Scavengers Studio, the company behind the now defunct battle royale Darwin Project and the upcoming PlayStatiion 5 exclusive Season, has had to respond today to allegations of abuse lodged against co-founder Simon Darveau (formerly of Spearhead Games and Ubisoft), and the toxic atmosphere enabled by co-founder Amélie Lamarche.
GamesIndustry.biz has reported on the allegations of nine current and former employees of the Montreal-based studio. A “boys’ club” culture was permitted, with women saying they were degraded, infantilised and belittled by some of the male employees, including by Darveau, and sexist remarks being used to undercut their role in the studio. This included a ridiculous put down that a proposed feature to have Abby, the protagonist in Season, be able to play guitar “wasn’t realistic” because it was too complicated for a woman. Whoever that was can just get in the bin.
This boiled over at a company party in January 2019, where Darveau was especially drunk and was seen inappropriately touching and groping at women employees. Two of these women left shortly afterwards, and it did prompt the studio to take action, bringing in an investigator (whose report wasn’t made clear to employees), and deciding that alcohol at work events would be reduced, and Darveau would no longer be drinking at these events. He remains as co-owner and creative director at the studio, though the role of CEO has been handed to co-founder Amélie Lamarche.
In a statement to these allegations, Scavengers Studio said:
“Scavengers Studio appreciates that there have been situations during its rapid growth and takes the position that any type of harassment is unwelcomed and unacceptable and takes any complaints in this respect very seriously. You should note that Scavengers Studio has taken positive steps to look into its culture to see what aspects need to be adjusted.
“In early 2019, Simon Darveau was replaced as CEO by Lamarche who took full control of the company. As a new female CEO, Lamarche started to build a mid-management team composed of competent team members to continue to lead the company in its mission of creating new gaming experiences with very strong and innovative empathetic twists. The new management team has since then recreated a sense of calm and happiness in the workplace where talents are gathered around interesting and dynamic projects and where differences are embraced.”
So let’s talk about Lamarche, who is implicated through enabling this continuing toxicity. She founded the studio with Darveau, who was her romantic partner at the time. While there have been some HR hires in recent years, they have since left and Lamarche always had final say on how to deal with any issues and complaints. Obviously with many of the complaints sure to target Darveau or those he enables, there’s a serious conflict of interest.
One damning quote said, “She gives this vibe of, ‘I support women in games,’ …but it’s really not the case. There were a lot of circumstances at work where she should’ve said something and should’ve done something, like when Simon would make inappropriate jokes or yell at people, but she didn’t.”
Things did marginally improve following the events of early 2019, and they did put forth an anti-harassment policy – though apparently it’s effectively a copy and paste of the standard Quebec government model and there’s still some of the “boys’ club” atmosphere that goes unchallenged.
In general there’s also just plain toxicity with employees being taken into side-rooms to be shouted at (which the rest of the studio would hear), and now with working from home and conference calling the norm, shouting and arguments taking place in front of the assembled studio on the call.
As the studio has shifted focus from Darwin Project to Season, Darveau has now taken over the lead of the latter, apparently over the objections of those who laid the foundations for the project in pre-production, using the exclusivity deal struck with Sony to implement his vision for the game, and promising certain features like a larger world, quests and objective markers, which weren’t in the game’s design spec at the time.
“Now I don’t even know what’s been announced because it’s so different from what we had planned,” one person said. “I don’t even recognize the game.”
All told, it’s another hugely disappointing tale to hear about a game studio where abuse and toxicity seems rife, especially when the next game their creating seems to be so very open-minded and progressive.