. The appendix about their CEO rooting through Lottie’s email exchanges with other Failbetter employees, so he can snoop on them too, is particularly unsettling.

 

HOW FAILBETTER RETALIATES

After I left Failbetter, they used the likeness of my little girl on a Steam trading card without my permission. Here’s me trying to get them to replace her image with something else. Her grandmother and mother both wanted the image removed too. Failbetter refused, and the very next week, two execs retweeted a new and horrible smear that I’m a paedophile. They later deleted it – perhaps from some vestigial impulse of decency, perhaps just concern that it might be actionable.

Six months later, Failbetter are still refusing. The ICO upheld our complaint, after requesting a signed letter of authorisation from my daughter herself (she’s twelve now) but that didn’t work either. I don’t know how far down the rabbit hole someone has to go before they think this is okay, no matter what beef they have with a kid’s family. Failbetter have also established a nasty precedent: if you back a Failbetter Kickstarter at a level that allowed you to get your likeness in the game, it’s now their property and they will refuse to remove it.

“Your client is claiming that the inconvenience of replacing one of several hundred images in a seven-year-old game outweighs the rights and freedoms of a little girl and her family. My daughter is as yet unaware of your client’s paedophilia smear and of their highly specialised fantasy of targeted post-mortem defecation, but she is an Internet user who knows my name. As and when she stumbles across these or other accusations, I hope I can rely on Wiggin to explain to her why her face still appears in this company’s products.”

[Just as I was writing this post, the ICO had a letter from Failbetter. They are changing their story again for the ICO’s benefit. Among other things, they’ve started claiming it’s impractical to remove my kid’s image because Failbetter no longer develops software for iOS.]

 

FAILBETTER’S CRIMINAL NEGLIGENCE

For years now, it’s been the two of us against a multi-million-pound business. The imbalance has made them careless and arrogant. They have the money; they have the power; they thought our reputation was so sullied by the false accusations they endorsed back in 2019 that no-one would ever listen to us. If you’re wondering, as you might well be, “what the hell is their problem?”, I talk about some likely motivations here – but the short version is they had a CEO with a crush on Lottie, grudges against us both, and a lot to hide.

So they’ve heedlessly let the evidence pile up. They think they’re invulnerable. They might even be right. More about that in a moment. But first: why are we making a noise about it now?

Happier times in 2015. Left to right: Adam Myers, Alexis Kennedy, Paul Arendt

We posted last year about the more public attacks, and about Failbetter’s refusal to allow an investigation or to meet us for mediation. As soon as we did that, the public attacks stopped as if a tap had been turned off. As with a tap, there’s still the occasional drip; but Failbetter couldn’t, and didn’t, deny anything we’d said in that post. They wouldn’t even give a comment to the press. After that, no-one who was paying attention could really believe they were credible.

But behind the scenes, Failbetter stepped up the pressure. In the last post, I described how we unexpectedly tripped over the silliest plot twist ever: that I still legally own Failbetter. Instead of using that to go on the attack, we naively let Failbetter know about it as a show of good faith, back last year when we were pleading for mediation and investigation. Unfortunately that just made them aggressive. We started getting letters about it, trying to pressure me (and my mother!!) to sign documents of dubious legality.  Let me be really clear. I didn’t chase them about the company ownership issue. I let it go. They wouldn’t.

Eventually it came down to a conversation between their and our lawyers, and here’s where it’s got interesting. Lawyers, like Le Guin’s dragons, might misdirect but won’t actually lie. So their lawyers admitted, repeatedly, in writing and on the record, that actually yes, because of Failbetter’s criminal negligence, I’m the legal owner of Failbetter Games Ltd.

 

FAILBETTER’S LEGAL BULLYING

This meant they had to change their line of attack. They now agree I do own the company, but also claim that I signed a contract, back in 2016, which commits me to selling the shares. This contract was actually drafted, but because we were all on very good terms back then, we never got to the final signature version (this is part of the reason the sale of my shares failed). After a whole year, and a complaint upheld by the Information Commissioner, they still can’t produce a signed copy of the contract, even though they still insist one exists somewhere (the suggestion is that it fell down the back of a filing cabinet, or into a shredder). They do keep hopefully sending us a Word document that they say they definitely printed out and I definitely signed. To be fair, although the title of this document seems a little fluid, it always includes the word final:

But whatever the title is on any given Tuesday, it also always includes tracked revision requests from Failbetter asking for further edits. They evidently hoped we wouldn’t notice that, and have been unable to come up with an explanation for it.

The last threatening lawyers’ letter announced, quite explicitly, that they’re going to sue me. They didn’t specify what they’re going to sue me for, and after three months the lawsuit has failed to materialise. So it looks like a SLAPP to intimidate us – again, shades of the Cadwalladr case, where this kind of intimidation is the next escalation after harassment. But every day for the last three months we’ve had to worry that this might be the day we get served.

