Last week, news that Cultist Simulator developers Weather Factory were awarded a €150,000 grant from a European Union program was met with calls for a reversal in light of abuse and harassment allegations made against the studio's co-founder Alexis Kennedy. A representative for the European Commission tells USgamer that the Creative Europe grant team was not aware of the allegations at any stage in the grant decision and awarding process.
Kennedy, also the co-founder and former CEO of Failbetter Games, was publicly accused of abusive and predatory behavior last year by Failbetter writer Olivia Wood and narrative designer Meg Jayanth, in accounts that were then lent support by Failbetter's current CEO Adam Myers. Together as Weather Factory, Kennedy and co-founder Lottie Bevan have denied any wrongdoing and allege that "personal and professional attacks" have followed in the year since.
We reached out to the Education, Audiovisual & Culture Executive Agency, or EACEA, to ask whether the team responsible for assessing and awarding Creative Europe grants was aware of the allegations against Kennedy. "At the time of the assessment of grant applications and the subsequent award, we were not aware of the allegations made against Mr. Kennedy," says a European Commission spokesperson in a new statement provided to USgamer.
The EACEA also contends that its evaluation of Weather Factory's grant application was performed in line with the guidelines provided with its call for proposals. "As regards vetting potential recipients, the call for proposals indicates a set of criteria that form the legal framework of the selection process," the spokesperson says. "The evaluation was based on these criteria, taking into account the principles of the Treaties and the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the EU."
As for whether or not the EACEA is considering rescinding the grant, the spokesperson says only that "the Commission reserves the right to re-evaluate the situation, if and when facts highlighting irregularities in the selection procedure would justify it."
In the wake of the grant announcement last week, both critic Emilie Reed and Die Gute Fabrik (Mutazione, Sportsfriends) Creative Director Hannah Nicklin wrote pieces grappling with the issue and, more broadly, the matter of public arts funding for video games. Reed argues that the award to Weather Factory "seems like a massive oversight on the part of [the] awarding panel," to which Nicklin agrees. That said, Nicklin argues that there is "no way to reform such an organization and such a fund so that it could avoid giving the money to Kennedy's company."
"The way by which they assess and reject applications is the strength of the application," Nicklin writes. "If they were to somehow mark down an application down because of accusations[,] they would need to publish that somehow, they would need to be accountable for it, and (it not being proven in law) they 100% could be sued over it."
As the matter stands, it seems likely that Weather Factory will keep its grant, awarded for the continued development of its next title Book of Hours. Still, the attention brought to this issue by critics of the EACEA could have an impact on how it or other agencies approach grants in the future, especially in light of the games industry's broader struggles for inclusion, safety, and diversity.