No Bad Apples
“At Failbetter, there are no bad apples.”
Narrative Director Chris Gardiner said these words to me over a plate of sushi in 2017. It was our one and only lunch together – Failbetter’s content team didn’t particularly get on with Failbetter’s production department, for reasons anyone who’s ever worked in games can imagine. But Chris, being a genial guy, wanted to improve the relationship, so invited me to the Japanese restaurant around the corner one sunny Thursday afternoon.
He was right. There are no bad apples at Failbetter, because there are no such things as good or bad people. There are just people, doing people-y things. People can be kind and thoughtful and people can be spiteful and poisonous. Some people can be all four of those things in one conversation. I happened across a Reddit comment years ago by one Failbetter board member sweetly supporting a couple going through IVF treatment. Years later, this same executive retweeted a man suggesting, out of nowhere, that AK was a paedophile. At Failbetter, just like everywhere else, there are just apples.
Over the last two years I’ve tried desperately to get my old company to talk to me so we can resolve a bizarre and unprofessional dispute played out for the titillation of the good apples of Twitter. “We’d like to resolve the issues between us amicably and professionally,” I wrote to the Failbetter board in March 2021. “We’re confident that you would, too.” Six months later, I found myself writing things like this:
“I’d like it on record that this is the third time you‘ve ignored complaints by a woman in games about her continued bullying and harassment, and the continued sabotage of her business, by Failbetter employees.”
By October – after several more disappointing rebuffs – it was clear Failbetter did not want to resolve the issues between us amicably and professionally, and were committed to selective blindness over the more difficult parts of our correspondence. These were bits where I said annoying things like please could you stop destroying my company and oh, all right, if you really must continue to smear me in public, perhaps you could let me know why. I finally realised no amount of emails, however genuine or compelling, would convince my ex-company to talk to me. So I turned to a legal employment tribunal claim, the process specifically set up to fix unpleasant and complex employee-employer disputes. This, I thought, would do it. This would force them to realise how much they’d hurt me, and they’d finally stop. There are no bad apples at Failbetter Games.
Reader, I was a moron. Failbetter didn’t want to talk to me over email and they certainly didn’t want to talk to me as respondent in a tribunal. Instead, they spent several thousand pounds instructing Wiggin LLP, their expensive corporate lawyers, to threaten to sue me. Wiggin suggested that when I said that lots of men kept getting promoted and women kept leaving because they weren’t, I was being ‘vexatious’. They declared that when I said Failbetter’s repeated behaviour had made me consider suicide, I was being ‘unreasonable’. Lawyers, amirite?
In this case, as in so many, the lawyers won. My claim hinged on convincing a judge to extend the usual time frame for bringing a tribunal, because my claims ranged over such a long period. I had a 50/50 chance, and those weren’t good enough odds to risk being sued for all I was worth by Wiggin LLP. So Failbetter successfully killed a woman’s tribunal claim against them for sexism and bullying by paying big lawyers big money. So it goes.
Failbetter recently told us they’re going to sue us again, in another attempt to bully us into doing something else – this time, helping them out of their own defective paperwork. So I’d now like to share my tribunal claim with you, to get it out in the open where it would have been if Wiggin hadn’t threatened me into withdrawing it. (All completed tribunal claims in the UK are posted to a public government website, alongside their outcomes, for all to see.)
Having tried every other approach at my disposal – polite emails, GDPR requests, tribunal claims, press interviews – I’ve failed utterly to get Failbetter to engage with their treatment of women in games. In one of our earliest emails – all the way back in July 2020 – they talked about “the wider #MeToo movement”, “the importance of the gaming industry coming to terms” with poor behaviour, and their “determination to play our part in putting things right”. So I’m sure they understand.
Please read my redacted tribunal in full, or the summary below, and tell me if I’m being – as Wiggin LLP suggests – unreasonable.
Tribunal claims against Failbetter Games
1. I was discriminated against on the grounds of sex.
This includes instances where senior male staff privately discussed whether or not I had been ‘flirtatious’ at a Christmas party, where board members wished to eject difficult women from the company, where managers recoiled from ‘gendered’ pay rise requests from women, where the CEO (not AK!) publicly belittled me when he could, and where men are promoted multiple times and women leave because they never are.
You can read the details in the first half of my tribunal claim. If you don’t have the time, here’s an example.
“Since 2015, five men have been promoted, one of them several times:
- ████████ was promoted from Deputy CEO to CEO in or around July 2016
- ████████ was promoted from Analyst to Analytics Director in or around July 2016, to Deputy CEO in or around October 2017 and to CEO in or around March 2019
- ████████ was promoted from Head Writer to Director of Narrative in or around July 2016
- ████████ was promoted from Artist to Senior Artist in or around May 2018
- ████████ was promoted from Writer to Senior Writer in or around October 2021.
In the same time frame, three women have chosen to leave after frustration at the lack of advancement:
- myself in December 2017
- ████████ ████████ in February 2019
- ████████ ████████ in September 2021, who wrote publicly that ‘there isn’t much room to change roles, especially upwards’.
