UPDATE 13/09/2021: Seven weeks in. Failbetter still haven’t denied or contested any of this.
They did admit over email there was a ‘procedural issue’ (‘criminal negligence’, tomato tomahto). We began negotiations but when Lottie (once again) raised the issue of them harassing her they (once again) stopped responding and (once again) started going after us on social media. More details below.
PREVIOUSLY, ON CANCEL CLUB…
I’m Alexis Kennedy. I run a tiny video game studio, Weather Factory, with my partner, Lottie Bevan. In August 2019, Lottie and I were cancelled on Twitter. Our networks were destroyed, our business was devastated, our mental health was shredded… you know this story. Everyone who’s heard of us knows this story. But very few people have seen what’s been going on behind the scenes since then.
Our cancellation, bluntly, was an intentional attack on us by a larger competitor. In an unusual turn of events, this was a studio I had founded, run for seven years, and had then left on very good terms in 2016: Failbetter Games.
We mentioned this obliquely last year, but we didn’t name Failbetter, and we didn’t go into the details. Initially, we were hoping that if we didn’t provoke them, they would leave us alone. Later, we’ve been hoping that we might be able to resolve the issue by talking to them. That may sound absurdly high-minded. It was actually pretty pragmatic. Let me explain why.
When you get cancelled, it’s like someone’s detonated a dirty bomb in your personal life. It wrecks everything, and then it leaves a lingering contamination for years. We’ve been dealing with this contamination and trying to rebuild our lives. Most people who were involved in our cancellation have moved on, or realised it’s A Bit More Complicated, or even emailed us to apologise. Unfortunately, Failbetter, with backing vocals from what I might diplomatically describe as ‘a determined rump of enthusiasts’, won’t leave us alone. There’s a constant patter of background nastiness, and every time we have a small success, they come back and have another go.
But it has also become apparent to us that there was never any kind of master plan. It’s just stupid beef with the management over there – based partially, we think, on genuine misunderstandings about what’s going on. So we hoped that maybe we could deal with this like adults. We knew that a lot of the information circulating on social media was false; so we sent Failbetter a GDPR request to try to get hold of the data from our personal records that would disprove it. They refused to give us that data (and called us names, and made a couple of legal threats).
We gave it some time. The attacks kept coming. So we mailed Failbetter again, as politely as we could. We proposed that both sides attend formal mediation – especially because we reckoned by that point there were some genuine misunderstandings. They refused, again.
We also proposed that I submit to a formal third-party investigation into the allegations, and that I abide by the findings and make amends if anything came out of it. (We offered to pay half the costs.) The allegations were about my time at Failbetter, so we can’t do that without their co-operation. They refused that, too.
All this has taken more than a year, and it’s left us at an impasse. We’ve been trying to address the allegations in private. But the people who made the allegations won’t let us. And because the allegations haven’t been publicly put to bed, we still get periodically monstered.
So we’re going public. We mentioned some of this in an interview last month, but here for the first time is the whole story.
Let me start with an email we sent Failbetter four months ago, in March. My annotations in [square brackets].
Thu, Mar 18, 9:59 AM
Dear Adam, Chris, Emily, Hannah, Henry and Paul,
[The management of Failbetter and, broadly speaking, the owners of Failbetter. Adam is the CEO these days.]
Alexis and I are writing to you in the hopes of resolving the difficult relationship between our two companies. We were greatly distressed at the concerns raised on social media in August 2019 and in correspondence with yourselves in July 2020. We’d like to give both companies an opportunity to discuss and resolve those concerns in a professional and respectful way.
[July 2020 was our GDPR request.]
We were saddened that no one spoke to us, during or after our time at Failbetter, as we’re confident that open and honest communication is key to resolving the issues between us. With that in mind, we’d like to suggest one or both of the following:
– Mediation between Weather Factory and Failbetter Games, where all issues of concern can be discussed with the objective of reaching some common ground. We’d suggest involving the Failbetter board, ourselves, and any Failbetter employee who would like to attend. We’d also suggest splitting the mediator’s fees between our two companies.
– An independent employment investigation into Alexis’s conduct during his time as CEO of Failbetter Games. We would of course abide by the findings of such an investigation. Again, we’d suggest splitting investigative costs equally between Weather Factory and Failbetter Games.
We’d like to resolve the issues between us amicably and professionally – we’re confident that you would, too. We believe that meeting to discuss the issues in good faith is the best way to move forward.
