GioCities

blogs by Gio

The Sarah Z Video Fallout

One of your questions was whether I thought Gio was a stalker. It’s my personal take that he probably does not technically qualify as one, but I also don’t think it’s a simple “no” either, given his antagonistic fixation toward people at WP, and his persistent invasiveness has made the women at WP uncomfortable.

Suffice to say for now, I don’t trust him, I will never speak to him, and probably no one from WP ever will either.

After the backer update came out, I took at look at Gio’s revisions to his article, and unsurprisingly, he just rearranged all the new facts so that he could draw all the same basic negative conclusions he’d already drawn.

I think this would be a bizarre conclusion to reach for anyone who was looking at that update objectively, and just indicates that the facts never really mattered because he had already made up his mind.

The only explanation is what everyone at WP suspected all along.
He’s a troll.

*record scratch*

*freeze frame*

You’re probably wondering how I got into this situation.

It all started on 4/13/2021. That’s right, I’m writing a story about me this time. It’s my blog, after all. First I wrote a history, then reported on a rumor, and now it’s time to tell a thriller.

I wrote the following on 4/14 as a postmortem, but never shared it publicly.

4/14 log🔗

So. A lot happened yesterday.

There’s a lot of information that dropped yesterday that got written down already, but the actual weirdness of the events of the day were mostly not, which leaves a lot of people asking about it.

I really am serious about not wanting to escalate drama, but unfortunately when circumstances are extreme, just giving an account of what happened to you can be more provocative than I’m usually comfortable with. I’m putting this up as unlisted so it doesn’t dredge itself up over and over again, and to minimize that trend, but for the people who are asking me already, here’s a summary.

Obviously, anything I say about the intentions of other people are only partially-informed speculation on my part, and should absolutely not be treated as definitive.

3 am🔗

Sarah Z, a YouTube video essayist with 379K subscribers known for her work on internet community history (not to be confused with Sarah Zedig, a Homestuck twitter fan who was not involved in the day’s events other than deleting some old tweets that apparently fell out of favor with her friend group), teased the existence of a new video on twitter:

11:30 am🔗

Aysha Farah, who is a major Homestuck writer, amongst many other things, tweeted

I should note here that not only was no video out, but Sarah’s fanbase is not known for harassing the subjects of her videos. Her work is known to be lighthearted and done in good faith, and Aysha’s expectation to the contrary seems to come out of nowhere.

There were some other similar sentiments expressed, mostly within that same friend group.

what a charmer!

(sarah’s video’s thoughts about trans representation were written by a trans person, by the way, in case you thought there was any merit in that last one. there isn’t!)

12:30 pm🔗

Sarah first released A Brief History of Homestuck, a 2+ hour deep dive into the history of the Homestuck fandom.

This included maybe half an hour of discussion about Hiveswap and the Kickstarter campaign, which was based heavily on my comprehensive Hiveswap history and cited my article as a source. There were also notes about my other article, a less historical investigation (due to simply lacking conclusive evidence) into rumors about TOG’s involvement. These were well distinguished, with the unconfirmed parts clearly presented as such. I wasn’t consulted about the video and didn’t plan any of the contents with Sarah, but my articles were used as good sources, as intended.

She presented ipgd’s report and “my report” as separate accounts of what happened with TOG, which if I’m being extremely sensitive feels a hair too much like attributing those accusations to me for my comfort, but she does use the word report, so it’s not wrong. She goes on to say that, in her estimation, the truth is probably somewhere in the middle, which is what I personally agree with. Also, she gets my name wrong a couple times in the video, which I thought would clue people in that we weren’t working together? It’s really fine, though. I’m not here to nitpick, my work was well-cited as a source for a good video and I was-and-am perfectly pleased.

At 12:30 pm, she released the video on Nebula, a paid streaming service, as an early release to the people who supported her with a subscription there.

Immediately after, Aysha tweets

Aysha seems convinced here that the video is a hit piece (“a published article aiming to sway public opinion by presenting false or biased information”) for some reason, but the first tweet is just funny: What Pumpkin and Aysha are absolutely not reachable for people who try to get in touch with them, especially if there’s a chance they’re writing something at all critical. I’ve reached out for comment multiple times about my article, and never gotten a single reply of any kind about Hiveswap.

