In September 2021, several anonymous accusations regarding sexual harassment, allegedly committed by two members of Nordic Game’s staff, were submitted through the Danish Producers Association. Nordic Game took several measures in response to these claims, one of which was to commission the Swedish consultancy Gender Balance to conduct an independent investigation of the charges. Their completed report has been submitted to Nordic Game and their report summary can be read here.
In their investigation, Gender Balance identified two men (Man 1 and Man 2) employed by Nordic Game that were accused of multiple counts of sexual harassment by a total of eight women. Gender Balance corroborated five accusations of sexual misconduct regarding Man 1 (M1). The report found that the acts were both physical and verbal in nature and in at least three cases, Gender Balance believed the acts of M1 constituted sexual harassment in violation of the Swedish Discrimination Act (Diskrimineringslagen). Gender Balance was unable to corroborate two other claims against M1. As part of a cost-cutting program in 2021 necessitated by the Covid-19 pandemic and its effects on the global event industry, M1 is no longer employed by Nordic Game and was thus not interviewed by Gender Balance.
There were also three allegations from three women against Man 2 (M2). Gender Balance has not been able to independently corroborate any of these allegations. M2 was interviewed and disputed all the allegations, and Gender Balance found these accusations difficult to investigate. The claims concerned in-person misconduct that allegedly took place several years ago, with few or no potential witnesses and none or very little textual evidence. Hence, Gender Balance was not able to corroborate the allegations against M2. M2 is still a member of the Nordic Game staff.
Additionally, Gender Balance reviewed the culture of Nordic Game as an organisation leading up to the alleged incidences, as well as the actions taken after the accusations were made. As noted in Gender Balance’s report, several people familiar with Nordic Game characterised their organisational culture as ranging from informal and friendly (in a positive sense) to unprofessional and inappropriate. Some mentioned that heavy partying often occurred in conjunction with conferences and business trips. Gender Balance also found the initial response by Nordic Game to the allegations was unstructured. For example, their report found that trust between the persons who made the complaints and Nordic Game was hurt by M1’s threats to sue any alleged victim for defamation.
Finally, Gender Balance made recommendations to Nordic Game regarding measures to take to decrease the risk of future misconduct. Some months following the allegations, Nordic Game also set up an independent whistleblower platform, which to date has not received any reports, but remains open in to facilitate anonymous messaging. Additionally, the Spring 2022 edition of Nordic Game included sessions on workplace conduct and appropriate behavior as key parts of the conference program. Further steps are planned by Nordic Game to ensure that no further incidents occur.
Update: Nordic Game managing director Erik Robertson has prepared a statement regarding this matter as follows:
Erik Robertson: Lessons learned following an independent investigation into allegations of sexual misconduct at Nordic Game
First and foremost, I want to apologise to the victims and express how grateful I am to everyone who has had the courage to reach out about their horrible experiences. They have truly made a difference. Without their efforts, we could have never made important and far-reaching changes, working to build a safer environment for everyone.
It is with mixed emotions that I hold the final report about alleged sexual misconduct by Nordic Game staff members in my hands. Commissioning this independent investigation was essential to fulfil our obligations in compliance with the Swedish Discriminations Act and publishing their report summary just as important in the interest of transparency and full disclosure. All identities have been left out, as well as details of the allegations, to protect the anonymity of the victims. Neither Nordic Game nor the commissioned investigators are a court of law. Our only interest is to find out what happened and to make sure it will never happen again.
I feel relieved that Gender Balance, as an independent investigator, has reached conclusions not unlike my own about the past as well as the future of Nordic Game. But at the same time, I feel ashamed that this happened on my watch and so that the person most responsible is none other than myself.
In short, the report states that an impartial investigator has corroborated that a former employee of Nordic Game acted in a highly unprofessional and inappropriate manner towards several women while representing the organisation. The report also maintains that the investigator was unable to confirm or deny alleged misconduct by another staff member, still with Nordic Game. In these matters, I presume a person innocent until proven guilty, but in the eyes of the public, the opposite far too often applies. Consequently, both myself and the individual concerned that is still on staff with Nordic Game will need to exercise a far higher level of self-scrutiny than ever before. As well we should since these incidents did not occur in a vacuum.
Read the Gender Balance report summary here for additional details.
1 – The complaint
In late September of 2021, an anonymous letter was sent to me by the Danish Producers Association (Producentforeningen). As part of their examination into sexual misconduct in the games sector, Nordic Game was singled out as an example of known problems within the industry, with a victim of such behaviour coming forward to substantiate these allegations. The result was a letter, in which eight anonymous complaints of sexual misconduct by two of my employees were presented.
