Current and former employees of Scavengers Studio, the Montreal-based indie developers of the battle-royale Darwin Project and the upcoming game called Season, have alleged the co-founder and creative director Simon Darveau of inappropriate behaviour and sexual harassment. In a report by GamesIndustry.biz, nine employees have spoken up under anonymity, about the toxic and hostile work environment in this studio promoted by the founders Simon Darveau and Amélie Lamarche, the current CEO.
One major incident that many we spoke to were aware of occurred in mid-2018, and involved an employee who one day simply stopped showing up to work. Sometime later, an office meeting was called in which it was announced that she wouldn’t be returning. Employees who spoke to Lamarche later told the story around the office: Darveau allegedly had an affair with the employee, and Lamarche had found out. No one was able to confirm whether or not the employee had left of her own volition following this incident.
These problems were further amplified, since being a small team the company did not have a seperate HR department. This was handled solely by the CEO Amélie Lamarche, who constantly downplayed the involvement of Darveau in such incidents and let him go scot free. Many employees reported that this was a conflict of interest since the two were in a romantic relationship for many years. The studio has responded to these reports by issuing a statement saying that “any type of harassment is unwelcomed and unacceptable and takes any complaints in this respect very seriously”. They have also pointed out the hiring of a third-party HR consultant in 2019, the formation of a Wellness Committee and promised a yearly anonymous survey.
The studio’s problems with treatment of women came to a head during a company party in January of 2019. Up to that point, sources said, Scavengers parties typically included alcohol, and Darveau especially would often become drunk and loud. At this one, he was especially drunk, and multiple sources claim they saw him inappropriately touch and grab multiple female employees. One employee who was there described Darveau as “in full predator mode.”
One of the victims assaulted by him at this party, reportedly resigned the next Monday, and another soon after. Instead of any action against Darveau, this incident was excused as drunken disorderly conduct. A policy of cutting back on alcohol at work events was instated at the studio. A meeting was scheduled to discuss harassment policies right after this, but it did not directly address the actions of Darveau. Two employees recall him cracking jokes “like a teenager” during the meeting.
Many sources cited a specific incident in 2018 where he pulled an employee into a meeting room with himself and Lamarche and yelled such that employees outside the room could hear something going on, until he finally left the room and slammed the door. The employee being yelled at quit immediately following this incident, but four sources said that Darveau had pulled other employees into meeting rooms to scream at them similarly on multiple other occasions.
The host of allegations don’t end there – Darveau has also been accused of stealing alcohol from other people’s desks, promoting a boys-club culture, use of sexist remarks and degrading language. Their last game, Darwin Project, got shuttered only 4 months after its launch in January 2020. This has also been attributed to Darveau’s inability to follow through on ideas, frequently ignoring the advice of domain experts and a disorganized form of leadership where he sells the vision of a game to the team and publishers but does not have an design or plan to implement it.
2020’s #MeToo phase of the gaming industry got people like Chris Avellone, Serge Hascoët and Ashraf Ismail to name a few, removed from their positions due to allegations against them, and a number of companies like Rocksteady, Insomniac and Ubisoft faced flak for their inaction in handling these issues appropriately. We hope reports like this give victims the courage to speak out and report such incidents to the media, and help make the gaming industry a safer place to work in.