Our memory of Failbetter Games is of a good company that cares about its people. As such, we’re sure you’re as keen to end the tensions as we are. Please let us know if you’d like to go ahead with mediation or an employment investigation and we can get started. We look forward to a peaceful resolution and happier years to come.
Alexis and Lottie
A month passed, and finally, we got a brief negative response from Adam. He did only call me one bad name, and didn’t make any legal threats. Righto, we thought, that’s progress, sort of.
So for another three months, we engaged in a correspondence of sorts – largely us expanding on the offer of mediation or investigation, and Adam repeatedly giving us the brush-off. We also got a couple of desultory social media attacks from other Failbetter employees, though more because they were bored than because of our mails, I think.
We weren’t really getting anywhere… but we had stumbled across something unexpected. Here the story goes from ‘basically nutso’ to ‘implausible in a film script’.
HERE COMES THE SCIENCE BIT
I founded Failbetter; and by the time I decided to leave, I still owned most of the company. This made things complicated, so I made sure of a clean break by selling my shares to the company. I was a bloody hippie idiot and I wanted to make sure everyone’s jobs were safe. So I sold the shares for a fraction of their value – about 15% of what I could have reasonably asked for. (You can check the numbers yourself at Companies House.) It was still around 360K GBP – not much for selling a multi-million-pound business, but far more than I’d ever expected to see in my personal bank account, so it’s not like I walked away empty-handed.
I had also created the original IP for Fallen London, both technical and creative, in my bedroom, a half a year before I ever founded Failbetter. I’d never got around to assigning it formally to the company. So when I left, we made sure (with my enthusiastic co-operation) that the possibly-complicated IP rights would be assigned to Failbetter in my severance contract.
Now the plot twist.
(i) The laws on this kind of thing in the UK are extremely strict. Failbetter didn’t follow those laws, and so the contract they gave me to sign was illegal and void. I didn’t realise this, because I trusted everyone completely and I didn’t take legal advice (I know, I know). When Lottie and I, much later, stumbled across this, we checked with a fancy corporate lawyer who said, yup yup, the buyback seems to be defective.
(ii) But here’s the kicker… the contract was never actually executed. I queried a few of the details on the day I left (like giving up my moral rights as author), and my co-founder and I agreed to come back to it later. Then we never got around to completing the process (because good terms, total trust, etc). I forgot this. For years, I forgot this. But when I looked a few months ago, I didn’t have a signed contract, and when we pestered them, Failbetter eventually grudgingly admitted they didn’t either.
So (fancy corporate lawyer has confirmed), I’m still probably, technically the legal owner of Failbetter; and their rights to their core technical and creative IP are shaky. Also, everyone still on the board of Failbetter might be guilty of a corporate crime that carries a two-year prison sentence. Possibly me too. (I also owe Failbetter 360K GBP – about a half-million USD – which is more of a bummer).
This is what you and I would call a giant rolling ball of clusterfuck for everyone involved, and what expensive lawyers call ‘interesting’. If Failbetter decided to fight, it would need to be resolved in court. I’ll be honest, I have been rather tempted to go that route – surprise attack!! – but at this point, above all, Lottie and I just want our lives back. So we just shared everything we’d learnt with Failbetter, as a show of good faith, and suggested we fix the issue together as part of a mediation process.
Unfortunately, as soon as Failbetter realised what we knew, they stopped replying to our emails entirely. I assume they were embarrassed, and I assume they were concerned about what I might do. I think the original situation was an honest mistake (‘criminal negligence’ if you’re feeling uncharitable) but I sometimes wonder how long they’ve known about it. Regardless, it needs sorting out, and it needs sorting out sharpish (see ‘giant rolling ball of clusterfuck’ above).
A week ago, we sent them this final email. My annotations, again, are in [square brackets].
Mon, July 19th, 9:54 AM
Dear Adam, Chris, Emily, Hannah, Henry and Paul,
We’ve been trying to resolve the dispute between Failbetter Games and Weather Factory since March. It’s now July, and we haven’t had a response since the critical issue with Alexis’s severance contract was identified.
This is something both sides are legally required to fix, so the situation is now quite urgent. Additionally, as we pointed out in March, neither side has a full picture of everything that’s happened. Mediation is the most reasonable way to address this. We can’t force you to talk if you don’t want to, but this is our last attempt to convey why it’s vital that we do.
