Matt Conn, the founder of the LGBTQ gaming convention GaymerX and the video game development studio MidBoss — known best for its queer-inclusive title Read Only Memories — resigned this week over allegations of sexual misconduct from former MidBoss employees. Following Conn’s resignation, company co-founder and president Toni Rocca assumed control of GaymerX and Midboss, pledging restructuring changes. Immediately after, a former company volunteer accused Rocca of “belligerent” texting after an unrequited come-on, and another person has accused Rocca of racism.
Full disclosure: Hornet has served as a media sponsor and exhibitor at previous GaymerX events.
On March 23, a musician named Jessica Levine claimed via Twitter that former MidBoss employees told her about Conn’s misconduct and MidBoss underpaying them for their work. But Levine claimed her sources were scared of coming forward because “[Midboss is] a small studio and [it’s] easy to trace back to them,” fearing retribution for speaking out.
The next day, Tyler Gausvik — a former MidBoss employee who worked in its quality assurance, community management, marketing and team management teams for eight months in 2015 — tweeted that he experienced “A lot of sexual harassment/misbehavior, emotional manipulation, and other really toxic behavior. I was threatened with litigation when I spoke out.”
Gausvik further claims he was ”called an unprofessional slut and was also subjected to inappropriate sexual workplace conduct/harassment and grooming” and paid “less than minimum wage for full-time work.”
In an interview with Gamesbeat, Gausvik says MidBoss, a small startup video game studio, had no human resources department for handling complaints. Gausvik also claims Conn threatened him with legal action if he spoke publicly about his concerns.
“Nothing I was saying was untrue,” Gausvik has told GamesBeat, “however I wasn’t going to keep talking if there was even a chance of legal action, because I didn’t have that kind of money.”
George Diez, a one-time MidBoss employee who said he quit after less than a week, has tweeted that Conn suggested grooming his beard to be more handsome. He also alleges Conn once looked through his private Facebook messages to his then-boyfriend, insulted Diez’s boyfriend to his face and suggested he break up with him. Lastly, Diez claims Conn showed him porn in the workplace, mentioning once again Conn’s tastes in men’s grooming.
In a now-deleted tweet responding to those accusations, Conn wrote, “In regards to my behavior, I’ve never intentionally tried to make anyone uncomfortable, but I know my intense management style and just unconventional lifestyle puts people off and if I wanna have a career I need to act right.”
Nevertheless, in a March 26 tweet, Conn wrote, “Effective immediately I’m resigning from GaymerX and all activities involved in that and I’ll also be taking a leave from MidBoss once I can make sure the remaining employees’ payroll is handled.”
“I cut corners, and I’m a weird guy, and I put people off in a lot of ways, and I don’t mean to,” Conn said to GamesBeat. “But I never intend to make anyone ever feel uncomfortable, and I need to get better. I would never intentionally want anyone to ever feel uncomfortable. Especially looking back at it, I realize that there’s definitely a lot of things I could have done differently.”
On March 26, Rocca announced she would oversee MidBoss following Conn’s departure. Addressing Conn’s behavior in an article by trans games critic Katherine Cross, Rocca says some of Conn’s behavior might’ve been connected to the recent deaths of his boyfriend and father.
That evening, a person going by the name of Avery Baa claimed that once, after a day spent helping MidBoss at a Penny Arcade Exchange expo hall table, Rocca came onto them. After declining Rocca’s come-ons, Baa claims to have slept on a couch alone. The next day, Baa claims Rocca sent “belligerent” text messages to Baa and then cut off contact, and that others have reported similar behavior from Rocca (though admits that is all “hearsay”).
In another March 26 tweet (below), Levine claimed an unnamed GaymerX staffer also accused Rocca of racism, an accusation which Rocca denies.
So I'm being "called out" by this person because I replaced Matt, but the claims don't sound like anything I'd ever say in a million years pic.twitter.com/WltIiDhzls
— I really, really like bears (@tonitonirocca) March 27, 2018
Amid the Twitter accusations, one self-proclaimed 2D/3D artist tweeted their decision to part ways with MidBoss. Another individual who had worked with MidBoss announced they are “officially moving on from MidBoss.” A trans female employee has said she hasn’t decided whether or not to leave the company.
When asked about the social media posts targeting her and Conn, Rocca — in speaking with Hornet — expresses disappointment but adds, “What’s important is that we focus on making things right and we’re working on structuring the company differently moving forward.”
Conn has told GamesBeat that MidBoss is looking into overhauling its payroll, moving freelancers to salaried positions and adding a human resources department. Rocca echoed Conn’s sentiment to Hornet.
“We’re going to restructure as best we can, which will likely mean taking a break from current projects,” Rocca says. “We’ll figure out what project we can currently focus on and then hire properly through that. I think that a system of just focusing on doing what we can slowly with a minimal staff is going to work out better.”