Night in the Woods Studio Cancels Project and Cuts Ties with Co-Creator After Abuse Allegations

Night in the Woods Studio Cancels Project and Cuts Ties with Co-Creator After Abuse Allegations

The team behind Night in the Woods announced that they have cut ties with co-creator Alec Holowka after accusations of abuse arose.

It has been a difficult week for many in indie game spaces on social media this week, with multiple people coming forward on Twitter about their personal recollections of abuse by folks in the industry. Tuesday morning brought an accusation of sexual assault against Skyrim composer Jeremy Soule. This, in turn, inspired others to name alleged abusers, one being co-creator, coder, and composer of Night in the Woods Alec Holowka. Just yesterday, the other co-creators of the game, Scott Benson and Bethany Hockenberry, announced that they would end their professional relationship with Holowka.

This announcement also came with the news that another project from the developers is now canceled. Additionally, the Limited Run physical release of Night in the Woods has been delayed. The iOS port of the game is still in development, as it is being handled by an outside team.

The first accusation against Holowka came from Zoe Quinn, developer of Depression Quest; they are also known for being one of the initial targets of Gamergate. Quinn opened up about their experiences with Holowka on Twitter, shortly after Nathalie Lawhead accused Soule of sexual assault in a lengthy blog post.

Immediately after, other people in indie game development communities spoke up and corroborated Quinn’s account of Holowka’s behavior.

Along with Soule and Holowka, amongst the accused this week was Luc Shelton of Splash Damage and Weather Factory’s Alexis Kennedy (Kennedy has denied accusations, while his former employer Failbetter Games stated their support for his accusers last night). A number of those from indie game communities have also taken to Twitter to remind everyone that abuse is not necessarily always in the form of sexual assault but in emotional abuse as well; Quinn describes a number of manipulative behavioral traits from Holowka. One such case that emerged this week was that of Tony Coculuzzi, who named Florence co-developer Ken Wong as a factor in regards to his struggles with depression and suicide in a lengthy Twitter thread.

This week also shined a spotlight on “whisper networks,” with many in the industry privately disclosing their experiences of being abused with select people in confidence, most likely due to fear of retribution from the accused. Doing so, in practice, helps others in the industry prepare to work with known abusers in professional settings, or avoid interacting with them entirely. Multiple accounts, which is the case for both Soule and Holowska, can also show evident patterns in predatory behavior from the accused and lend credibility to the allegations.

The discussion around Holowska, in particular, has also troubled the fandom behind beloved indie title Night in the Woods, with fans left uneasy about their love of the highly-personal story. Benson and Hockenberry, in their Twitter thread, wanted to assure fans of their game that any feelings they have after this revelation are valid:

These cases have put a spotlight on abuse not just in the larger games industry, but amongst independent game developers. The systemic issue of abuse, whether it be sexual or emotional, is not only prevalent in larger studios, as we’ve seen in Naughty Dog, Riot Games, and Quantic Dream, but also in smaller game development spaces. Lawhead, Quinn, and others have been praised for speaking up and raising awareness about prominent figures in the world of game development; at the same time, these accusers, Quinn especially, have been made targets again online, despite corroboration in regards to Holowka’s past behavior.

Benson and Hockenberry’s cutting ties with Holowka is the first prominent action in response to the harrowing stories shared this week; Soule responded to the allegations through text message to Kotaku, saying: “These 11 year old allegations are false. I am shocked and saddened that these outrageous claims have been made.” Soule has since deleted his Twitter account. Holowka, on the other hand, has yet to release any sort of statement and has locked his Twitter account.