Below are the most urgent points that need to be addressed. We might have the wrong end of the stick with some of them: if so, please explain the situation so we can let them go or otherwise resolve them. It’s possible that not everyone on the board knew about all these issues: if so, it should be relatively easy to iron them out. Here goes.
1. In August 2019, @failbettergames on Twitter endorsed some false, and very serious, accusations about Alexis. Publicly available evidence later contradicted those accusations. We’d like to understand what Failbetter’s official position is, and to give you an opportunity to disassociate the company from statements that have turned out to be false.
2. Your official accounts have been silent since then, but some of your employees have continued to attack us personally. Sometimes they’ve been explicit that they’re speaking personally, but later walked that back and suggested they’re speaking officially. Candidly, either the accusations are real or they’re frivolous. If they’re real, we want to address them and, if appropriate, make amends. If frivolous, your employees should withdraw them.
[Through back channels, I’ve learnt that the @failbettergames tweets weren’t exactly officially sanctioned. They went out at half ten at night, UK time, when Paul Arendt, my original co-founder at Failbetter and still the most senior director, was out of the UK, on holiday and off the internet. Someone with access to the account apparently took the opportunity to stick the knife in, before the board could discuss properly.
That put them in a tricky situation, as their lawyers apparently pointed out to them. They were legally exposed, but if they deleted the original tweets that would be an admission that they’d lied. So they just never mentioned it officially again, ever, at all… although either through poor message discipline, or because management was turning a blind eye, some of their employees did.
‘explicit that they’re speaking personally, but later walked that back and suggested they’re speaking officially’ – in particular, a bizarre post by Adam Myers, which is sometimes unofficial and sometimes official depending on who’s asking and whether they might have spoken to a lawyer lately. More on this in a mo.]
3. Last year, when we secured funding for our next game, senior employees endorsed a Twitter drive to get that funding withdrawn. Failbetter’s position seems to be that we shouldn’t be allowed to receive funding and/or that we shouldn’t be allowed to continue making games. Please clarify things, if we’ve misunderstood – or we can discuss in mediation.
4. Some of your employees made and/or endorsed insults and untruths about Lottie. You know that there was never a complaint or concern raised about her conduct or character, and we suspect she comes in for a drubbing because of her continued association with Alexis. Please either confirm that Failbetter thinks this behaviour is acceptable, or ask your employees to apologise and stop.
5. You’ve given Lottie cause for serious complaint about the way she was treated as an employee – especially after Alexis’s departure. For instance, you repeatedly assured her that her relationship with Alexis wasn’t a problem, but later claimed it was evidence of Alexis’s professional misconduct; you also did nothing to address the concerns that she’d raised about Adam’s behaviour toward her. Again, if Failbetter is sincere about protecting women in the industry, this needs further discussion.
[If you don’t know the circs, this sounds a bit like Lottie’s accusing Adam of sexual misconduct, which, to be clear, she isn’t. But if you skim the bizarre post I mentioned above, you can draw your own conclusions. The post is about 20% disingenuous, 20% outright dishonest and 40% sanctimonious hogwash, but that leaves 20% residual truth. So it is indeed true that he saw me and Lottie flirting – flirting consensually! not even kissing! – at the Christmas party. It’s also true that he was so enraged that he fired off a rambling complaint about it to the second most senior person in the company, immediately before he disappeared on holiday for two weeks, without talking to either me or Lottie first.
Which put me in a pretty weird position when he got back, let me tell you. And Lottie, who didn’t like male colleagues discussing her personal life without talking to her first, in a weirder one. Adam and I did have a meeting, although the way he describes it is – how shall I put this?- ‘inspired by a true story’. One of the bits he left out is this: I told him that Lottie didn’t like men talking about her sex life behind her back, that it was her and my business, but if he had any questions he should address them to her. He never did, but evidently he hasn’t stopped talking about her sex life either.]
6. When we requested personal data under GDPR, you refused to provide it. When we pointed out that a senior manager at Failbetter had intentionally leaked our personal data, you dismissed our concerns. We’ve already had one complaint upheld by the Information Commissioner’s Office, but we’re holding off on the more serious complaint in the hope that we can address it in mediation.
[The ‘senior manager’ was Adam, obviously. In the Medium post I linked above, he’d fudged up some ‘receipts’ to smear both Lottie and me. Our GDPR request included things like our HR records, our chat logs, and our emails, which we knew would disprove his claims. (And the notes that I wrote up of that meeting, though I think he had a fair argument that this was mixed personal data.) Not entirely surprisingly, he wouldn’t hand any of it over.
