Just Cause Studio employees are calling for change after years of controversial hiring

Just Cause Studio employees are calling for change after years of controversial hiring

After months of back-and-forth between staff and management, Just Cause developer Avalanche Studios – not to be confused with Hogwarts Legacy developer Avalanche Software – has issued a public apology to its staff for mishandling the controversial hire.

The The full statement can be read here In the section called “Our journey”, it includes:

There have been times when we have had more to learn than we realized, and reflecting on where we have been is an important part of our progress.

We’re sorry that things don’t work out every time.

In those times, the tireless work of Avalanchers who dedicate their attention and effort to improving the company has been invaluable.

The progress we can celebrate today is thanks to the compassion and conviction of our employees. To all the Avalanchers who have talked to us over the years, participated in our DEI efforts, and supported us along this journey, we want to say:

Thanks for your input. You have our utmost respect, and we thank you.

While Avalanche didn’t go into specific reasons for adding this apology to their website, IGN has spoken to a few sources familiar with the company’s situation over the past few weeks, who shared more details about how Avalanche got here. . According to their accounts, Avalanche’s apology comes more than a year after the company hired a high-ranking person at his former company who was publicly accused of inappropriate workplace behavior toward female employees. IGN has verified the public allegations against the employee in question, but chooses not to identify them here.

But our sources say that this person’s hiring was the catalyst for their frustration, in the end their real conflict was less with the individual in question and more with the company itself. They say Avalanche’s management and HR repeatedly avoided engaging with concerns about the company’s hiring processes, dismissed the feelings of discomfort from employees who had experienced workplace harassment in past jobs, and ignored requests for transparency about how Avalanche planned to keep employees safe. that it is going forward

Now, more than a year later, our sources tell us that the Avalanche’s willingness to acknowledge the issue is a huge internal pushback against perceived attempts to denigrate a situation that is largely unheard of internally.

Thunderous avalanche

According to our sources, the person in question was hired in 2021 for a project leadership role at Avalanche Studios, a Nordisk Film subsidiary with offices in Stockholm, New York, Malmö and Liverpool.

Almost immediately, several employees raised concerns with studio leadership and HR about the hiring, but sources say those concerns were not addressed. At one point, employees were allegedly assured by their leaders that they would not have to work directly with this individual due to his remote work and his status as a contractor, which was considered unusual in itself given his leadership role. However, our sources tell us those promises were broken in 2022 when he began working in the office, including holding one-on-one meetings with female employees and attending company events. That person was eventually promoted, causing another wave of frustration among employees whose concerns were not being heard by management or HR.

The individual eventually resigned in mid-2022, but sources say the lack of transparency surrounding his hiring and the company’s unwillingness to acknowledge employee concerns remained a source of unrest within the studio. In October, an employee approached Avalanche management on behalf of a group of employees to apologize to the company, but no action was taken.

Matters came to a head on November 9 when an Avalanche employee posted a message in a work Slack channel saying they were “no longer comfortable with the ethical implications of selling my work to Avalanche Studios Group.” IGN reviewed the post, which tagged Avalanche CEO Pim Holfve and invited employees to email the poster for more information on the situation.

That prompted a company-wide email from Holfve later that day, in which Holfve emphasized the company’s “zero tolerance” policy, and confirmed that Avalanche had run a background check on the employee after raising the issue internally. The background check, says the email reviewed by IGN, included the results of a third-party investigation at their previous workplace.

“The individual has since left the contracted position with us, but the individual has chosen for project reasons only,” the email continues. “Their decision had nothing to do with the allegations at their previous workplace.

During his time with Avalanche Studios Group there have been no claims and no suspicion of personal misconduct.” [Emphasis Holfve’s]

The email concludes by pledging to open an investigation into Avalanche’s hiring practices, led by a third-party legal firm, and encourages employees to continue raising concerns with HR and Holfve himself through existing internal channels.

On November 14, the Avalanche management held a town hall meeting where employees were encouraged to ask questions. Instead of answering directly, the company promised to distribute a Q&A several days later with answers to selected questions. IGN has seen the Q&A, which sheds light on the nature of many employees’ concerns, echoed by our sources. In particular, employees raised questions about the lack of rigor in the hiring process that led to bringing this person in in the first place, why the numerous complaints of discomfort did not result in any impact or recognition, and the general lack of transparency. throughout the management. One of the questions discussed in Avalanche’s Q&A read: “The most common question asked by Avalanches about why the concerns expressed by managers or HR have not been addressed is, ‘Why aren’t we listening to our colleagues?’ ‘experiences?'”

