Fullbright co-founder Steve Gaynor, known for his work on Gone Home and Tacoma, has stepped down from his role as creative lead on Open Roads following multiple allegations regarding his treatment of Fullbright staff.
Development on Open Roads, which was announced in December 2020 and expected to star Keri Russell (The Americans) and Kaitlyn Dever (Booksmart), is behind schedule. Fifteen employees left the studio since development on Open Roads began in 2019; around six staff members remain. Speaking with Polygon, 12 former employees said their departure was at least in part due to Gaynor’s behavior toward workers, specifically women on the team. At least 10 of the employees who left since Open Roads production began were women.
Multiple former employees, who spoke with Polygon anonymously out of fear of retaliation, described the Fullbright work environment as “controlling,” a place in which staffers felt undermined and demeaned by Gaynor. Because of Gaynor’s status as the co-founder of a beloved indie darling, some former employees say they were worried about being blacklisted from the industry — though some ended up leaving the industry entirely, anyway. These former employees said they did not experience or witness sexual harassment or explicit sexism; instead, they said, the studio’s toxic culture hid behind the veneer of inclusivity, as women were allegedly repeatedly broken down by microaggressions.
A Fullbright representative confirmed to Polygon that Gaynor stepped down in March due to the “pattern of women leaving” the company. “Steve stepped down in March 2021 after it became clear that the steps that were already being taken to improve his interactions with the team were only yielding temporary results,” the representative said. “More drastic action was needed for the health of the team.”
The representative also noted that “Annapurna is aware of the situation at Fullbright and has been instrumental in helping the Open Roads team make changes to its structure.” A representative for Annapurna told Polygon it supports the Open Roads team. Gaynor did not respond to Polygon’s request for comment.
Fulbright has always been a small independent studio. Just four people — three of which were studio co-founders — created Gone Home (2013), a BAFTA award-winning narrative game that influenced the industry. For the studio’s next game, Tacoma (2017), the number of staffers increased by more than double. Following the success of these two games, Fullbright continued to grow, taking on more employees and contractors.
In the development of Open Roads, Fullbright partnered with publisher Annapurna Interactive, which provided full funding and additional support staff. The number of core Fullbright employees remained under 20 at any given time. Former employees described the studio at that time as close-knit and supportive of each other. They took pride in creating games that resonated with marginalized people, like Gone Home, a coming-of-age story about a teenage lesbian. But at the same time, former employees say they also felt stifled by Gaynor’s “controlling” and “demeaning presence” — someone…