1 pm🔗

At 1 pm, Sarah’s video went public on YouTube, and she tweeted a link to the video.

Aysha tweets

It’s… unclear the point Aysha means to make here, if any? There’s some vague gesture towards linking Sarah’s video to oppression of minority groups, but it’s not at all coherent. The argument seems to be “to talk about the company I work at in any capacity is to be complicit in horrors”, which is of course absurd.

As another case study, here’s a real reply I got to replying to a question about how one would even go about contacting WP with “There’s an email address”:

lots of people loudly “left fandom” long ago, but still regularly chime in to bother fans. curious!

So, obviously, nothing about this makes any sense. The Hiveswap article was less than a year old and doesn’t have anything to do with harassing queer people. My most generous interpretation of this is a loose attempt to compare me to those actual stalker types and generally signal to people that they should harass me over this imagined offence. But Dani is a high-profile figure and former Snake Solutions partner, and so that’s of course exactly what happened.

There exists a narrative among some groups that the Snake Solutions crowd reacts extremely poorly to even mild criticism. That they accuse perceived critics — no matter how mundane the criticism — as being transphobic, or racist, or stalkers, even when those accusations don’t make any sense in the situation, or are obviously false. These tweets certainly don’t do much in the way of disproving that narrative, which is a shame.

1:30 pm🔗

Someone replied to Aysha’s earlier tweet pointing out that WP isn’t reachable, correctly citing my article as a counterexample:

I saw this and confirmed that yes, I reached out to WP, and no, they wouldn’t speak to me:

2:30 pm🔗

At this point, and not before, it was physically possible for a person to have watched the whole Sarah Z video, if they had started on nebula and watched the whole thing non-stop. I just thought that was interesting.

Around this time I also started getting warnings. Apparently Aysha put a hit out on me over my tweet. No, really.

go get this bitch. fucking stalker

This is a practice called dogpiling, a form of targeted online harassment where a large, popular account directs their following to insult, attack, or doxx a victim. Wikipedia notes the term became popular during the gamergate controversy, where it was popular practice to dogpile feminists or just women with any online following, in order to pressure them into shutting up.

It is a grotesque, awful thing to do, and this is an incredibly overt instance of it, with the actual instruction “go get this bitch”, calling me a “FUCKING STAL(K)ER”. (When you are very angry, sometimes it is hard to find your up arrow key.) I’ll also note here that after Aysha posted this, I did in fact get threats, but I won’t go into detail about that here as it’s nothing more than you’d expect from an attack of this magnitude.

Now, I was originally stunned to see this. Aysha was a high-profile person in the community, surely she wouldn’t just overtly do this? I had to check for myself before I reacted further, so I looked up the discord server and dropped in. Sure enough, yep, it was real. I tried to ask what was going on but I was, of course, kicked out immediately.

But, while I was there, I took a screenshot for myself.

Fortunately this helped me get out ahead of it slightly. There’s also a small thread under there about how the accusations made against me don’t make any sense and seem to just be utterly baseless name-calling, as you’d expect.

Apparently after I exposed her threat she deleted it (and maybe even parts of the server), but I can’t say for sure. I don’t know if she made the threat in a panic and immediately regretted it, or if she really did mean to be as malicious as possible but later realized there might be more blowback than she wanted. She hasn’t contacted me or said anything either way. If I hurt someone and regretted it, I would make some attempt to apologise. De-escalate, that’s the important thing. She didn’t do that, which is disappointing.

3:30 pm🔗

Around this time, people have actually finished the Sarah video and some reply to Aysha’s original request to summarize the video for her:

Apparently Sarah was getting harassed today over this too. Good grief.

It is funny that Aysha says here that, of the whole video (which makes explicit criticism of the quality of her work!) the thing she’s upset about are “hiveswap lies”, which I tried to ask them about! In fact, the tweet that she started the harassment campaign over was me pointing out that fact! The absurdity couldn’t be more stark. (Or so I thought.)