But we also complained about the way Adam, specifically, had treated our personal data, because most companies would be less gung-ho about selectively and misleadingly leaking the HR records of a junior female employee. Adam blew us off there, too. The surreal thing is that he kept answering on Failbetter’s behalf, and we never got a reply from anyone else. I assume he doesn’t actually have the rest of them locked in a cupboard over there, but that was rather the vibe.]
7. In 2017, you told Alexis that due to an accounting error he was still owed a substantial sum in unpaid dividends. He asked you to donate it to a specified charity. The donation was never made, and when he raised the matter, you refused to explain why. We need to sort this out.
[The ‘substantial sum’ was 1043 GBP – about 1400 USD – which is either a hell of a lot, or an accounting blip, depending on where you’re standing. I think Failbetter forgot to make the donation and then, when I asked them about it three years later, were embarrassed, and tried to bury the matter. Still needs sorting out.]
8. One or more senior Failbetter employees appear to have intentionally passed sensitive information to Alexis’s stalker. They must have been aware that she would use this information to further her harassment of both Alexis and Lottie. We’ve asked for some remaining personal data (e.g. scans of our passports) to be deleted, and you’ve refused those requests. This has to stop.
[This is nearly, but not quite, as bad as it sounds. For at least three years, Lottie and I have had a stalker. She appears to be the person behind the @abuseindustry account that kicked all this off in August 2019. She’s posted my personal data and pictures of my house (my old place: we keep our address confidential these days), tried ineptly to hack our site, and bombarded us with malignant nonsense via social media and email in a style I would describe as “Enraged English Lit Undergrad”. Some examples further down.
The one saving grace – the reason I say ‘very nearly as bad’ – is that Failbetter might not know everything our stalker has been doing, and might think that they’ve been cosying up to a genuinely injured innocent, rather than a poisonous nut-job.]
9. A Failbetter employee seems to have subverted the BAFTA jury process in March 2019. At the same time, Failbetter began removing Alexis’s name from blog posts and other credits, including Fallen London and Sunless Skies. Alexis’s work (including a very personal post about the death of his father) is now presented as the work of later hires.
[re: subversion. This was Olivia Wood, on the Best Narrative Game jury. To explain: before you can be on a BAFTA jury, you have to sign a statement declaring that you don’t have any conflicts of interest that might prevent you from being fair and unbiased. For instance, if one of the shortlisted games was made by a man who jilted you, and the woman he jilted you for…. people you’re still so angry with that you spearhead a cancellation campaign against them six months later.
I might never had known about any of this. But in another odd twist of fate, I was originally on the BAFTA Best Narrative Game jury, and I had to recuse myself because of a conflict of interest, when I found out Cultist was on the shortlist. (We did get two other nominations, for the other two categories we’d been shortlisted for, which would have added to the frustration for Olivia and for anyone else at Failbetter she’s told.)
re: the removal from credits. The WayBack Machine confirms that Failbetter took my and Lottie’s names off the blog posts the same week as the jury. Perhaps Olivia went through and removed the blog attributions herself; perhaps she broke BAFTA confidentiality rules and told someone else there, and they did it. I guess one is weirder and one is worse.
I’m not sure about the timing of the credits removal. The Sunless Skies thing is more funny than annoying, honestly, since I didn’t actually work on it. I started up the top, with ORIGINAL CONCEPT, and every time I did something to annoy them I got moved further down, until eventually I was just below DEVELOPMENT BABIES, and then I finally disappeared altogether.
The Fallen London thing, on the other hand, I don’t find funny at all. I created the game; it was my first ever commercial project; I worked on it for seven years; you can go through the entire site and not find one reference to me.]
10. You and Alexis are embroiled in a serious legal issue. You presented Alexis with an illegal contract, that contract was never executed, and your CEO has attempted to conceal these facts. This leaves the ownership of the company, and the IP, in dispute. It leaves Failbetter’s directors open to criminal prosecution. It’s essential that we all resolve this as soon as possible, but it’s difficult to do so without addressing the other issues above!
All that was pretty upsetting to set down, so we imagine it’s also upsetting to read. Thank you for taking the time to do so. You almost certainly have points of your own, which, again, we want to listen to and answer in a regulated and respectful mediation session.
