Funomena co-founder Robin Hunicke is facing accusations of emotional abuse in her role as creative director and CEO of the company. These accusations come from current and former employees, via the team at People Make Games.
In People Make Games' video, host Chris Bratt walks through several high-profile accusations against prominent independent developers, revisiting the accusations against Mountains co-founder Ken Wong and Fullbright co-founder Steve Gaynor. While interviewing developers close to these stories, People Make Games began to hear stories about Hunicke's alleged behavior at Funomena.
All three studios do share a glaring commonality: their games are published by Annapurna Interactive. While Annapurna itself is not directly named as participating any specific behavior, developers at all three studios did apparently contact the publisher to ask for intervention, which did not come.
The accusations against Hunicke center around accusations of personally inappropriate discussions in the workplace and dismissals of concerns about how women and minorities at Funomena were being treated. People Make Games alleges that Hunicke would use knowledge of employees' personal lives (some of it gained in her role as company CEO) to pass judgment on their work.
"I don't think it was intentional," one employee told People Make Games. "I don't think in her mind she wanted to tear down women. I think she had some biases herself about women having competency problems. It could have also been a perception that they wouldn't fight back."
Hunicke has been a public advocate for diversity and inclusion in the games industry. Not only has she advocated for better practices for minority developers, she's also championed safer, more friendly workspaces. Employees speaking to People Make Games expressed frustration that she allegedly does not practice what she preaches.
"It was so personal," another developer said. "She wanted to know so much about people's personal lives and their own psychology. Their issues, their hurts, their families. She would use those things to explain to people why they were the way they were."
Messy breakups, interpersonal conflicts, her opinions about people's dating lives, whether people were in therapy or not—these were apparently all subjects of discussion for Hunicke. Even comments about people's personal appearances would be discussed.
In one instance, Hunicke allegedly said "[This employee] is struggling with their sexuality right now, so it makes sense that they're a little bit distracted." This apparently happened in a meeting with other co-workers.
These personal details apparently were so commonly shared that they left the orbit of Funomena, and were topics of discussion at other game companies—without the consent of the individuals being discussed.
Developers expressed fear of retaliation or uncomfortable encounters with Hunicke at any external event. One said they would not participate at the Game Developers Conference experimental gameplay workshop because she judged the competition.
Hunicke's alleged personal clashes with Wattam creative director Keita Takahashi also apparently soured life at the studio. Employees spoke critically of Takahashi's behavior, saying he could be overly critical of peoples' work, but cast more blame on Hunicke for enabling the core dynamic. "There's a difference between [being overly critical] and bringing up people's personal lives."
People Make Games and former Funomena employees stressed that while Hunicke's alleged behavior is personally reprehensible, the systems and structures that reward toxic company founders are a bigger industry problem than any one person's behavior.
In this case, there was also a confluence of studios working on nonviolent games about personal human issues. Florence is about a failing relationship, Fullbright's games are often dramas about diverse individuals suffering from real-world problems, and Funomena describes itself as a studio "making experimental, playful and emotionally engaging experiences."
Much of these studios' success has been attributed to company founders now in the spotlight for behavior that does not match their creative accomplishments. Whatever comes to pass at Funomena, it will take an unrooting of larger systemic issues to prevent stories like this from happening again.
We have reached out to Funomena and Annapurna Interactive for comment on this story, and will update it when they respond.
Disclaimer: Game Developers Conference is a sibling organization of Game Developer. People Make Games also utilizes footage of a panel led by the author of this article from the 2021 conference.