Sarah’s video also barely discussed Aysha or any individuals working at What Pumpkin by name, with the exception of Andrew Hussie. The specific issue Aysha is taking issue with here — the Hiveswap story — was criticism of the company from before she even joined it, let alone wrote any material for it. If Aysha had watched the video, she’d have known that her complaints didn’t make any sense.

Fortunately, at this point Aysha had calmed after her initial episode and started to run damage control, calming people down and retracting her earlier harsh statements — oh wait no actually she was doing the exact opposite of that, okay

rip him apart

g-great! great job there.

Damage control would have to wait for never, apparently. She still hasn’t retracted anything, but she would delete her messages, delete the channel she posted them in, and eventually nuke the entire Discord server entirely, as one might do if they were still just as angry but cogent enough to cover their tracks to avoid negative consequences. (For instance, neither Discord nor Patreon actually let you use their platforms to openly launch coordinated harassment campaigns.)

4:00 or thereabouts🔗

Sarah Z received some additional information from What Pumpkin, which she pinned to the video as a comment:

Hi everyone! Shortly after release my video, I received a DM from someone with a lot of firsthand knowledge on the game. There’s some really important info there. Though they’ve asked to remain anonymous, suffice it to say I can verify that they have firsthand information and I believe them. To sum up what I was told:

Based on my conversation with the person who contacted me, I have reason to believe one of the sources may therefore have been dishonest and misrepresented or treated speculation as fact when contacting Gio (though I can’t claim to know anyone’s internal motivations). In any case, I think this information and the fact that I was contacted is important to share, so please take everything in this comment into account when watching the video.

I won’t summarize the information here, as it was shortly afterwards made public via Kickstarter, but it essentially boils down to “the source you presented as unreliable, who said negative things about us, is unreliable, according to us, as of just now.”

Sarah got another fun present from What Pumpkin: a legal threat. She did not make the details of this public, but added this note to her video:

Emails have been sent to me and the agency I make videos with containing explicit legal threats against me for parts of my video. I don’t know what more I can say at this time, but will keep you all in the loop as much as I can. For now, feel free to still review the new information I’ve learned.

This is unfortunately par for the course with What Pumpkin. As I’ve discussed before, they are famously, aggressively litigious, even if they’re often very, very wrong about it. Anyway, nobody liked that.

8 pm🔗

The Homestuck Kickstarter put out an update that included the details that were told to Sarah Z earlier, and a lot more. I won’t summarize the details here, since I immediately analysed those thoroughly and edited them into my other Hiveswap articles. It’s noteworthy because it seems to be a direct reaction to the Sarah Z video and my Hiveswap investigation. It confirms and denies several things I didn’t have a solid source on before, and responds directly to criticism in a way What Pumpkin never has before.

As I said, I quickly combed through them, updated my work (as I do when there’s updated information), and let Sarah know. She added another note to the video:

A Kickstarter update went out yesterday with more detailed information about the Hiveswap production, and criticizing the reliability of the source in the Gio article, same as the person who contacted me. It looks like at some point since then, the Hiveswap Gio writeup has been updated to include the information in said update!

Wednesday🔗

4/13 is over! It was a wild one.

I don’t have this on my beat-by-beat Timeline, but at some point during 4/13, between the Kickstarter update and sending out legal threats, What Pumpkin purged the @homestuck twitter account of all but 18 tweets. This is a “scorched earth” style of damage control, where a worried corporation will destroy any evidence of any unsavoury behaviour that might make them look bad.

Anyway, I’ll just end with this:

I really do try my best to main cordial relationships with people whenever I can. I liked Aysha, mildly. I heard some odd stories, but I didn’t know her personally and admired her work. I even complemented her prolific writing in the Hiveswap article she apparently hates so much.

I don’t understand why she did the things she did yesterday. I had no idea she had so much vitriol stored up against me and my work. I don’t know why she ignored me for months when I was doing my research, and didn’t contact me to clarify the things she disagreed with when I published it. Maybe this is me being ND? Maybe there was some emotional effect going on behind the scenes among staff and friends I wasn’t privy to.


Hi again! It’s me, Present Gio, from the record scratch gag. Welcome back to now.

Well, not quite. Between 4/14 and now I chatted with jojo, edited my frantic Hiveswap updates for clarity, and did some other uninteresting stuff. Also, some stuff that was interesting but not relevant. Certainly nothing that demands the hour-by-hour recap, thank god.