Finally, we’d also like to urge you again to join us in conducting a formal, professional third-party investigation into Alexis’s conduct as CEO of Failbetter Games. We expect him to be exonerated, but we must, in good conscience, be open to the possibility that he caused pain that neither one of us saw. We’d commit to abiding by the findings of the investigation and remedying any wrongs. We’re sure you would too.
Here’s hoping the above makes the last two years of unpleasantness clear from our point of view. Let us know if you have any thoughts, and here’s to a happier future.
Lottie and Alexis
Okay, that’s a lot, and we thought it would shake loose a response if anything would. But you know how this works by now: we didn’t get even get a form reply. I rather think they mistook courtesy for cowardice.
It’s very possible that we misunderstood something, and that I’m missing information that would make their actions look reasonable. If so, I’ll update this post with any response that Failbetter cares to send.
THE BACKSTORY: WHY THE HELL EVEN?
Things always get weird after a founder leaves a company. Various Failbetters, some of whom had liked me more than others, were now competitors but had to keep working in the IP I’d built, in the shadow I still cast. (I learnt that one person actually pitched a game internally over there called – I swear to God – Crone Simulator.). Then there were just years of rivalry, gossip, and people not talking to each other.
But we stayed on good terms for a fair while. I had lunch with Paul Arendt (co-founder, then CEO) every month. Failbetter boosted the Cultist Simulator Kickstarter. I was invited to the SUNLESS SKIES Early Access launch party. (‘It’s a very beautiful game’, I told a jittery Paul. ‘You’ll be fine.’)
There was one thing specifically that created the beef; and there was one thing, I think, that pushed them over the edge.
WHERE IT BEGAN: The Great Failbetter Purge of December 2017
I’d left all that money in the company to make sure everyone’s jobs were safe. I went and spoke to Paul Arendt, my then friend and former co-founder, in August 2017, to check their jobs were safe.
Paul told me, and management later told everyone, that their jobs were safe.
Then in December management told everyone their jobs weren’t safe, two days before the Christmas party. Which they then cancelled. Later, they posted a handsome profit for that year. Their biggest ever, I think.
I was incandescent. I wrote an open letter to Paul and to Failbetter, to urge him to look for another way… but I thought it over, and in the end never actually sent it. (It’s remained buried and unsent until now – check the last edited date – but here it is. It’s still a decent summary…. though a couple of my predictions were naïve.)
But then some of the people whose jobs were at risk went to Eurogamer. Eurogamer came to me and asked me about it. I told them what I thought, and I went on the record rather than be an ‘anonymous source’. The other aggrieved employees stayed anonymous, for obvious reasons. (Though many of them, in states of desperation, invited themselves round for Chinese takeaway and sympathy, and specifically asked me for employment advice – in one case, for a bit of emergency contract work so that they wouldn’t have to leave the country. This seems an odd choice for the vulnerable junior staff to make, if I were the abusive tyrant CEO Failbetter have since implied me to be.)
Talking to Eurogamer was a hard decision, but I was faced with a choice between two sets of friends, and I sided with the friends who’d been fucked over. I can see that this whole business must have caused some cognitive dissonance for the Failbetter management, who were evidently coming to terms with maybe not being the good guys on this occasion.
(For fairness, I’ll link here to Failbetter’s account of what happened. It’s a clever PR response and it won them a lot of sympathy… especially since you wouldn’t realise, unless you look closely at the timelines, that it was published before the Eurogamer article, but after Eurogamer had approached them for comment.)
This was the point at which everyone grumpily unfollowed everyone else on the Twitters, and this, I think, was the point at which Lottie and I were marked. For a long time I thought I was being paranoid about this.
Oddly enough, it was Adam Myers who confirmed that I wasn’t being paranoid.
I mentioned above that we requested our personal data under the GDPR. They didn’t give us anything we’d actually wanted, but what they did hand over included two alarming items:
A PDF of issue 9 of a print magazine, WIREFRAME, for which Lottie was writing a monthly column. They’d only kept issue 9, in which Lottie’s column was about studio layoffs. Read it closely and you’ll notice one sentence halfway down about the Failbetter layoffs, though it doesn’t even actually name Failbetter. This was evidently enough to attract the Eye.
A chat log from the Cultist Simulator fan Discord, of the one and only time I ever talked about the Eurogamer article in there. So just to be clear, Adam or someone else was lurking in our fan Discord the whole time, just in case, or else combed through the logs to find any possible conversations of interest. Here’s the only conversation they found interesting enough to record.
