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GDC 2020: R-E-S-P-E-C-T Final Public - 🟧Sourceful

Practical tips to prevent abuse & build team trust in game development sector - 🟧Sourceful

games, programming, culture


Practical Tips to Prevent Abuse & Build Team Trust

Emily Greer

Co-Founder & CEO, Double Loop Games

Game Developers Conference 2020

Hi, welcome, thank you for watching, weightier topic, warning that I’m going to use a lot of gifs from the Good Place because a) it’s one of my favorite shows and b) talks about a lot of what I want to say, but on a grander, more philosophical scale.

Who Am I?


Built Kongregate.com

15-17 Employees

SF, Portland OR, Remote


Built mobile publishing

70-80 employees

SF, PDX, Remote


Co-Founded Kongregate with my brother Jim


Bought by GameStop

30-40 Employees

SF, PDX, Remote


Sell to MTG, buy studios

120 Employees

SF, PDX, SD, CHI, Remote


Left Kongregate to start a mobile studio, Double Loop Games


Previous career in catalogs, retail, & e-commerce

14 years in games, working at a lot of different team sizes, with a lot of different teams through publishing. Most of my examples and experience will be from Kongregate since Double Loop is just a year old and still small

For the last two years we’ve been getting waves of allegations of harassment coming out, sometimes in publications, sometimes via social media post, occasionally via lawsuits, but they touch almost every part of the game industry from giant AAA companies to small-team indies, engine companies to Twitch streamers

And if you talk to women in the industry the consensus is always “I’m surprised more hasn’t come out” because we know it’s still only the tip of iceberg, from our own experiences, from our friends

Abuse/Harassment is Widespread

Surveys show consistently that around 60% of U.S. women have experienced sexual or gender-based harassment*

Numbers are lower for men, but still high at 20%*

It mostly happens at work → ~70% in both women and men

*Numbers are consistent between Quinnipiac’s November 2017 poll and a 2016 US EEOC report

Sexual harassment → unwanted sexual attention gender-harassment → hostile behavior based on gender often these happen together, sometimes line is thin

It’s not necessarily evenly spread between industries, though, and I strongly suspect the games industry is worse than average

Note: nearly all of my data is for the US, as is my personal experience, and there are likely to be significant cultural differences in harassment level. But humans are human everywhere

And It Goes Way Beyond Sex

The %s add up to >100% because harassment can be across multiple categories

Gender is an element in almost half the complaints but race is not far behind at 34%. Research is disturbingly sketchy for harassment in other categories, but what studies there are that members of underrepresented minorities are experiencing harassment at similar rates to what women report. It is also pretty easy to assume that those who fall into multiple categories experience even higher levels of harassment.

A Few Bad Apples...

When one or two stories come out, it’s easy to say that it’s just one or two bad apples, good thing they’ve been revealed

...Spoil The Whole Bunch

But with so many cases I think we as an industry need to come to grips that the issues are systemic, and that bad actors are flourishing in games

So I think it can be generally agreed that humans can really suck. It’s easy to get mired down, and feel like all of this is inevitable. But it’s not

Emily’s General Theory of Human Behavior



Group Norms

It’s impossible for me to do a talk without at least ONE graph

There is a small % of people who will always be good, and a small % of people who will always be abusive, and the rest of us are in the middle, mostly living up or down to our environment

Lots of Things Influence Group Norms

What behavior is modeled by leaders

What behavior is rewarded or incentivized

What behavior is tolerated

Cultural norms of individual employees

Norms of past workplaces for individual employees

Wells Fargo quotas on customer accounts, quarterly bonuses

Leaders have direct control over the first three.

Emily’s General Theory of Human Behavior



Group Norms

Toxic Leadership

Uber is a great case study of this. Travis Kalanick, the founder, modeled and rewarded aggressive risk-taking and indifference to existing laws and safety concerns. Susan Fowler’s whistle-blowing blog post showed how egregious/clearly illegal repeated sexual harassment by her manager was tolerated because he was a “high performer” despite complaints from numerous women. And by all reports that culture was pervasive, and eventually led to the board firing Kalanick

Emily’s General Theory of Human Behavior



Group Norms

Positive Leadership


Shocked by Gamergate, BHG leadership decided to focus on inclusivity as they restarted

Big Huge Games, a Baltimore studio known for strategy games like Rise of Nations has been through many ups and downs from it’s original founding in 2000, getting bought by Curt Schilling’s 38 studios and shut down when that went bankrupt.

