Update, 12:30pm PST, 1/27/21:
Scavengers Studio CEO Amélie Lamarche released a statement today addressing the allegations and outlining several actions the company is taking as a result. Creative director Simon Darveau, the subject of most of the allegations, is indefinitely suspended from all responsibilities and from the board of directors. Scavengers Studio is also bringing in a third-party firm to audit its workplace culture and practices, the results of which will be shared with every employee of Scavengers Studio upon its completion.
Lamarche said she will also be temporarily stepping down from her role as CEO for the duration of the audit as she was also the subject of allegations and her romantic relationship with Darveau was considering a conflict of interest for some of the anonymous employees who came forward.
"Scavengers Studio wishes to apologize for the harm caused. Allegations such as these are serious, and we are committed to doing better for our employees, our fans and our partners," Lamarche wrote
Scavengers Studio is a Montréal-based indie studio with around 40 employees that made a big splash at the Game Awards in December with the announcement of Season. This narrative-driven adventure game is about a young woman bicycling across a surrealistic landscape, documenting her journey and the artifacts she finds to prevent them from being lost in a mysterious and impending apocalypse. But despite Season's serene vibes, several employees have come forward to accuse Scavengers Studio co-founders, creative director Simon Darveau and CEO Amélie Lamarche, of fostering a hostile and sexist working environment.
A report by GamesIndustry.biz, who spoke to nine current and past employees, details multiple specific incidents of sexual and verbal harassment dating back to 2018. These allegations also describe a generally hostile work environment—especially for women—where employees would be publicly degraded, yelled at, and objectified. In one such incident, which happened in 2019, Simon Darveau allegedly got drunk at a company party and groped several female employees. One of the employees groped by Darveau resigned the following Monday, while another left the company soon after. Other accusations include Darveau openly berating employees, making inappropriate remarks about their appearance, and even holding grudges and refusing to talk to employees who Darveau felt wronged him for weeks on end.
A major concern of the sources GamesIndustry.biz spoke with was the conflict of interest that exists between Darveau and Lamarche. The two co-founded the studio and were allegedly in a romantic relationship for a number of years. Because Scavengers Studio didn't have a proper HR department or procedures for many years, the only recourse employees had was to complain to Lamarche directly, whom sources say repeatedly downplayed Darveau's toxic behavior. "Darveau...has lots of charisma and he gets away with a lot," one source said. "But [Lamarche]...is actually worse. Because she covered a lot of what he did or what he does."
"They said, 'You can talk to us,' but in the end everybody knows you can't really say anything against the founders, otherwise you're fucked," another employee told Gamesindustry.biz.
Darveau is also accused of being a disorganized leader who refuses to listen to advice from other developers. He was the creative director for the studio's first release, The Darwin Project in January of 2020, a wintery battle royale that announced it was going offline a mere four months after launch, which two sources claim was partially due to Darveau's inability to "follow through on ideas." Darveau was supposed to begin working on a third unannounced game, leaving Season in the hands of a separate team run by creative director Kevin Sullivan. But sources say Darveau is now working in an unspecified role on Season and forcing many unwanted changes on the development team including making the open world bigger and adding quests and objective markers. "Now I don't even know what's been announced because it's so different from what we had planned," one person told GamesIndustry.biz. "I don't even recognize the game."
"Every game it's the same pattern," another source said. "[Darveau] builds a vision of a game, sells it to the team so the team is excited, then he sells it to publishers, but there's no design, there's no concrete plan, and there's never really a game in the end. People working on the game are trying to do their best, but the whole company is built around—we build prototypes, we get money from publishers, and repeat. There's not a real goal of releasing a quality game, there's no process to do so."
Later in the report, Scavengers Studios addressed many of these accusations in a statement provided to GamesIndustry.biz. "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," the company said. "You should note that Scavengers Studio has taken positive steps to look into its culture to see what aspects need to be adjusted."
Of those steps, Scavengers Studios points to Lamarche taking over as CEO from Darveau as well as the creation of more rigorous HR procedures, including hiring a third-party HR consultant in 2019. But none of the nine employees interviewed feel like these measures have adequately addressed the issues with the toxic culture and harassment perpetuated by Darveau—or the conflict of interest that stems from the romantic relationship that existed between him and Lamarche.
At this time, neither Lamarche or Darveau have publicly commented on the report, but the allegations detail a troubling studio culture behind what is otherwise a very pleasant and exciting indie game. This story is also one part of a growing number of accusations of sexual abuse and harassment in the wider games industry. Last year, for example, Ubisoft was the center of several scandals in which senior developers and executives either resigned or were fired after being accused of sexual abuse and harassment.
You can read the full report on the allegations against Simon Darveau and Amélie Lamarche on GamesIndustry.biz.