Jeff Alvarez, president of Pathfinder and Starfinder publisher Paizo, posted a second statement to the official forums on September 20th in which he addressed some of the allegations and criticisms laid out by former workers in the wake of one employee’s firing and the voluntary leaving of another.
On September 13th, customer service and community manager Sara Marie was fired for undisclosed reasons after 12 years working with the tabletop RPG company. Diego Valdez, who worked under Marie, confirmed this in a Twitter thread the following day where he explained that their department had been “dealing with “some especially difficult and problematic internal stuff.”
“That she was fired, along with the cowardly nature in which it was carried out, and the misery my department has been put through had me especially frustrated and furious,” Valdez wrote. “I need for the people I work for to have some amount of managerial competence and integrity. Yesterday, and the preceding 3 weeks made clear that the 2 mangers [sic] involved have none of either. I made clear that they are not worth working for and I will not work for them.”
Their departure sparked outcry from the Pathfinder community and both current and former Paizo workers confused why the company would fire a critical conduit between the designers and the players. Many noted that while the customer service backlog had remained notoriously backlogged, interactions with Valdez and Marie were seemingly always positive and helpful.
The largest backlash arguably came on the back of a now widely shared Twitter thread from former Paizo employee Jessica Price. She claims up top that they were fired for “apparently being too willing to push back on abusive management” (Valdez later clarified that his leaving was voluntary but did not correct anything else Price said). The following messages position a number of accusations at Paizo’s upper management, including sexual harassment, bigotry, poor treatment of transgender freelancers and workers, and a general mismanagement that caused constant stress and anxiety for those working under them.
Other former employees added their own anecdotes and accusations, corroborating some and simply reacting to others. The public airing caused enough conversation on social media and in the Paizo forums that Alvarez responded on September 15th with a brief statement. In it, he claimed the company would be “ working actively to listen” to employees who wanted to voice concerns and “ensure that they feel their voices are being heard”, but he declined to explain why Marie was initially fired.
“While Paizo cannot discuss personnel issues in public, we wish to strongly reaffirm the company’s commitment to the ideals of inclusiveness and diversity in gaming, both within our company and in the products we create,” he wrote in the forums. “From the day the company opened back in 2002 all the way to the present, POC and LGBTQIA+ contributors and staff have been a critical part of our creative and business operations, and our company has been at the forefront of these issues in the work we publish and the values we espouse.”
Players reacted with comments calling the post “empty and hollow”, “not good enough” and “talking past literally all of the concerns.” Alvarez’’s punting on addressing the allegations of harassment, the demeaning management relationships and unhealthy conditions of the building left demanding more, as did his characterising Marie’s firing as a “recent departure.”
Alvarez commented later that same day to say “accusations that I have used offensive slurs about members of the staff are categorically false,” claiming he is close friends with “many LGBTQIA+ members of the Paizo staff.” Director of game design Jason Bulmahn tweeted a letter on September 16th denying any intentional malice or unwanted sexual advances and apologising if his behaviour was interpreted as such.
A response to Dicebreaker’s request for comment pointed towards Alvarez and Bulmahn’s statements, along with a 2019 letter from then-CEO Lisa Stevens regarding the company’s stance on sexual harassment and assault.
Head publisher Erik Mona also publicly addressed the discomfort Price and other former employees mentioned towards what he called historical occultism on September 15th. He apologised for accidentally posting a swastika to his personal Facebook profile “amid a huge dump of occult images” but said he could not recall any employees telling him the portrait for theosophy figure Comte de Saint Germain hanging in his office was problematic or uncomfortable. He ended by denying any sympathy for Nazis or white nationalist beliefs.
Alvarez returned to the forums on September 20th saying his previous post was “an opening statement”, this time sharing Paizo’s plan to address concerns and criticisms in the future. While the details and reason for Marie’s firing were left unaddressed, he said “no employee will ever be fired for whistleblowing or advocating for employee safety and wellbeing, and we have never fired an employee for doing so.” Paizo headquarters reside in Washington, an at-will employment state where no reason needs to be provided for firing an employee as long as it does not violate the state’s employee protection laws.
Paizo will be issuing an employee engagement survey, managed by an independent organisation, to provide its current employees with “an anonymous means to provide candid feedback”, while managers will attend individual meetings with the company’s executives to discuss concerns. It is also seeking to fill a currently vacant HR position. Apparently, employees only had access to an HR hotline Paizo made available in 2018. It is not clear who listens to those messages or addresses the concerns expressed within, and Dicebreaker has reached out for clarification.
Earlier this week some troubling allegations came out against Paizo, some specifically directed at me. In light of all of this, I feel that I owe everyone an explanation. To that end, I have prepared a statement and am happy to clarify as necessary. Take care of yourselves. pic.twitter.com/tkVUbHQeh1— Jason Bulmahn, Game Designer (@JasonBulmahn) September 16, 2021
Alvarez mentioned instituting annual anti-harassment training this year, an effort he said will continue going forward. The last in-person training the company held was in 2018. Paizo also extended its work-from-home arrangements through at least the end of 2021, reiterating safety guidelines for those who choose to work in the office.
Many of the specific claims levied by Price and other former workers remained unaddressed, as did any mention of hiring or restaffing Paizo’s customer service department. Alvarez said in a later comment that he still means to speak further on players’ concerns in the near future but did not provide a clear date. “I know people still have a lot of other things they'd like to hear from me, and I will do my best to get to those soon,” he said.
Dicebreaker reached out to Price, Valdez, Marie and other workers for comment on this story but did not hear back by time of publication.