So here’s what happened next, apparently. The rest of this article is mostly going to talk about a series of emails between various people affiliated with Sarah Z and various people affiliated with What Pumpkin, which Sarah released in a second video here. I’ll try not to just rehash the same material, so if you’re interested, it’s worth your time to watch that too.

Cindy's Threat🔗

(Starting at 13:05 in the video)

Let’s start with that legal threat Sarah got on 4/13. (This was sent to Dave Wiskus, the CEO of Standard, the company who represents Sarah.) There’s just so much going on here, so I’ll go ahead and give my interjections throughout. Emphasis added.

Hello Dave and PJ,

My name is Cindy and I’m President and CEO of What Pumpkin Games. We at WP received your contact from Sarah Z after an associate spoke with her about the Homestuck video she uploaded today on 4/13.

So this is Cindy Dominguez, who I’ve been waiting to hear from. Cindy has been behind the scenes at What Pumpkin since the very beginning, but has done very little publicly, if ever. She’s co-owned WP LLC, Homestuck Inc, and What Pumpkin Games, and was credited as a producer in Friendsim, Pesterquest, and Hiveswap. Now, with Andrew having left WP, it looks like she might be the sole executive.

We were disappointed to learn that a member of your association published a video that promoted speculative, false claims about our company from a known malicious actor that could potentially cause us to incur significant financial damages.

This is basically the whole case: some of what Sarah reported on (as claims) were false and told by some malicious Accuser (not me, but one of my sources), and this has caused WP some amount of trouble.

It’s a bit silly to criticise What Pumpkin, though. After all, they’ve never done anything wrong. Unrelated to that, let me just read any given sentence in this 101 page report and oh wait, the opposite is true.

She promoted these claims without seeking any comment from What Pumpkin prior to publication. What’s more, when [Homestuck Writer], a creative director at our company, reached out in multiple attempts to contact her following the publication of the video, she not only ignored our representative’s communications, Ms. Z chose to make a public post disparaging our representative by name. She has since deleted the post, but has not made any apology to our representative.

So, this is an obviously bizarre idea, right? Cindy seems to be arguing here that, before you talk about Homestuck on the internet, you’re expected to send What Pumpkin a message asking them for their comment. (You might remember WP’s availability as being a point of contention already!) Now, of course, I actually did this, but I didn’t seriously expect an answer, since What Pumpkin is famously unresponsive to this sort of questioning. What little PR What Pumpkin Games had was handled by Fellow Traveller, who had they had recently ended their relationship with. I actually mentioned in my article, multiple times, how I tried to get in contact with What Pumpkin but was continually rebuffed. At this point there was absolutely no reason to think you even could get in contact with WP, so Cindy’s (and Aysha’s) expectation here that Sarah would — and their apparent offence that she didn’t — is bonkers.

Oh, but it gets better. [Homestuck Writer] here is… one Aysha U. Farah, whose public meltdown you might remember from before. Aysha “rip him apart” Farah is the person What Pumpkin decided to hinge their legal argument on. Good lord, I… I honestly don’t have the words.

Just for the sake of being completely comprehensive, though, let’s examine that last point about “disparaging our representative.” I actually have a copy of the post that’s referring to here, from before Sarah deleted it:

Q: did you see aysha has been trying to get in contact with you on twitter? A: yep, and just everything I've seen about her response, including deliberately trying to incite dogpiles on people who defend me via discord, affirms that my initial decision not to ttalk to her was probably a good one

Aha! So what actually happened is Sarah was explicitly asked about Aysha, but she had seen the harassment campaign and decided that in hindsight it was probably for the best she hadn’t involved Aysha in the video. But then she deleted it. So there’s that entire argument defused, because the whole idea that Sarah conducted some sort of positive disparagement campaign is patently false. Cindy also feels Aysha is owed an apology for… having her misbehaviour momentarily noticed, which, no.

We finally managed to get in contact with Ms. Z many hours after the publication of the video through an associate who is not formally employed by What Pumpkin. That person was able to clear up the disinformation that Ms. Z shared in her video, and we’re glad that she appears to be amenable to issuing a correction now that she has seen proof that the documents she was promoting in her video contained false and libelous information.