I wouldn’t absolutely swear to it, but I believe those were the only two times in two years that Lottie and I even mentioned the layoffs in public. We certainly were very close-mouthed about it. I gave an hour-long GDC talk about my experiences running Failbetter, and never said a word on the matter. It was a pretty crawly-back-of-the-neck feeling to see those items in Adam’s response and realise how closely they must have been watching us. I gotta assume that’s why they were sent.
(Hi, Cultist Simulator Discord members! This is one of the reasons you don’t see me in there any more.)
WHERE IT ENDED: ‘PEOPLE HAVE KILLED FOR LESS’
In July 2019, we – Weather Factory – got four nominations for the Develop Star Awards. So did Failbetter. Uh oh, you might think. You’d be right.
Lottie and I didn’t go to the awards ceremony. Mostly, we wanted some time alone together and a romantic meal. Partly, honestly, there was clearly beef between us and Failbetter, and whether we did well or badly, we didn’t fancy potentially sitting opposite them dealing with the old stink-eye (or resisting the temptation to stink our own eyes).
Failbetter did go. They turned up en masse. You have to purchase a ticket for everyone you want to bring to an award – that’s how the awards racket works – and it must have cost them a few grand, all told.
As we sat in the restaurant, our phone started pinging like crazy. We kept winning the noms: three out of four, as it turned out, and the press led with us being the ‘big winners’ of the night. One site couldn’t get a picture of me, because I was off eating monkfish curry with Lottie, so they led with my daft Twitter avatar. Our marketing rep had to pick up the plaques for us and make three (apparently very charming) spontaneous speeches.
And Failbetter didn’t win anything. I had mixed feelings the day after. It’s bloody nice to win awards, but I’ve been at a fair few ceremonies when I’ve won nothing, and I know what that’s like too. I could imagine horribly clearly how it must have been to see the targets of one’s beef walk off with all those prizes. I was a little sympathetic… and I was a little worried about what might happen next.
I was right. The following month, we got hit with viral allegations of misconduct tacked on to the #MeToo and #TimesUp movements, scheduled to land on my daughter’s tenth birthday, the week before we launched our long-trailed Kickstarter for BOOK OF HOURS.
BOOK OF HOURS… we had to abandon the Kickstarter. I nearly gave up on the game altogether. But Lottie, with typical determination, secured funding from Creative Europe. But then Twitter, with the enthusiastic endorsement of Failbetter, tried to get Creative Europe to rescind the funding. We had a grim month waiting to see if that would happen.
They didn’t rescind it. We still have the funding. The allegations don’t stand up to any kind of scrutiny. We’re still making the game. But we don’t want to sit around waiting to see what form a third attack might take. That, above all, is why I’m writing this now.
EXHIBITS FROM THE MUSEUM OF THE HORRIBLE
I’ve been reasonably polite for most of this post, especially considering the context, but I have spent a lot of the last two years being very cross indeed (non-Brits, plug that into Google Translate for more swears). I’m about to share a few more things with you which I still find very difficult to stomach. So I hope you’ll indulge me, here on the home stretch, if my tone becomes more robust.
Exhibit A from the Museum of the Horrible is this Twitter exchange between one of the loudest voices in the original allegations, and a very well-known and successful male game developer. I do have a little sympathy for Mr Very Well-Known, etc, because he’s plainly terrified out of his mind, and he has, at some point since then, deleted his side of the conversation.
Exhibit B. I mentioned our stalker. Here’s an excerpt from one of the emails she sent us, a year after the whole cancellation thing. I’ve spared you the whole thing, because good crikey she does go on rather, but you’ll get the idea.
And so on and so on and so on. If you want more, I have you covered. (‘Leaping Jesus!’, remarks Lottie. She hadn’t seen all of that.)
Exhibit C. Here’s that blog post Lottie mentioned in the Failbetter letter – the one about how the death of my father influenced Sunless Sea.
As Lottie also mentioned in the letter, it’s not credited to me any more. I comprehend, though I abhor, the temptation to take people’s name off game credits – either because you don’t like them or because you want to steal their rep. But I’d like you to take a moment to imagine how you’d feel if someone took your name off a blog post about the death of your father, and then, when you asked them about it, gave you the brush-off. I could have lived with them deleting it; but I guess they just didn’t want to lose any SEO content they didn’t need to.
My point is: this is not normal. None of the other Museum of the Horrible items above are normal. None of the stuff we described in the letter is normal.