IGN has also seen emails from Holfveren and chief human resources officer Signe Svensson in the days following the town hall. Much of Holfve’s email repeats points from the Q&A and his previous email, but the overall tone is more negative.

“Yesterday evening, some Avalanchers reached out to me and Signe to share their experiences of the past year. They shared that they didn’t feel comfortable, and that they didn’t feel heard. It saddened me to hear these stories. No one should have to feel this way about their workplace. , at least in the Avalanche.

“I can honestly say that your concerns have not reached me in the past year, and I was not aware of them, or would have acted on that information. For that, I am truly sorry. If I had known about those things yesterday, the email was written, I would have apologized in the email, of course “.

In a second email sent by Holfve a few days later, Holfve stated that “his own understanding of the events has also evolved over the past few days, and new facts have come to light, and that he has since become aware of the emerging concerns”. [the employee’s] leadership style goes against our values ​​and code of conduct.”

I told everyone, and I’ll say it again today: we’re screwed.

“All of this highlights several flaws in our processes. For that, we are truly sorry. I told everyone on Thursday, and I’m saying it again today: we screwed up.”

Holfve also repeats a refrain he maintained through previous emails to ask employees to use internal channels, such as Avalanche’s whistleblowing system, or by approaching him or the CPO directly. He also asks the workers not to talk about the situation with the media, that “external attention will not speed things up”.

Svensson’s email announces to staff that the Avalanche is contracting with the independent investigative team DEI Gender balance analyze the processes that led to this situation and help the company to make changes to avoid it in the future. According to the staff Q&A, Gender Balance involvement is a direct result of staff feedback. While Avalanche originally planned to hire a legal firm, the staff pushed back, asking the firm to work with an organization dedicated to building anti-harassment and anti-discrimination best practices. The company’s diversity, equity and inclusion committee specifically suggested Gender Balance, saying the Gender Balance website not only investigates harassment reports, but also recommends “measures that consider more than the legal side.” The investigation began on November 21.

Microsoft also highlights questions and answers, with whom Avalanche has collaborated on the upcoming open-world game Contraband, was aware of the situation. “They haven’t expressed any concern about how we’re handling what came to light on our end.”

IGN has reached out to Xbox for comment, but has not heard back by the time of publication.

A change in the wind

Multiple sources tell us that during this dispute, a large number of Avalanche’s 500 employees have expressed their displeasure with Avalanche’s handling of the situation. Those sources added that they were very uncomfortable hearing from others at the company, but did not feel safe speaking out against management.

Update 11/28/2022 10:08 AM PT: Avalanche responded to IGN’s request for comment shortly after this piece was published. While the company declined to answer our specific questions, a spokesperson pointed us to a statement on its website and reiterated points from Holfve’s emails about the person in question’s background check, as well as an apology for not taking action sooner.

“We are committed to learning from our mistakes and doing much better in the future,” reads the response. “To this end, we are implementing specific steps to review and improve our processes. This includes a formal investigation led by an external partner to clarify the dynamics of events and identify flaws in our processes. We also ensure that our values ​​and code of conduct are reflected in our daily interactions, and engaging in meaningful dialogue with our employees. This is to ensure that we are creating the truly inclusive, sustainable and welcoming workplace that all Avalanchers deserve.”

The original story continues below:

Several people we spoke to expressed frustration that it took so long and so much effort for Avalanche to take action. IGN spoke again this morning with a source saying that the public statement is “depressing”, saying they expected more.

Others told IGN that they hoped some sort of public recognition would serve to set an example for the industry at large. One source, who we spoke to briefly again after the apology was published, said they were optimistic and hoped that this and other actions taken by the company in recent weeks would affect the culture of other game studios in the region.

“They say that a rising tide can lift all boats,” they concluded. “This feels like a sea change to me.”

Rebekah Valentine is a reporter for IGN. You can find him on Twitter @duckvalentine.

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