The “correction” mentioned here was the comment Sarah made on her video, saying “I have reason to believe one of the sources may therefore have been dishonest and misrepresented or treated speculation as fact when contacting Gio”. What’s still notably absent is any sort of proof that any documents contained false information, or even an idea of what information WP believes was false. All that happened was the vague idea that it’s possible someone gave some amount of information because they disliked WP, but not any of the followthrough that would amount to proof, or even a legitimate accusation of libel.

(There’s a bit here about WP contacting Sarah through a third party later dubbed “Mr. X”, which I’m skipping over throughout this article because he doesn’t seem relevant.)

All of this could have been avoided had she simply requested a comment from the primary source before publishing inflammatory speculation about a sensitive legal settlement. However, she indicated that her sponsorship with Audible prevents her from taking down or re-editing the video even with our mutual agreement that the content warrants correction.

Of course, you can’t just edit a YouTube video, even if you wanted to do so; that’s not how the platform works. And, again, the idea that WP was entitled to edit the video: bonkers.

We understand that Ms. Z is very young, and her irresponsible, unethical journalism is the result of ignorance and not active intent to damage our company.

This sudden outburst of infantilizing personal insults about Sarah is probably one of the most obviously damning things about this whole letter. It’s insulting and incredibly unprofessional.

We also recognize that the defamatory content in question is a small part of the video, and we are not seeking changes to any other segment unrelated to the matter of these false claims. Nevertheless, that small, thoughtlessly included segment as well as her choice to link directly to libelous documents in the video description poses an enormous financial and reputational risk to our company.

We are not seeking compensation and will not take legal action provided that an acceptable correction is made immediately. We consider a text clarification below the video, a Twitter post, or any other form of retraction that does not involve either taking the video down or re-editing the video to correct the defamatory material to be unacceptable. Ms. Z must also publicly acknowledge on all platforms that the original video contained disinformation and take responsibility for her lack of diligence in researching this video.

Again, still no hint as to what the libel actually is, or what statements were false, just demands that WP has the right to erase any criticism about their company from the internet at their leisure1, and demands Sarah engage in public self-flagellation because… well, still no reason given, actually. And, of course, WP considers any of the mechanisms YouTube actually offers to be unacceptable.

We’re hoping that by getting in contact with you that you can convey to Audible that it is in the best professional and legal interests of all parties to allow a re-edit of this video to remove the false content. Ms. Z’s large platform has already forced us to invest significant time and resources into combatting the disinformation she chose to spread. We may need to pay thousands in legal fees in the process of reviewing the necessary documentation related to our settlement, so this is not at all trivial to us. The damage she has caused is already massive and irreparable, so we’d like to emphasize that we consider preventing further harm to our company to be a grave and urgent matter.

We look forward to your timely response.

-Cindy Dominguez

There is apparently only one thing WP did to “combat the disinformation” in the video, which was post a Kickstarter update that confirmed a number of accusations made that were previously only rumors. So, not only did it not combat any “disinformation” (or, still, even identify any), it went out of its way to confirm swaths of the article it so hated. Note how Cindy says that posting this update required “investing significant time and resources”, because it turns out later that’s a lie! But whoops, I’m spoiling things.

I’ll say one more thing here: if somebody saying something on the internet causes you “massive and irreparable damage”, and you and your team of lawyers can’t identify any specific parts of it that are false, your problem isn’t “journalism exists”, your problem is that when people learn things about you, they hate you. If you want to change that, you can’t just harass YouTubers; you’ve gotta do different things, bucko!

Standard's Response🔗

(Starting at 19:05 in the video)

Now, fortunately, it turns out Standard isn’t actually a clownshow, and they addressed this absurd threat very well. Here’s the response Dave sent. (Emphasis added at the parts where I love Dave an extra amount)

Cindy,

I am sorry for taking so long to get back to you. I needed the extra time to respond to your condescending and, in my opinion, defamatory email with the appropriate professional tone.

