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Avalanche Studios investigating hiring practices after a year of staff complaints

"I said it to everyone on Thursday, and I'm saying it again today: we fucked up."

Chris Kerr, News Editor

November 29, 2022

5 Min Read

Just Cause developer Avalanche Studios has apologized to employees and pledged to investigate its hiring practices after a controversial hire left staff feeling vulnerable, frustrated, and voiceless.

According to a report from IGN, based on the accounts of multiple sources familiar with the situation, the apology was issued over a year after Avalanche hired a high-level employee who had been publicly accused of behaving inappropriately towards women at their former workplace.

When some employees attempted to voice their concerns about the situation, Avalanche management and HR reportedly refused to open a dialogue, dismissing staff seeking more information about the company's hiring processes, ignoring calls for transparency on how it planned to keep workers safe, and sidelining others who had previously experienced workplace harassment.

In short, it's claimed that Avalanche failed to take any meaningful action to reassure those worried about the hire, beyond telling workers they wouldn't have to work directly with that person due to their status as a remote contractor.

That promise, however, was reportedly broken in 2022 when they began working in the Avalanche office, during which time they started holding one-to-one meetings with staff members – including women – and making appearances at company events.

They were even promoted in 2022 before resigning later on in the year, with Avalanche CEO Pim Holfve explaining their departure was related to "project reasons only."

For many of those who spoke with IGN, Avalanche's handling of the situation became more problematic than the hire itself, with the company's apparent apathy towards its own workforce coming to a head in November this year when one Avalanche worker called out the studio in a Slack message.

In the message, seen by IGN, the employee explained they were "no longer comfortable with the ethical implications of selling my labor to Avalanche Studios Group." In response, Avalanche CEO Pim Holfve, who was tagged in the exchange, sought more information on the situation and eventually addressed the issue later that day, emphasizing that Avalanche had performed a background check during its hiring process, and had been provided with the results of a third-party investigation conducted at the person's previous workplace.

"The person has since left their contracted position with us, but the person chose to do so for project reasons only. Their decision had nothing to do with the accusations from their previous workplace," said Holfve in the email. "There have been no claims and no suspicion of any misconduct by the person during their time at Avalanche Studios Group."

Holfve then pledged to hire a third-party legal company to investigate Avalanche's own hiring practices, and told employees to continue raising concerns with HR or by messaging him directly through internal channels.

Later that month, Avalanche held a town hall meeting to allow staff to submit questions and concerns that would be answered in a written Q&A to be distributed internally. According to IGN, one of the most common questions asked by employees sought to understand why the studio didn't act on the concerns of its workers when they were brought to managers or HR.

In the days following that meeting, Holfve sent two emails to staff to more fully explain his position and apologize. In the emails, Holfve said that none of the concerns raised by employees over the past year ever reached him, and said that his own understanding of the events surrounding the hire and Avalanche's handling of the issue had changed after the town hall.

"I can honestly say that your concerns have not reached me in the past year, and I did not know about them, or I would have acted on this information. For that, I'm really sorry. Had I known those things when yesterday's email was written, I would have apologized right there in the email – of course," wrote Holfve in the first email.

"New facts have surfaced," he continued in the second email sent a few days later, "[and I have now learned] there were concerns raised regarding [the employee's] leadership style going against our values and code of conduct. All of this highlights a number of flaws in our processes. For this, we are truly sorry. I said it to everyone on Thursday, and I'm saying it again today: we fucked up."

Avalanche is now working with independent DEI investigation group Gender Balance to unpick the situation and assess its hiring processes, with the company choosing to work with Gender Balance after workers pushed back on its attempts to rope in a legal firm–instead suggesting the company enlist the help of an organization known for implementing good anti-harassment and anti-discrimination practices. That investigation began on November 21, 2022.

When asked to comment on the situation by IGN, Avalanche refused to discuss specifics and provided the below statement while also pointing the publication to a DEI update on its company website.

"We're committed to learning from our mistakes and doing much better in the future. To this end, we are implementing concrete steps to review and improve our processes," said Avalanche.

"This includes a formal investigation that is being led by an external partner to gain clarity on the dynamic of events and identify the flaws in our processes. We're also ensuring that our values and code of conduct are reflected in our everyday 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."

For more details, check out the full story over on IGN.

About the Author(s)

Chris Kerr

News Editor, GameDeveloper.com

Game Developer news editor Chris Kerr is an award-winning journalist and reporter with over a decade of experience in the game industry. His byline has appeared in notable print and digital publications including Edge, Stuff, Wireframe, International Business Times, and PocketGamer.biz. Throughout his career, Chris has covered major industry events including GDC, PAX Australia, Gamescom, Paris Games Week, and Develop Brighton. He has featured on the judging panel at The Develop Star Awards on multiple occasions and appeared on BBC Radio 5 Live to discuss breaking news.

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