With the United Kingdom withdrawing from the European Union, 2020 marks the last year of its participation in the EU's Creative Europe media program. Every year, Creative Europe includes game developers in its media grantee pool, and this summer it has awarded grants to three U.K.-based teams: Brain and Nerd, Italic Pig, and Weather Factory. In light of the allegations made against co-founder Alexis Kennedy last year, however, many are now calling for Creative Europe to rescind Weather Factory's grant.
Kennedy, a designer, writer, and co-founder of Failbetter Games (Sunless Sea, Fallen London) was among a handful of prominent developers accused of abuse and predatory behavior last August. After individuals came forward with allegations against Skyrim composer Jeremy Soule and Night in the Woods co-creator Alec Holowka, Kennedy was named in accounts from narrative designer Meg Jayanth and Failbetter writer Olivia Wood.
Weather Factory, founded by Kennedy and fiancée Lottie Bevan in 2017 after both left Failbetter, is the development team behind Cultist Simulator. Last September, a few weeks after initially denying the allegations on Twitter, Kennedy again called the allegations of abuse "false" in a lengthy statement posted to Weather Factory's website. In June of this year, Bevan posted her own account of "personal and professional attacks" that followed in the wake of the allegations.
The Grants and What Followed
The €150,000 Creative Europe grant just awarded to Weather Factory is for development of Book of Hours, described as "an elegant, melancholy, combat-free RPG set in an occult library." Brain and Nerd and Italic Pig, both indie studios located in Northern Ireland, also received €150,000 grants.
This morning, a tweet from Creative Europe Desk U.K. celebrating all three grants was met with pushback by numerous commenters pointing to the allegations made against Kennedy. Creative Europe Desk U.K. is not the team responsible for evaluating applications and awarding the Creative Europe grants, but is instead an office that "offers free advice and support" to U.K. applicants.
What should have been a celebration for @BrainandNerd & @italicpig has been overshadowed by the storm surrounding The Weather Factory. We have been in contact with @CEDUK_Media about this to voice our concerns, and we are awaiting a response from the European Commission. [...] @BrainAndNerd and @italicpig are well known in [Northern Ireland] as safe, friendly companies dedicated to inclusion, diversity, equality, and healthy work practices, and we can only hope that our company reputations can be held in independent regard.
Later, Creative Europe Desk U.K. posted the following statement to Twitter, clarifying its role in the grant process and confirming that it was not aware of the allegations made against Kennedy:
[Creative Europe Desk U.K.] is a promotion & advice office for the programme, we do not assess applications or make award decisions. We were not aware of the allegations and have immediately informed the relevant grants & procedures team at the Education, Audiovisual & Culture Executive Agency [EACEA].
Tina Lauro Pollock, Director of Brain and Nerd, tells USgamer that Creative Europe Desk U.K. was "very swift in hearing [its] concerns and elevating them to the right people."
"The desk was on hand to field both our emails and phone calls, with really prompt and proactive responses at all times," Pollock says. "Winning Creative Europe funding is transformative for our small studio, and between Brain and Nerd and Italic Pig, the announcement represents a huge win for Northern Ireland's games industry. We're endeavouring to hold up the pillars the fund represents, including diversity of representation and cultural expression, with our project Hortalius.
"Apart from that, we don't have any more information to add. We don't have direct access to the decision-makers ourselves (a good thing to prevent bias!), so did what we could to make our concerns—and those of the voices on Twitter—known."
At the time of publication, Italic Pig, Creative Europe Desk U.K., and the EACEA have not responded to requests for comment from USG.
Weather Factory's Response
When reached for comment, Bevan responded on behalf of Weather Factory.
"For the past year, Weather Factory has been subject to a variety of online abuse and harrassment, stemming from historic claims that Alexis misused his position of power while CEO of Failbetter Games," says Bevan. "Since then, those claims have been misreported in increasingly offensive and incorrect ways."
Bevan says that requests made to Failbetter for "personal data" from the time that she and Kennedy worked there have been "repeatedly refused," and again claims that they "have received hundreds of offensive and threatening messages and emails" as a result of the accusations in the months since.
"We continue to deny these claims because they are not true," Bevan continues. "Weather Factory itself is a separate company with no problematic history other than the pain and damage caused by these false allegations. The problem is that these allegations are now out there, and can be raised whenever people wish.
"It's hurtful to see these claims continue to affect the professional and financial future of a couple who have done nothing wrong. But I'm still happy for the other devs who've been selected for funding! Should Creative Europe wish, we'll cooperate enthusiastically with any neutral, independent inquiry into the claims against Alexis and myself to confirm their falseness once and for all."
As another recent outpouring of harassment, abuse, and assault allegations has shown, many feel that the games industry routinely shields those who exhibit abusive behavior from serious consequences. In turn, those who have been wronged are often reluctant to come forward with their stories. For Kennedy and Weather Factory, it seems that the allegations made last year did not hinder the Creative Europe grant process; now, it's up to the EACEA to confirm whether or not it was aware of the allegations and what its next steps are, if any.