You mention an unrelated third party getting in touch with Sarah, and I have confirmed that to be true. That person (“Mr. X”) asked to remain anonymous. Mr. X did offer supposed first-hand knowledge regarding The Odd Gentlemen’s actions and omissions. However, Sarah has not received any independent proof of Mr. X’s statements. Feel free to share any documents related to the matter in question, and I am happy to pass them along to Sarah.

Oh, hey, remember when What Pumpkin hasn’t made any effort to prove anything was actually false, or even identify which statements they’re saying are libel? Because that’s incredibly important, basic stuff, and I’m going to keep hammering on how absurd it is that WP isn’t doing it.

Although Sarah was under no obligation to do so, she posted the relevant statements from Mr. X in a pinned post beneath her video and removed the link to the second Gio article. I think that adequately gives the non-TOG side of the story—which was itself included in the video already—further visibility and served as a thoughtful and adequate response to the new information raised by Mr. X.

Frankly, I don’t understand why you care about statements made about TOG. Weren’t they the developer before What Pumpkin took over? Are you claiming now that there were untrue statements made specifically about What Pumpkin in the video?

You refer to a settlement agreement that you have to pay lawyers to analyze. I assume that it is a confidential settlement with some third party related to development of the game. I don’t know what the terms of that settlement are, and I fail to see how that is relevant here. Surely the settlement agreement doesn’t make you responsible for Sarah’s independent reporting?

Although content creators represented by Standard are responsible for their own content, Standard is not afraid to bring its own resources to bear to assist creators in fighting off frivolous threats. We take the rights of creators very seriously, and we are of the opinion that Sarah has handled your accusations with class and poise. I think that you should be satisfied with the actions Sarah has already taken, and I recommend that you drop the matter. If you want to further share your side of the story, YouTube remains a platform accessible to all. But I consider this matter closed, and I have encouraged Sarah to avoid any more engagement on this topic.

Sincerely,

Dave

Applause, etc.

Andrew Enters🔗

(Starting at 22:10 in the video)

So Cindy doesn’t respond to this immediately. Nor does anyone affiliated with What Pumpkin at all. Instead, Dave gets an email from Andrew Hussie himself.

Hi Dave. I was just forwarded this email chain. Catching up on this now, and stepping in to hopefully resolve some conflict here.

Some background first. I’m the creator of Homestuck. But I stepped away from What Pumpkin last year. This information only became public recently, so not many people knew I haven’t been too involved in the company operations for a while. But as the creator of the IP I’m still around to advise and consult with WP staff, so I’m helping resolve this before it gets out of hand.

For Sarah’s understanding, I’ll try to briefly explain why WP reacted as they did. The staff at WP who composed the original letter were blindsided by Sarah’s video on 4/13, and mostly were disappointed that no primary sources from WP were consulted for the opportunity to correct mistakes with the reporting before publishing the video to a very large platform.

So now we’ve replaced violent legal outrage at not being consulted with “well, we were disappointed about it”, which I think is closer to a reasonable reaction, at least.

I guess things got a little heated at WP. But at the same time, I can get where they’re coming from, and I hope Sarah can too.

As you know, our friend quickly told Sarah that the blog included unreliable information, and she promptly removed the link to the more toxic article, which we appreciate.

(This is the second article, which contained the reports of accusations that were rumors at the time, but WP later confirmed to be at least partially true.)

Some more background on that: the actual informant to that article is someone we’ve known about for years, someone who is a very destructive and vindictive personality who actually did a lot to cause serious problems during the Kickstarter planning.

So Andrew is identifying the source of the second article (who I’m just going to keep calling the Accuser) as someone they’re aware of, who caused problems during the Kickstarter planning (in early-to-mid 2012). Keep that in mind!

But what’s done is done, so hopefully more constructive things can happen moving forward than trading vague legal threats or doubling down on some of these questionable sources and rumors which appeared in the video.

The truth is that if Sarah had come to some people here first, due to being fans of her work, many would have been happy to supply all kinds of answers about the history of the Kickstarter, and many more topics. I think this is still a possibility if Sarah is willing to do more follow-up reporting.

If she wants to make a follow-up video, it could include the potential to reveal a lot of information that’s never been shared before. I don’t care much about policies of “secrecy”, and I don’t think many at WP do either. Much of these rumors about the opacity of WP are a bit overblown.