Last contact from Failbetter, 30th March 2022. Our reply said that we were still willing to resolve things amicably. We haven’t heard anything since.

So it was the last straw for us. We won’t be bullied any more and we can’t live in fear like this. We’ve spent those three months putting everything in this post together.

 

SURVIVING FAILBETTER

The next steps: the publication of this information, and one final attempt to have a reasonable conversation. I’m requesting that they call an extraordinary general meeting of the company to resolve the situation. As directors in dispute with the majority shareholder, the Failbetter execs should hold that meeting and work things out with me. It won’t be much fun for either side, but it’s clearly the right thing for me and them to do. I have to try.

But we tried to appeal to their better natures last year.  It didn’t work then. And the idea of any of those execs having the guts to look Lottie in the eye, and say the same things to her in person that they have over email – that’s almost funny. Here, then, is what I think will actually happen next.

Failbetter will read this. They’ll ask their lawyers: can we get away with this? Their lawyers will say: it’ll cost some money, but probably. So probably, they’ll ignore the general meeting request, maybe even send us another threat. They’ll dare us to sue them. Fallen London is still printing money. They can outspend us in the courts.

The games press will read this. Some of them will have pangs of conscience when they remember how they printed the rumours in 2019. But it’s too complicated and low-profile a story to get clicks. If Lottie or I were properly famous – if Failbetter were less ready with the legal threats – if we had some ham, we could have ham and eggs, if we had some eggs. Failbetter have shown more than once how effectively they can wield a Twitter mob. wouldn’t go up against them if I could avoid it. A few of the smaller sites might print something. The rest will pass. Failbetter will be counting on that.

The Information Commissioner’s Office will continue to pursue Failbetter. Failbetter will keep on fighting a rear-guard action and paying lawyers. Finally, when they’ve made it as difficult as possible for us, they’ll grudgingly make enough concessions to pacify the ICO. If my daughter and I are lucky, they might even take her picture out of Sunless Sea.

This article will sit on the web like a scar, and every so often someone will happen across it and send us a sympathetic mail. Or send Failbetter a disappointed one. A Failbetter staffer will read the mail, feel briefly conflicted, remember what their management does to troublemakers, and quietly close the ticket without saying anything. From time to time, one of their execs will retweet something viral about how shameful it is when studios deny credit to ex-employees. “Like Lottie Bevan,” someone will ask, “or Alexis Kennedy?” The exec will snort indignantly and block them.

Happier times: Alexis Kennedy and Lottie Bevan, April 2019
Happier times: Alexis Kennedy and Lottie Bevan, April 2019

But with any luck, the publication of this information will deter future attacks. All we can realistically hope for at this point is that Failbetter will leave us alone.  I do think now that we can realistically hope for that.  So I can’t give you a happy ending, but I can give you an upside.

They really tried to end us. They’ve been trying for years. We were outnumbered and out-resourced. They hijacked and perverted the #MeToo movement at its height. They shredded our reputation and they drove away our team. Dealing with their lies, their threats, and their harassment has been like a second job. But we’re still here. We are going to go right on making games and books and tarot and stupid cat tweets. We don’t have to win. We just have to survive. On a good day, making art with people you love is as good as it gets.

‘Go scorched earth,’ the peanut gallery once advised me. I’m not doing that. This is the real world, not Twitter. Real people, real lives, real consequences. People who cry, lose their temper, fight with their friends, hug their kids. It’s been difficult to remember that sometimes, these last few years, but it’s true, of the execs at Failbetter just as much as it’s true of me and Lottie. When all this is done, whatever the outcome, we have to live with each other in the world we’ve made, and you can’t log off from the world. Or at least, not twice.

15 comments on “FAILGATE”
  1. Here’s hoping to a quiet wintery end to this. I still find it incredible how you’ve continued and thrived after all this. Creating the Secret Histories, -including a video game, TRPG, and in person event- multiple books, and an etsy shop that sells out of awesome curios within minutes. I love the thought and care you put into everything youve made, and am looking forward to whatever you make next.

    1. A wintery end is the best we can hope for, I think. But, at least some things survived winter, and ended without the whole thing being silent. Determined and able to survive, like heart. Guess that’s a bit of a stretch.

      1. I second these comments very much – I am in awe about how you’ve kept on crafting and caring.
        Also, yes, winter and heart – a good combination that I hope will get you through the cold.

