IGDA under fire over botched handling of harassment controversy

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A report by GamesIndustry.biz shed light on the bullying and harassment allegedly carried out by former IGDA Women in Games Special Interest Group chair Jennifer Scheurle, as well as the IGDA’s unwillingness to meaningfully censure Scheurle in a timely fashion.

A group of developers filed an initial complaint with the IGDA Foundation (the charitable wing of the organization) in 2019, alleging a “history of deception, bullying, defamation, and abuse,” in a 16-page document describing and cataloging Scheurle’s behavior. This complaint was ultimately dismissed by the IGDA Foundation, but not before a friend and supporter of Scheurle contacted one of the accusers with knowledge of the report, indicating a breach of confidentiality within the organization regarding the complaint.

The complainants next brought their case to the IGDA itself—Scheurle had been involved with both the Foundation and the professional association. A group of 14 complainants against Scheurle and six supporters lodged this 34-page formal complaint in September of 2020, alleging “multiple counts of personal abuse and professional breaches carried out by Jennifer Scheurle between the period of 2017 and 2020.” Both the 2019 and 2020 complaints paint a picture of harassment, stolen credit, and other professional misconduct by Scheurle.

The IGDA’s formal policy for responding to harassment complaints outlines a seven-step formal process for responding to allegations like these, and does not seem to have been followed in Scheurle’s case. As these allegations spread and gained traction, Scheurle was removed from consideration for a 2020 Game Dev Hero award, as well as inclusion in the Game Awards’ Future Class of 2021. Scheurle stepped down from her IGDA chair position in September of 2021.

The IGDA’s lack of response to the situation does not seem to be an isolated incident, either—the GamesIndustry.biz report also contains two separate, anonymous accounts of institutional inaction in response to formal complaints regarding member misconduct. These, taken with the Scheurle situation, paint a dim picture of the organization’s capacity to enforce its own rules: Scheurle’s exit from the organization took growing public pressure and the formal censure of two other organizations, all long after a timely response following the IGDA’s internal harassment policy should have been followed.

One of the developers interviewed in the GamesIndustry.biz story expressed frustration over this inaction and harm in the face of the IGDA’s stated mission: “It’s frustrating because this group is the closest thing to a union or advocate that a lot of people have in the games industry, but they often don’t seem to be acting with the interest of individual, marginalized, at-risk developers at heart.”

This sentiment was echoed by Sony Santa Monica writer, Alanah Pearce, in a YouTube video calling for more attention on the story and a more substantial response from the IGDA. Pearce repeatedly expressed a desire that the organization better live up to its mission, stating “[I’m] not trying to shut down the IGDA, I think what they do is important, but I do think that they need to be held accountable to make sure that they’re doing their job correctly.”

For its part, the IGDA pointed to its recent update to its code of ethics, as well as the formation of an ethics committee for investigating similar complaints in the future, as evidence of a commitment to changing for the better. This story of professional misconduct comes at the same time as revelations surrounding similar behavior at indie developers like Moon Studios, Funomena, and Mountains, and after several years of bombshell allegations of bullying and sexual harassment at Activision Blizzard and Ubisoft. 

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