(UPDATED) Darwin Project Developer Co-Founders Accused Of Promoting Toxic, Sexist Workplace Environment
Scavengers Studio, makers of free-to-play battle royale Darwin Project and the upcoming PC and PlayStation 5 title Season, has a "toxic work environment that leadership created" where employees are regularly screamed at and female employees have frequently faced harassment, GamesIndustry.biz reported in a lengthy exposé about working conditions at the Montreal developer. The studio was co-founded by former Ubisoft designer Simon Darveau and Amélie Lamarche, who were in a romantic relationship at the time of its founding and have encouraged "an environment hostile to women" where "screaming matches are common," GamesIndustry alleged.
Darveau and other male employees "frequently degraded" female employees or "infantilized and treated [women] as if they did not know what they were talking about even when speaking from a position of expertise about their own work." Most troubling, Darveau allegedly became intoxicated at a January 2019 party that saw him "inappropriately touch and grab multiple female employees." One employee described Darveau at this event as being in "full predator mode."
Abby, the female protagonist of Season, was originally supposed to play a guitar, but that was changed to a ukulele when an employee insisted that a guitar was "too complicated for a woman." Other male employees frequently made inappropriate comments about women's appearances or other "sexist remarks and behaviors." Employees of both genders mentioned Darveau's propensity to scream at other employees, and even to an Xbox representative over the phone when he was unsatisfied with the space his company had been allocated in a booth at a convention.
The problems at the developer were compounded by Lamarche's influence. As the de facto head of HR, she was the contact point for people in the company expressing concerns about Darveau, which many employees felt presented a clear conflict of interest. (The two are no longer in a romantic relationship.) In early 2019, Lamarche replaced Darveau as CEO, though he still maintains a position of influence in the company.
New HR guidelines were announced around this time, though two employees GI.biz spoke to recalled Darveau "cracking jokes through the entire meeting" and "being like a teenager in the audience ... laughing and riffing on whatever the sexual harassment policies were." Darveau allegedly exhibited similar immature behavior at other times as well, including holding grudges against employees who disagreed with him or living in the office and leaving messes, including trash and other personal items.
Our summary only scratches the surface of the allegations against Darveau and Lamarche, which GI.biz said it compiled from interviews with nine current and former employees at Scavengers Studio. If true, they represent a deeply flawed company, reflective of the person who leads it, described as "excellent at delivering a compelling pitch" for a game but also lacking a "concrete plan, and there's never really a game in the end."
UPDATE, Jan. 27: In a message posted on the Scavengers Studio website today, Amelie Lamarche announced that she has temporarily stepped down from her position as CEO while an independent firm conducts an audit of its business practices. In addition, Simon Darveau has been "indefinitely suspended from all responsibilities within the company and from the Board of Directors."
About the Author
Jason Winter is a veteran gaming journalist, he brings a wide range of experience to MMOBomb, including two years with Beckett Media where he served as the editor of the leading gaming magazine Massive Online Gamer. He has also written professionally for several gaming websites.
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