A couple of the original co-founders decided to restart the studio in 2013. Shocked and horrified by Gamergate, they decided they wanted to fight back by building a really inclusive culture, leading to a very different culture and norms in a studio that included a lot of the same leadership and team from the original.

I hope they will give a talk on the details sometime, it’s not my story to tell in depth.

So Why Is This Worth Doing?

Uber’s a hugely successful company, does it matter if my company’s culture is a little toxic? Or just kind of neutral? Yes, for lots of reasons.

The Costs Are Real

“Employees experiencing harassment are more likely to report symptoms of depression, general stress and anxiety, posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and overall impaired psychological well-being...as well as headaches, exhaustion, sleep problems, gastric problems, nausea...”

-2016 EEOC Report

Let’s start with the most important element: the personal toll on employees. All of these become increasingly likely when the harassment is sustained over time.

Individual Costs → Organization Costs

Per the EEOC, harassment is associated with:

Debilitating job dissatisfaction and work withdrawal

Strained team dynamics/team member avoidance



Reputational damage

Hiring/recruiting impacts

And it’s not just the individuals harassed, witnesses also experience increased dissatisfaction and are more likely to leave.

Does any company really want to go through what Riot has gone through in the last two years?

Your Team Will Be More Effective

Those have all been negative reasons for reducing harassment - costs you want to avoid. But there’s a carrot, too.

Google has done extensive research on teams and found psychological safety to be “far and away” the most important factor in team effectiveness

This isn’t just me saying this, research backs this up.

Psychological safety → team members feel safe to take risks and be vulnerable in front of each other

The Games Outcomes Project did extensive research across projects of many sizes and found that psychological safety/team trust was one of the few factors strongly correlated with financial and critical success

And how can people feel safe, how can they trust, in an environment where they or any of their teammates are being abused or harassed?

So to prevent harassment you need to understand what drives it, which isn’t the factors most people assume

Personal Story Time

Story about the first GDC dinner I was ever invited to, organized by a AAA publisher. I was a sub for my brother, having a great time, felt like I was really a part of the game industry for the first time. Towards the end of dinner people stand up and start mingling, I end up in a corner talking to a very senior exec from one of the fast rising social gaming companies. We start talking about a potential cooperation deal with Kongregate traffic but then, with his back to the rest of the party, starts talking about the deal in sexual terms “we don’t need to get married, it could be a one-night stand” while making sex and blow job hand gestures that only I could see.

Confused, what’s going on? Is he proposing I sleep with him for a distribution deal? Left quickly, feeling small and gross, wanted to take a shower. All that feeling of belonging gone. Told my brother and Kong co-workers about it, but otherwise felt helpless. But key element of this story: if he really wanted to sleep with me (or do a deal) this was a TERRIBLE way to go about it

Harassment is sometimes about sex. It’s ALWAYS about power.

That exec got a power thrill whether I accepted or not: just having something I MIGHT consider sleeping with him was enough. Grossing someone else out is a power move, too, as kids on playgrounds can tell you.

Quote from Libération article on Ubisoft execs, 7/10/20

In toxic, hierarchical environments harassment is used to reinforce the pecking order or drive out potential rivals. A man might be called a “fucking moron” or a homophobic or racial slur, but a woman will nearly always be put down in sexual terms

In-Group vs Out-Group




Ethnicity or Nationality


Sexual Orientation

Political Affiliation

Job Role

Industry Segment

Company Tenure

Employment Status (Intern, Contractor)


...Many More

Helpful to abstract a little because what’s in-group and out-group might shift by region or company context, and they intersect and layer on top of each other. In groups and out groups in any situation usually start with things we bring from our cultural context, like gender, race, class...but there are all sorts of other groups that can form based on almost anything. Dev team vs support, AAA vs mobile f2p,

Harassment probably looks different in high fashion, say, than games, but that’s mostly because what’s in-group is different. I think the fact that I was from

GDC 2020: R-E-S-P-E-C-T Final Public
Tags Games, Programming, Culture
Type Google Slide
Published 24/08/2020, 04:43:52


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