IGDA under fire for mishandling of harassment controversy

AN GamesIndustry.biz report 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 reluctance to significantly censor Scheurle in a timely manner.

A group of developers filed an initial complaint with the IGDA Foundation (the organization’s charity wing) in 2019, alleging a “history of deception, bullying, defamation and abuse”, in a 16-page document describing and cataloging Scheurle’s behavior. This claim 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 claim.

Then the plaintiffs took their case to the IGDA itself – Scheurle had been involved with both the Foundation and the professional association. A group of 14 plaintiffs against Scheurle and six supporters filed this 34-page formal complaint in September 2020, alleging “multiple allegations of personal abuse and professional violations carried out by Jennifer Scheurle between the period 2017 and 2020”. The 2019 and 2020 complaints depict harassment, stolen credit and other professional misconduct by Scheurle.

The IGDAs formal policy for responding to harassment complaints describes a formal seven-step process for responding to allegations like these, and it does not appear to have been followed in Scheurle’s case. As these claims spread and gained traction, Scheurle was removed from consideration for a Game Dev Hero 2020 award, as well as inclusion in the Game Awards’ upcoming 2021 class. Scheurle resigned as president of the IGDA in September 2021.

The IGDA’s lack of response to the situation also does not appear to be an isolated incident – the GamesIndustry.biz report also contains two separate anonymous reports of institutional inaction in response to formal complaints about member misconduct. These, taken with Scheurle’s situation, paint a murky picture of the organization’s ability to enforce its own rules: Scheurle’s departure from the organization led to mounting public pressure and formal censorship from two other organizations, all long after a response timely after IGDA’s internal harassment policy should have been followed.

One of the developers interviewed in the GamesIndustry.biz story expressed frustration with this inaction and harm in the face of 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 often they don’t seem to be acting with the interest of individual, marginalized and at-risk developers at heart.”

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

For its part, IGDA pointed to its recent update of its code of ethics, as well as the formation of an ethics committee to investigate similar complaints in the future, as evidence of the commitment to change for the better. This history of professional misconduct comes at the same time as revelations around 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.

Leave a Comment