  2. I remember being uncertain of just what, exactly, to think when all of this first went down. There wasn’t very much evidence from anyone at first, and it was a lot of “he said, she said,” etc. Yet it’s now impossible to deny the level of downright nastiness on the part of Failbetter, and it breaks my heart because I had such an immense amount of respect for nearly everyone in the studio. But social progressivism is not a weapon to be wielded against the very people it claims to support: it is disingenuous in the extreme to champion the cause of feminism and anti-misogyny, and then to repeat misogynist rhetoric and attitudes the second a woman you dislike is in your way. If they had issues with you and Lottie, fine; that is all well and good. But one can express objection to, even extreme objection to, a person or people without resorting to problematic bullshit. If anything has made me more predisposed to believing your side of the story, it’s witnessing just how vile and hateful several individuals within FBG have become.

    I can definitely understand why a lot of people are suggesting you go full aggro and hit the button to start nuclear war. This is frustrating to follow. It must be so much more frustrating to live through. And frankly, consistently taking the high road hasn’t produced the results that people would like to see. It won’t convince the people who’ve already decided they hate you that they might be wrong. It won’t convince the hate mob that they’re overreacting or attacking someone who refuses to fight. It won’t set the record straight. But fighting probably wouldn’t do any of those things, either. It might even make all of it worse.

  3. I… I send you hugs, if you’re ok with virtual ones. Thank you for sharing all this; thank you for surviving; thank you for the strength you had in carrying on – keeping making games, and keeping on living.

  4. I keep forgetting y’all are british and then getting hit by spellings like ‘colour’ and ‘paedophilia’ and going What? Oh Right and then immediately forgetting again

  5. Well, the Corrivalry is truly the engine of history even without outright violence, lol.

    Seriously though, I’ll admit, I never really delved into the details of this case before. I knew of your guys’ split from Failbetter, and I had heard about some beef years later, but I never dug into why, I didn’t bother with it because I thought your guys’ work was well made and everything I’d seen of stuff AK had said in regards to the industry prior on other matters had impressed me to where I had no reason to doubt your character without actual evidence (Which as you said, FBG have never produced, and years of bullshit mobs on social media have taught me not to blindly trust such accusations). Though, that wasn’t the case with at least one co-worker I knew who we shared this as a common interest but seemed to have bought the lies, hook, line and sinker.

    Having now seen it though in more full detail, the fact that you two have managed to keep going over the years and continue making successful and creative content despite all of this bullshit is certainly inspiring.

    Many who get (or have gotten) these kinds of situations thrown at them wouldn’t even bother, they’d bow to the mobs and the more private threats and quit the business, or have some kind of breakdown and not without good reason.

    You both continuing to do work and be great at it with a dedicated audience that recognizes your talents is success in and of itself, given the circumstances. And as you recognize, that’s all you truly need to keep doing to “win” at the bare minimum. Bowing out and going silent into the night is exactly what they wanted you to do, its why they engaged in all these various behaviours and the outrageous stunt to begin with which they’ve never backed up or pursued outside of the court of public opinion, its why they refused to resolve this simply and seem content to try and starve you out if it were to go legally, they don’t want you two existing and thriving even as competition.

    Your continued persistence in the face of such adversity is the simplest yet one of the more profound insults to their efforts you can give. As well as continuing to inspire and capture the minds of others with your works.

    Keep going and keep being great at what you do. You’ve an international audience that has never believed the bullshit, and we’ll all keep waiting as long as it takes to see what you two and everyone else with you come up with next.

  6. When I first became aware of the accusations against Mr Kennedy I was very concerned because I knew that false accusations are rare, but I held off making any conclusions because I’d only heard a fragment of one side of the story.

    Shortly thereafter, Mr Kennedy made his statement public, which I found credible due to him directly stating his errors without prevarication.

    However, what fully convinced me that Mr Kennedy and Ms Bevan were being deliberately and unjustly attacked was reading Ms Bevan’s article on how cancel culture fails to accomplish its supposed goals. In it she pointed out that, despite Mr Kennedy’s alleged abuse of her coworkers while she was a junior employee at his company, not a single person had ever said a word to her about this supposed abuse; not when they started dating, not when she moved in with him, not when she left the company to co-found a studio with him. For nearly five years during which, were the allegations true, she might have been the victim of ongoing abuse, no one bothered to mention that he might be dangerous or that she should stay away from him.

    That’s when I knew for certain that the accusations had nothing to do with holding men accountable or protecting women. It was clear there was no other aim than to do as much harm to Mr Kennedy and his associates as possible.

    Mr Kennedy and Ms Bevan, I greatly admire how you’ve persevered through all this, and I am deeply grateful that you continue to create wonderful things and share them with us.

  7. I wasn’t going to do this but I’m just…*incandescently* angry, and traditionally comment sections are the place for that sort of thing, aren’t they?

    I really, really like Failbetter’s games. A lot. (Although they were better when AK was in charge. 😉 ) I don’t have much money to spare, but I’ve spent a pretty penny on Failbetter over the years. Been playing Fallen London since it was the Echo Bazaar. Put a pretty substantial amount of money into their last Kickstarter. I’m what you might call a “Diehard Fan”.

