A new report published by Swedish daily newspaper Svenska Dagbladet (paywall) has detailed a “culture of silence” at Paradox Interactive, the developer behind strategy game hits such as Crusader Kings, Hearts of Iron and Europa Universalis.
Content warning: this article includes descriptions of assault.
One particular incident involved the hiring of a senior manager previously known for “unwelcome approaches and harassment” at another games company. Svenska Dagbladet sources said the man’s reputation was ignored – allowing him to be employed at Paradox regardless.
“He had too much physical contact with us female employees. A hand on the groin or very close hugs, where he drilled his face into one’s throat. We were several girls who talked about it,” said one woman who was harassed by the man before he was hired at Paradox.
The woman took the man’s former employer to court and received a settlement of nearly 270k Swedish kroner (£ 22.6k) in late 2016, just months before the man’s hiring at Paradox. He then served as a senior manager in “a leading role at the company” until August 2021.
Eurogamer has separately spoken with multiple women – employees at Paradox past and present – over the past month about their experiences at the company, following the leak of a damning internal survey which accused Paradox of “bullying and gender discrimination” and claimed the studio’s culture was “worst for women”. Everyone I spoke to wished to remain anonymous for fear of reprisal, and to avoid endangering their career.
“If you’re a woman in a group and you have a strong opinion …” one woman told me, “like, I have been to meetings where I’m the only woman in the room, and I say ‘Hey, I really think we should go this direction, based on my experience ‘, and someone looks at me, and they say,’ You know what, you’re just here as a token hire. So I think you should be quiet about this. ‘
“It’s hard to be a woman in this company. People are like, ‘You’re just whining? Why is it harder for women?’ But if a guy would have brought the same things up it would have been a valid opinion. “
Multiple women told Svenska Dagbladet that Paradox was “clearly male-dominated”, with harassment typically involving men in senior positions “who did something to someone below them in the hierarchy”.
Men were typically the loudest in meetings and the ones who got the final word, one Svenska Dagbladet source said, while another woman who had worked at Paradox for a decade recalled an incident where she was removed from a meeting and made to remove criticism of the company from Paradox’s internal Slack while I have watched.
“That’s as much culture of silence as you can have,” the employee explained. A Paradox spokesperson said it did not recognize this incident and could not comment.
Speaking to Eurogamer, one woman criticized Paradox’s management structure as being ineffective in dealing with harassment of junior employees. This was due to middle management being focused on pleasing senior staff, they said, and therefore not wanting to raise issues further.
“If I bring something to my middle management manager he’s not going to address those things to senior management because then he might be disliked,” the woman said, calling it a “toxic culture” where “if you have built your whole leadership on being liked by senior management you become pretty useless for people that you’re working with. “
Eurogamer has heard of vulgar, misogynistic jokes not being reported because it is believed those responsible will not be reprimanded, and various accounts of meetings where people are screamed at being accepted as normal.
Last month, following the survey’s leak, recently-reinstated Paradox boss Fredrik Wester abruptly apologized on Twitter for an incident of “inappropriate behavior” towards another employee during a company meeting in 2018. Wester does not detail the exact nature of the incident he is admitting to, though says he wanted to acknowledge it now “in the name of transparency and clarity”. When asked for more information by Eurogamer, a Paradox spokesperson previously declined to comment “out of respect for the privacy of the person involved”.
Svenska Dagbladet’s report notes that the Swedish games industry is small, and that this has affected Paradox employees’ ability to speak out even after leaving the company. It’s something Eurogamer has also been told, by several women who said detailing their own experiences of harassment would identify them to others in the company. “This is such a small industry and everyone knows everyone,” one woman told me.
Paradox, it seems, holds real influence within the Swedish games industry – not surprising, perhaps, when you consider its size and the global following for its games.
In the latest figures available from 2019, 1226 women are listed as working in the Swedish games industry, which equates to 21 percent of all Swedish games industry staff. That ratio is also roughly reflected at Paradox too, which employed 662 employees in 2020.
Even within the studio, Eurogamer has heard the company’s regular internal surveys are treated with caution by some employees, who are unsure whether their comments are actually anonymous. “No one dared to actually write what they wanted in that kind of survey,” one woman who used to work at Paradox told me.
Responding to Svenska Dagbladet’s report, Paradox spokesperson Marcus Hallberg said the company treated this summer’s leaked employee survey very seriously, but that it was an “informal” study with a “limited sample of respondents (less than 20 percent of our employees globally)” which made it “difficult to act immediately before we have made a major screening”.
Paradox said it had now hired an external and independent auditor to investigate its company culture, beginning with its employees based in Sweden.
Could Paradox change? “Yes, if senior management are willing to help, if they are willing to change their perception of what harassment is,” one woman told me. “There is actual harassment at Paradox that people are denying, because they don’t believe it’s harassment. We believe it is normal, because where they come from, this culture has been ongoing for years and years and years. And some people have never seen anything different. “
Eurogamer contacted Paradox for more information today but the studio declined to comment further, pending the results of its external audit which a spokesperson said was now underway.