A fourth woman was made redundant after accusing the company of sexism (████████ ████████) in January 2018… In redundancy meetings in January 2018, ████████ ████████ accused Failbetter of sexism and discrimination, particularly singling ████████ out as discriminatory towards women. ████████ was made redundant and no investigation was made into her allegations.”
2. Malicious bullying, harassment and unfair process; indirect discrimination against women, in contravention of the Equality Act 2010; failure to take action or investigate grievances, in contravention of the Acas Code of Practice.
This claim is much more wide-ranging, and includes instances where Failbetter employees spread rumours about me while I was still at the company, where Failbetter’s CEO (still not AK!) published a blog about my sex life without my consent, which was then used to lobby Creative Europe to give my €150k funding to Failbetter Games, where Failbetter sent me threatening copies of my own articles from Wireframe, where Failbetter appear to be encouraging the bonkers stalker who sends us weird emails from time to time about bombs and bones, and where Failbetter have repeatedly refused to engage with any of the complaints I’ve made to them about their – for want of a better word – piss-poor treatment of women in games. I’m beginning to think they’re not so determined to play their part in putting things right, after all.
You can read all the detail in the second part of my tribunal claim. If it’s too much, here’s an illustrative extract:
“In a one-on-one meeting in September 2017, I told my manager, ████████ ████████, that I was concerned that two Failbetter Games employees (████████ ████████ and ████████ ████████) were spreading false and malicious rumours about me. ████████ had already suggested I be asked to leave and refused to discuss her concerns and, as a member of the board, had a direct impact on my job.
████████ told me not to worry and did nothing else. There was no mention of Failbetter’s bullying policy, if they had one, and no investigation or further action was taken… These unaddressed rumours ultimately contributed to my decision to leave Failbetter Games in December 2017.”
Failbetter never responded. But, as you know, their lawyers did. I can’t share Wiggin’s letter for reasons of copyright infringement (law be cray), but here’s a quote from it that stuck with me: “following an orchestrated and sustained assault that you have administered against the Respondent… [there is] little doubt your claim has been made unreasonably, disruptively and vexatiously”.
The orchestrated and sustained assault in question seems to be that I sent them several GDPR requests for things like my own HR records, and that I emailed them privately suggesting there were alternative and possibly more effective ways to resolve problems than shouting at people on Twitter. “I’d like it on record that I reject in the strongest possible terms your suggestion that any part of my conduct is ‘vexatious, disruptive and unreasonable,” I emailed Wiggin back, disruptively. “I’d like to draw your attention to this section of my claim:
The unsubstantiated rumours repeatedly promoted by Failbetter, their refusal to address them when they were raised when I was an employee, their hostile tone over emails, and their repeated disregard for fair process or reasonable response have been utterly devastating to my life. I considered suicide in late 2019… because of the frustration, humiliation and injustice I have received from the actions of Failbetter Games.”
To this, I received no response at all.
Kind, spiteful, thoughtful, poisonous
What would you do if you received a complaint from a woman? What if she said it constructively in a one-on-one? What if politely over email? What if you were notified of an official employment tribunal, and a nice Scottish man phoned you up from Acas to discuss their free, semi-mandatory arbitration service to resolve issues with minimal fuss and unpleasantness?
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.
Failbetter are cynically taking advantage of public trust, trading as progressive defenders of women in public while happily bulldozing the reputations and stifling the careers of women they don’t like in private. I’ve tried to get them to stop for years, but they won’t. If there’s one person who could stop it, it’s the guy in charge, Failbetter CEO Adam Myers. But he’s involved in several instances in my tribunal, accused of sexism and bullying by others as well as me, and has mysteriously been my only point of contact at the company while trying to resolve these issues. I repeatedly asked to speak to one of the four other directors because of the obvious inappropriateness of talking to him. He repeatedly refused, and the other directors repeatedly ignored my emails.
I’ve amassed so much evidence since 2019: emails, screenshots, GDPR results from nearly thirty institutions, the independent Failbetter Report which digs into the nauseating stats of a bullshit Twitter cancellation, where Failbetter employees account for nearly a quarter of thousands of vile and baseless tweets… It throws into sharp relief the echoing void of evidence around the nastiness levelled at AK and myself. My claim against Failbetter Games is a detailed and documented issue going back for years, and I’m happy to share that documentation with any investigators who ask. In contrast, the idea that AK behaved badly while CEO of Failbetter Games – or the later escalation that I’m a criminal “enabler of serial sexual abuse” (!) – has no evidence behind it at all. Nothing journalists could find at the time, nothing widespread GDPR unearthed since, and nothing Failbetter Games could produce since AK founded the company way back in 2009. All we actually have is Failbetter paying thousands of pounds to hush things up, Failbetter knowingly misleading their community about us, and – inexplicably! – spikes of Twitter vitriol that map directly onto our commercial successes.
I don’t remember what sushi we ate at that sunny lunch in 2017, but I can’t forget what Chris said. I wish Failbetter would take the issues above seriously and prove him right. Because despite all the nastiness, there really are no bad apples at Failbetter Games. Not when AK was there, not when I was there, and not now. There are just people, doing people-y things. Kind, spiteful, thoughtful, poisonous. Every morning, people at Failbetter wake up and choose who to be.