What is going on here? Assume for a moment that all the accusations Failbetter has made about me and Lottie (and Lottie’s mum) are true. Then try to fit your head around the stuff above, again. It’s fucked up.
I’ve gone out of my way to say that not everyone at Failbetter is involved, that probably not all of senior management knows everything that’s gone on, and that there was no master plan to destroy us, just a series of acts of spite. I still believe this. Take that blog post above. Perhaps someone took my name off in a moment of thoughtless pettiness, and then didn’t care enough to walk it back.
But everything I’ve described is something they’ve unleashed, endorsed and in some cases been directly involved in. They’ve made no effort to address it or even distance themselves from it.
So now I want to take a moment to address myself to those at Failbetter who did know what was going on.
Take some damned responsibility. You all have your excuses for what you’ve done, and what you’ve permitted. Some of you have grudges and grievances. But you’re adults in an extraordinarily fortunate position. You were handed secure jobs in control of a multi-million pound business. You’re there because I sold it to you for a fraction of its value, so that the jobs of our friends would be safe. You abandoned the responsibilities I’d entrusted to you; when I pointed out that wasn’t cool, it hurt your feelings and you started trying to mess with me and with my family.
Lottie and I worked side by side with many of you for years. I’ve known some of you for much longer. If you had really believed I was behaving badly, you chose to do nothing about it for years. You didn’t contact me, you didn’t warn Lottie, you didn’t do anything to fix issues or protect people. Either these accusations are frivolous, in which case you’ve tried damned hard to ruin my life for no good reason, or they’re serious, in which case you’ve shown no responsibility whatsoever. No leadership, no reforms, no truth-and-reconciliation, just some fire-and-forget accusations and some nasty gossip.
You ruined my daughter’s tenth birthday by picking that day for your callout. I sometimes pretend I think that was an accident, but enough of you had made a big deal of her previous birthdays when, I guess, you still cared about being in good odour with me. One of you chose that date because you thought I’d be out of town and distracted. A ten year old kid, for Pete’s sake.
Lottie’s mother. She’s a semi-retired special needs English teacher who had to protect her Twitter account because your god damned employees are prancing about the internet accusing her of being a racist aristocrat.
And, let’s not forget, Lottie herself. You blew up her feminist initiative and you did nothing to replace it. You pissed all over her career and you came damned near to driving her out of the industry altogether. You gloated about it publicly. ‘Protecting women in games… except the ones in AK’s family.’ Give me a break.
And take a look at the bigger picture. You took advantage of the #MeToo movement to make false allegations in pursuit of personal grudges. You’ve not only hurt me and my family, you’ve damaged the future credibility of every woman with a legitimate complaint.
So grow up. Show some leadership and some responsibility. We can still fix this. You owe it to Lottie, you owe it to me, you owe it to everyone you’re setting a bad example to.
I kept the leaving card you gave me the day I left Failbetter, five years ago:
Mediate, investigate. That’s how we resolve this. If we could determine in mediation that I (or Lottie!) had misunderstood the situation, we’d apologise and address it. If an investigation showed that I had done things I should make amends for, I would make them.
If you don’t want to do either, then look yourself in the eye, in the mirror, and say with a straight face: “Protecting women has been the real reason for everything we’ve done. We’re only refusing mediation and we’re only blocking investigation because it advances that noble goal.” I dare you.
Unsent open letter to Paul Arendt, then CEO of Failbetter, December 2017
‘Behind the Sunless Scenes’, 2018 Eurogamer piece on the Failbetter layoffs
My response to the misconduct allegations, September 2019
Lottie on the problems with cancel culture, September 2019
Lottie on the ongoing attacks, June 2020
Thanks for reading. If we hear from Failbetter, or if we learn anything else relevant, we’ll update this post.
UPDATE 13/09/2021: Seven weeks in. Failbetter still haven’t denied or contested any of this. But privately, they did contact us to negotiate.
Behind the scenes, they finally agreed that there had indeed been a ‘procedural issue’ (‘criminal negligence’, tomato tomahto) that left share and IP ownership unclear. They got a big IP law firm to put together a document that would assert I had no claim on the company, and asked me to sign it. Here’s how we responded.
Thanks for your response. It’s wonderful to be talking practically about how to resolve our disagreements.
Alexis is willing to honour your request once we’ve worked out more details. But obviously that can’t happen until we’ve addressed the allegations by both sides.
