Rocksteady's on Shaky Ground Ahead of Its Big Reveal

Rocksteady's on Shaky Ground Ahead of Its Big Reveal

THIS WEEK IN BUSINESS | The Batman: Arkham Knight developer's handling of a 2018 report of sexism at the studio has drawn attention, critics, and defenders.

Rocksteady Studios has been accused of sexism before.

Arkham City clearly didn't seem to care much for women. (Content warning on that link for talk of filmic depictions of sexual assault.)

Arkham Knight wasn't much better.

Even the studio's first title, Urban Chaos: Riot Resposne, is a deep cut shoutout on this All the Tropes wiki for repeatedly putting its women paramedics in the role of the distressed damsel.

So it might not have been surprising to some when the Guardian reported that in 2018, 10 of the 16 women who worked there (out of presumably hundreds—the studio gives its current headcount as 239) co-signed a letter to management reporting sexual harassment, slurs about transgendered people, and derogatory treatment. One of the signatories to that letter decided to go public with it now in part because of the ongoing reckoning she's seen at Ubisoft for that company's many problems with women, and in part because she felt sexism and harassment remained problems at the studio.

There were further developments, which we'll see below.

QUOTE | "In [The Guardian's] article, we feel that the anonymous source or sources attempted to speak on behalf of all women at Rocksteady, and we do not feel that this article is a fair representation of us, the events at the time or since the letter was received." - Seven of the eight women who signed the 2018 letter and still work at Rocksteady in another letter of their own, this one posted without signatures on Rocksteady's Twitter account defending the studio.

QUOTE | "HR tried to stop me at least twice. And I had members of higher management take me aside to not only tell me to stop what I was doing, but to tell me that continuing to do so would potentially jeopardize my position within the company. And not just that, but it would maybe even jeopardize my position of being hired by other companies going forward because I might be seen as a troublemaker." - In a YouTube video asking Rocksteady to leave her name off the credits of Suicide Squad: Kill the Justice League, former Rocksteady senior script writer and author of the original letter Kim MacAskill says that Rocksteady management did not want its women employees to inform them about harassment and other problems going on at their studio.

It's bad enough that anyone should have to deal with harassment at work, but humans being what they are, I understand that instances of harassment can happen even in workplaces with responsible management making a good faith effort to look out for its employees' safety and create a safe work environment for them.

What I cannot understand are executives, directors, and human resources people hearing that the company has problems of this nature and deciding they would rather not hear about them, that they would rather risk harboring harassers than to allow their under-represented women employees to collaborate on a letter informing them about what's going on at their company, on their watch.

And from a more pragmatic view, I cannot understand why they deny these women any recourse through quiet, company-owned channels to air their grievances, pushing them instead to go to a press that is increasingly documenting the mistreatment of people around the industry.

The Rocksteady letter is dated November of 2018, which means the HR people and management leaning on MacAskill to drop the issue had just spent an entire year seeing their peers in gaming pilloried for a litany of misdeeds and a surge of interest around unionization.

Quantic Dream, Telltale Games, and Riot Games should all have been fresh in their minds. Rockstar Games had its dirty laundry aired just a month before.

Seven of the eight women who signed the 2018 letter and still work at Rocksteady apparently felt satisfied enough with the studio to defend it in public. Aside from concerns about whether any of those women were worried about how not signing it would impact their jobs, I can accept that they feel the company has addressed their original concerns. I'm honestly happy for them.

But their experiences don't say anything about those of the eighth woman, or the experiences of the other two original letter-signers who left the studio in the meantime. MacAskill for one clearly believes Rocksteady's response to the letter has been insufficient.

And to disregard her experiences and those of the other two women because they are coming from relatively few people is the same attitude that led the studio to ignore its women employees and prompt that 2018 letter in the first place.

QUOTE | "I think a good outcome [of publicising the letter] is basically showing the games industry in general [that] no matter how big your company is, how much you promote it as supportive of diversity, if you keep putting your head in the sand you will eventually be outed." - The woman who went public with the 2018 letter to Rocksteady management.

QUOTE | "Activision gave us specific direction to lose the chick." - An Activision developer 10 years ago, telling Gamasutra that the publisher made True Crime: Hong Kong developers replace the woman protagonist of the game with a man.

STAT | 4 - The number of Activision-published games since 2011 that focus on a woman protagonist. Those games are Bratz Fashion Boutique (2012), Lalaloopsy: Carnival of Friends (2012), and the multiplatform The Legend of Korra in 2014, which we're counting twice because the 3DS version was a strategy game unlike its home console counterparts.

QUOTE | "Nobody wanted this, but it was the way things were back then. It's not a good decision. I don't recommend it. It cost me dearly. It cost everybody dearly. But it was what it was. We crunched." - Former Blizzard North president David Brevik talks about the creation of Diablo 2 and how he worked 12 hour days for more than a year—taking a total of three days off over 13 months—leading up to its release.

QUOTE | "Using a VR profile that is backed by a Facebook account and authentic identity helps us protect our community and makes it possible to offer additional integrity tools." - Facebook explains why it will begin mandating that all Oculus users log in with Facebook accounts.

QUOTE | "I guarantee that you won't need to log into your Facebook account every time you wanna use the Oculus Rift." - In the wake of Facebook's acquisition of Oculus six years ago, Oculus founder Palmer Luckey promised that this exact situation would not come to pass.

QUOTE | "I really despise when companies take advantage of my live content in order to push their ads without clearing it with me first or offering what I should be paid for the marketing—which is more than $5, I'm pretty sure." - Twitch partner AnneMunition criticized a recent Burger King marketing stunt in which the fast food chain donated trivial sums to streamers to get their text-to-speech bots to read out the fast food chain's advertising copy.

QUOTE | "There's no room for transphobia in that community. You can't allow any of it. If you warn somebody and say, 'Well, your transphobia was bad, just tone it down next time.' That doesn't work. - Blaseball developer Joel Clark talks about the team's approach to ensuring a positive community.

STAT | $2 trillion - The total value of all outstanding shares of Apple stock earlier this week. In late March, it was under $1 trillion.

PETS | It's been a rough stretch of months. Let's try to recharge a bit by looking at a whole bunch of game developers' cute pets.

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Brendan Sinclair

North American Editor

Brendan joined GamesIndustry International in 2012. Based in Toronto, Ontario, he was previously senior news editor at CBS-owned GameSpot in the US.

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