    And yet. This **** is inexcusable. I was upset back in 2019 when Failbetter (honestly fairly obviously, imo) sabotaged The Book of Hours Kickstarter while doing their very best to ruin AK’s reputation, but I didn’t want to have to choose between Weather Factory and Failbetter. I wanted to have my occult cake and eat it too. So I kept supporting both studios, while vehemently defending AK to anyone who tried to say otherwise (in my vast circle of 10 acquaintances, lol).

    So yeah. This garbage behaviour ticks me right the heck off, for the obvious reasons (what the actual ****, who *does* this to someone??), but for selfish ones too–I don’t want to stop playing Failbetter games, or feel like garbage when I do. I want Failbetter to be better (heh, whoops) than this. They had so many chances to fix it, and I’m so [redacted] angry with them for forcing me to this point. It’s sad and terrible and I hate it.

    AK and LB, I’m so sorry your private life is all over the internet for weirdos like me to know about (I promise I have no plans to stalk you, I just want to buy your video games and listen to your awesome podcast), and I honestly hope/assume you don’t even read these things. I’m feeling much better now I’ve typed some words into a box, so thanks for the opportunity to do so. 🙂 (And also for the video games. Mostly that.)

  8. Adding my voice to the ring, though mostly to say again what’s been said before, by myself and others. I was not active in the community at the time the Troubles began, and it took me a long time to get over the peer pressure that was all over my social circles to keep my deep admiration for your writing deeply hidden. But *even assuming* all of the stuff that’s been said about you is true (and I’m amply satisfied by now that at least the great majority of it isn’t), in what world does that justify driving someone out of their chosen trade, agitating to get their funding cut, personally harassing them over a period of years, deliberately placing obstacles to clearing their name every step of the way? I’m not a game designer myself, but I’ve hung around various indie designer communities of a ‘progressive’ bent and the ease with which petty jealousies could be cloaked in the semblance of righteous action turned my stomach and eventually drove me away– and this well before anything to do with Weather Factory happened. So I was always disposed to think it possible that Failbetter was at best acting opportunistically to destroy a competitor when the opportunity presented itself, but still I was troubled, with a final wave of ‘have I done the right thing?’ soul-searching after I signed up for The Locksmith’s Dream.

    But the continuing record of Failbetter’s actions, their evasion of responsibility while the two of you bared your private lives and did everything possible to get them to talk with you, their doing everything possible to keep documents from you that would have helped you make your case while continuing to lob ever nastier accusations your way, all of that speaks volumes, and not in their favour. It is one of the ironies of a mob cancellation that, by setting the only way out as unconditional admission of guilt, apology, and atonement, it puts the substantially innocent in a hopeless position: sacrifice their integrity and grant the accusations for a chance at mercy or deny the accusations and have their reputations trashed anyway. If my reading of the situation is correct (and I am as sure of that as I can be, from the evidence I have seen on both sides), I am deeply impressed with your integrity under withering fire.

    In closing, all I hope for is that Failbetter comes to its senses at least to the extent of no longer throwing fuel into this pointless feud, that your stalker gets a life (it’s well past time), and that you gradually find it safe enough to draw closer to the community once more, if for no other reason than that having your finger on the pulse of what we’re saying makes for better games.

    So, distant as the prospect seems, I remain hopeful of a second Glory. As within, so without.

    One way or another.

  9. Well dang. This is the first I’m hearing about any of this. I was part of a little clique playing Fallen London very intently for a while, and picked up Sunless Seas and Skies as soon as I could. I’m pleased to hear you’re still making games and things in spite of the rottenness– I’ll shop around right now. Maybe it’s sparse comfort, but it’s what I can do.

  10. As a longtime fan of all of Failbetter’s games, and a bigtime fan of Weatherfactory’s, I was rather concerned when I first (very recently) heard about the allegations. I was very concerned that I might need to reconsider my support and admiration for The Weather Factory. I was not nearly so concerned that I might need to do so in regards to Failbetter, but there we go. You all have consistently and repeatedly demonstrated a willingness and intent to go through all necessary steps to deal with the allegations, and Failbetter has consistently refused. You have provided evidence, and more evidence, and even more evidence, and at this point I can pretty confidently say I’m not concerned that the allegations are true in any way. On the other hand, I am rather disheartened to see how in-the-wrong Failbetter has come out of this. I like their games, and I care about the things they claim to care about, but clearly those claims are as false as their allegations.
    The stuff about Kennedy technically still owning Failbetter is entertaining, at least. Nice to get a good laugh out of something as serious and concerning as this.
    Wishing you all the best, and eagerly looking forward to the upcoming release of Book of Hours.

on “FAILGATE”

Post a Comment