Steve Gaynor, Fullbright's co-founder, has stepped down as the studio's manager and creative lead following a series of allegations surrounding a toxic culture within the studio. Gaynor transitioned from his creative lead to a role as a writer as of March of this year according to a Fullbright representative, who spoke to Polygon.
Open Roads' official Twitter account raised alarm bells when it posted a statement regarding the workplace culture and how the company was going to move forward, citing the importance of a "healthy and collaborative environment". According to the statement, the decision was made for the health of the entire company, relinquishing daily responsibilities to the remaining staff.
Open Roads, the studio's current in-development project has sustained major setbacks as 15 former employees have left the company since development on the game began in 2019, leaving only six staff members. Of the 15 that have left, 12 did so directly because of Gaynor's behavior toward women. At least 10 of those that left because of his behavior were women, which lines up with multiple anonymous reports concerning what it's like to work underneath Gaynor.
The anonymous reports haven't cited issues such as sexual misconduct or outright sexism. The toxic work environment is reportedly "controlling", with female employees bearing the brunt of Gaynor's dismissive and condescending attitude. Gaynor was beyond difficult to work with, cited as making jokes at the expense of his employees in front of others. He'd repeatedly laugh at and embarrass women in front of coworkers while micromanaging women in leadership roles to the point that they felt their creativity, as well as their ability to work, was stifled.
The studio had attempted a mediator between Gaynor and his team as a means of de-escalating the situation, but it only served as a temporary solution. The team didn't feel respected enough under Gaynor's leadership, leading to him stepping down to a remote writing role, relinquishing his prior duties to others in leadership.
Under the current state of affairs, Gaynor is working on his writing role separately from the core staff. Instead of continuing to work within the same offices, Open Roads' publisher, Annapurna Interactive, is communicating between the two parties to avoid further friction. Under this set of circumstances, Gaynor no longer has daily collaboration with Fullbright.
After the story broke out from Polygon, Gaynor released his own statement through a Twitter thread on his own account. According to him, these working conditions have given him the "space and perspective" to reconsider how he approaches leadership.
"Hi all. I have a statement to share about my role at Fullbright.
Earlier this year, I stepped back from my role as creative lead on Open Roads. My leadership style was hurtful to people that worked at Fullbright, and for that I truly apologize.
Stepping back has given me space and perspective to see how my role needs to change and how I need to learn and improve as part of a team, including working with an expert management consultant, and rethinking my relationship to the work at Fullbright.
I care deeply about Open Roads and the Fullbright team. I'm sad to have stepped back from day-to-day development of Open Roads, but it's been the right thing to do. The Open Roads team has my full fiath and support as they bring the game to completion."
Given how many people have left because of Gaynor, some might be wondering why he hasn't been fired. As the studio's co-founder, being fired isn't such a simple thing to do. He wasn't a person that stepped into a leadership role divorced from the studio's creation. His own personal Twitter account served as the official Fullbright handle for over a decade. The team created @FullbrightGames, created May 2021, around when Gaynor stepped down, as the studio's Twitter handle moving forward.