Alexis has his own concerns, and we’ve repeatedly attempted to address yours, but you’ve once again sidelined my concerns, engaging only with the interests of the men in this equation. I’ve described in detail my continued harassment, and the continued sabotage of my business, by Failbetter employees. I understand you might not wish to discuss these in writing or in public, but how can we move forward if you won’t address them in mediation either?
We just want a fair hearing and a fair resolution, for both our grievances and yours. If you find it awkward to speak to me in person, I’m more than happy for another director to attend in your place. We’d recommend mediation with [redacted] who’s managed conflicts similar to ours in the games industry and comes highly recommended, or [redacted], a larger organisation with impressive credentials. We’re happy to do the legwork setting up dates and managing the admin – what would it take for a Failbetter representative to attend?
All the best,
(Meanwhile – very suddenly – Olivia Wood left Failbetter. We don’t know if she jumped or was pushed, but presumably Failbetter were worried about her actions bringing them into disrepute.)
A month passed. We heard nothing. Lottie did remind me that the last time Failbetter stopped responding was also the last time she raised the issue of her being harassed. But then at the end of last week we saw one of Failbetter’s senior people joining in another pop at us, and at our supporters, on Twitter.
Depressingly, it looks like they’re not going to talk but they’re also not going to leave us alone. So if we want our lives back, we’re going to have to escalate further.
UPDATE 13/08/2021: Three weeks in. Failbetter haven’t responded to press enquiries or made a public statement. But they have now responded to our email, and we’ve begun negotiations. So we’ll leave off the updates unless the negotiations break down, or both sides agree we should post something.
[edit: gi.biz have told us that Failbetter didn’t pressure them to remove the post. More on this below.]
UPDATE 02/08/2021. Two weeks have passed since we sent Failbetter management that final mail; a week since we published it. We were expecting that they would contest some of what we’d said; or disavow some of the odder statements made by employees; or at least put out a holding statement. They haven’t, either privately or publicly. But they do appear (I can’t quite believe I’m typing this) to be leaning on the press to squash the story.
The biggest site to cover us was gamesindustry.biz. This is the now-dead link to their article, and here’s the original article, plucked from the Google cache. We emailed to ask what was happening. GI.biz told us they’d taken down the article pending comment from Failbetter. We followed up a couple more times over the course of the week, but they’ve stopped responding, and the article now seems to be gone for good. The only explanation I can see is that editor-in-chief (who wrote the article) came under pressure to remove the piece. But if we’ve somehow misunderstood what’s happening here, we invite Failbetter or GI.biz to let us know.
[We went up the chain to the MD of Gamer Network. This got us a response from gi.biz:
"Apologies for the delayed response - been caught up with the Activision Blizzard lawsuit and fallout. We've been discussing this on the team and opted not to republish the article at this time. While we understand there is a call for an investigation, the situation as we have covered it does not appear to have changed. If an investigation begins, we will indeed cover that as news but at this time, we do not believe it is quite right to report on this. With regard to the balance of our reporting, I'll reiterate that all articles we have run do include Alexis' denials. This is not an instance of us picking and choosing what to cover, but concentrating only on covering the developments that advance the situation (hopefully to a resolution at some point). The long-form denial posts, while giving plenty of arguments in Alexis' favour, do not significantly change or expand upon what we have already reported, i.e. that he has denied all allegations. From what I can tell, the posts were published long after the original articles, and we do not tend to update old articles after an extended period of time. Instead, we wait for a new development in the story, as I hope I've managed to explain. We reached out to Failbetter to comment. They did not comment, nor did they pressure us not to run the story. The suggestion, as I've seen on your blog, that we have been coerced into not republishing the article is in no way accurate - and if anything your coming to this conclusion highlights why we need to be so cautious when reporting on this issue when only one side is offering comment. Please do keep me posted on the situation, and when it is appropriate to cover this again, we shall do our best to do so."
[They say unequivocally that Failbetter didn’t, in fact, pressure them to remove the post. I believe them, and I retract that suggestion, though I am sceptical about their rationale for the rest of it.]
The other development is that we heard back from the ICO about our GDPR complaint. They upheld it, but so far Failbetter management are ignoring them, too. I can’t help remembering the Wolf of Wall Street scene with Jonah Hill weeing into a bin full of FBI subpoenas. If anyone over at Failbetter is reading this, please, let’s not go down that road. We’re ready to talk when you are.