Reading the letter, I was shocked. Having worked with the two individuals named for many years, my first reaction was disbelief. I simply could not imagine either of them acting in the ways the letter alleged. Nor could I fathom garnering an industry reputation for inappropriate behaviour by members of the organisation I had spent almost two decades building. I was convinced we had created a friendly, welcoming environment over the years. Now I was informed that two trusted employees were supposedly to have acted in very inappropriate ways and in one or possibly two of these occasions, the acts alleged seemed illegal to me.
Torn between loyalties – to my employees who were being accused of horrible behaviour and to our guests who deserve nothing but respect from us – I decided to do everything in my power to find out what had occurred. Not an easy task for an amateur with only anonymous testimonies as the basis of an investigation, but nevertheless necessary.
2 – The investigations
In October of 2021, the employee whom most of the allegations concerned, including the possible criminal instances, was let go from Nordic Game. I must stress that their departure was not motivated by any proven or unproven misconduct, and that the individual left with the four months’ severance pay as mandated by law.
At the time of this dismissal, the Covid-19 pandemic had basically brought the event industry to a halt, including organisations like Nordic Game. With only digital replacements as an option and a tarnished reputation, Nordic Game faced a severe financial crisis, with the livelihoods of several staff members’ families threatened. So, every cost that could be cut, was cut, and this former employee’s tasks were taken over by me.
In the same period, I tried to measure the extent and pattern of inappropriate behaviour at Nordic Game. Since I had reason to believe that the documented allegations came anonymously from Denmark and Sweden, I reached out beyond those borders. In Norway I found out that a person had been uncomfortable during a conversation at an event. And that another person had been harassed by members of a group of Finnish participants at a Nordic Game event.
Though neither situation involved Nordic Game employees, I soon realised that our reputation was not nearly as good as I had naively imagined. In fact, it was bad enough for a concerned Danish client to refuse to continue working with us until we hired a Danish lawyer at their recommendation to assist in the investigation.
This lawyer agreed but could not commit to the investigation at once. By February of 2022, he recommended that we should conduct no further inquiries ourselves, but instead launch an independent whistle-blower platform, anonymously accessible to all potential past, present and future victims. The platform was launched in April of 2022, just before the spring edition of Nordic Game. We publicly and privately invited all victims to report their experiences on the platform, but to date not a single report has been made there.
During NG22 Spring in May of 2022, two complaints were made against a participant. The incidents occurred at another nearby venue, but of course we had a talk with him later. Also, members of our staff encountered a male non-participant in the ladies’ bathroom during our party, who was promptly escorted off the premises. Neither of the two individuals implicated in the allegations of misconduct in 2021 took part at this event.
No new complaints about any staff members had been made through any channel at this point in mid-2022, but I was still no closer to finding out what had really happened. Thus, I hired a Swedish specialist firm, which came highly recommended, to reach out to the victims to understand what had happened, and to recommend appropriate actions.
The detailed findings and summary report from Gender Balance has now been submitted to us. The investigator found our safety measures to be lacking, as well as our initial handling of the matter, especially regarding the speed with which we acted, but also noted that we had done everything as obligated by law, and otherwise had taken all actions reasonably expected of us as a result of the complaints received.
3 – Lessons learned and the future
I have taken every criticism directed at myself and Nordic Game to heart. My own handling of the situation took too much time, due to of my overwhelming sense of responsibility and a need for control, which was not balanced by sufficient preparation and external support. I learned on the job. I hope that by sharing my experience, I can inspire others in leadership positions to do better than I did in similar circumstances. Importantly, instead of thinking I could do everything myself, I should have reached out to independent professionals at once.
I think that each of us should be allowed to re-evaluate our experiences, and the pandemic gave me ample opportunity for introspection. As owner and chief executive of Nordic Game, I feel the fault and responsibility were ultimately mine. I supported a habit of alcohol-fuelled partying that I thought of as warm and welcoming. Hosting thousand guests for dinners and social events, while serving them all copious amounts of beer and wine, ostensibly as business gatherings, was not a responsible thing to do, to say the least.
In retrospect, the success of Nordic Game has not been matched by corresponding risk management. Our hiring practices, staff education, safety measures and routines have needed much improvement. For myself, the rapid growth of Nordic Game has made me less approachable. My first reaction to the accusations of the victims was to feel hurt by their apparent lack of trust, since they did not reach out personally to me at the time of the incidents, which I now realise was unfair and selfish of me.
In conclusion, I don’t consider the Gender Balance report and this statement to be the end of the matter. Instead, I see this as the next step in making Nordic Game more accessible, transparent, welcoming and especially safer for all participants. In the weeks leading up to NG23 Spring this May, I expect to announce several more steps in this direction.
If there is anything at all I can do to improve your experience with us, please let me know. The team and I at Nordic Game are here for you.
Nordic Game Resources AB