Given the entire history of the project, this is a very funny thing to say. There’s just so much I could cite here as a counterexample that it’s comical. It’s almost like Andrew thinks “opacity” is something he2 has to write down and actively choose to pursue for it to be real, and not just an easily observable state. Anyway, you don’t even have to look at the history, just keep reading this very email chain.

If you can forward this to Sarah, I’d appreciate it. Please let her know I’m available for follow-up clarifications on any of this, and others at WP can be too. Thank you.

Andrew

Former Employee Accounts🔗

(Starting at 25:08 in the video)

So, in her video, Sarah Z pauses the email chain here and talks about her communications with some former What Pumpkin staff. At this point, these are third-hand accounts, but there’s still some interesting stuff here I’d like to pull from. (This is Sarah Z talking, now)

So, if you remember from my earlier video, I spoke about how in 2015, a large volume of the staff was abruptly fired with no warning, despite employers telling them everything was fine, and that those people received no kind of severance pay or credits. Multiple people we spoke to were able to point to specific assets that they designed that ended up in the final game despite never receiving any credit for it.

[Employees] were later fired- this happened not only with no warning, but according to Roger, they were specifically told after asking that they shouldn’t look for another job. They told me,

Halfway through the job i started panicking because I just have a gut for when things go south, and things felt like they were going south. I asked sincerely if I should look for another job and they insisted I should not. I asked if they were having money problems and they laughed at me and said “no of course not.” Then they let one of the animators go and cut others’ hours down. The vibe of the office was way less optimistic, but there was hope. I do recall a meeting where they said they were getting more money and not to worry. It was shortly before we all got fired. As you know, it’s easier to find a job when you’re already employed. So to tell me that I shouldn’t look for another job, and then fire me without warning, was to put it lightly, cruel.

And… yeah. Yeah, it really is.

It’s very clear talking to everyone that the closure of NYC hit them pretty hard. Not only did it come out of nowhere, but WhatPumpkin seemingly didn’t do anything to help that transition or to make it easier on anyone. Employees were left without severance pay, apparently because there wasn’t any money for it. Most were not contacted for a follow-up at all. There wasn’t a safety net in place to help secure the fired staff to new jobs or positions elsewhere or even just to make things less shit for them. Artists with skill sets that could’ve easily transferred over to 2D Hiveswap were let go without any real explanation why. The whole thing is honestly just very depressing.

So this isn’t funny anymore, this is just really, really, really sad. I’ve talked about this some before, how the entire NYC staff was fired completely out of the blue with no warning, no severance, and no healthcare, even as development was going well and What Pumpkin was courting major investors. I heard incredible anecdotes, like people working at the studio first learning there was an issue by reading the public Kickstarter announcement that the studio had closed. But I didn’t have nearly the reach to talk to people than Sarah did. Seeing her research confirm that things were as bad as I heard they were — if not worse — is horrifying and depressing.

If any of this sounds familiar, it’s because it matches a lot of what was said in the previous Homestuck video based on Gio’s article. This is important because it’s going to be a huge factor later on. After all, we were originally contacted because we didn’t approach primary sources and instead relied on an article written by someone with a bias against a company. But here we were, asking former WhatPumpkin employees directly what happened and getting basically the same response.

Hah! Did you forget that this is a story about me? That’s right, it turns out I actually did research and contacted primary sources, and didn’t just sit down and write an elaborate fiction with the stated goal of causing What Pumpkin the most damage. That latter idea is obviously absurd, but you’ll never guess who accuses me of that! Except wait, I gave that away in the intro, it’s Andrew Hussie. Whoops!

Andrew Enters Again🔗

(Starting at 33:11 in the video)

Speaking of Andrew, Sarah does get in touch with him directly. And he emails her back:

Before I continue, one point of disclosure that seems relevant is I didn’t actually watch the video, and still haven’t yet. I felt it was important to first make it clear I’m not operating from a position of hard feelings about the video or anything like that. I simply haven’t watched it, and even if I did, whatever sort of negative editorializing it may contain is a non-factor to me. I’ve seen more than my share of critical takes over many years, so for the record before we go further, I have no issue at all with any reporting in the past or future which is unflattering to Homestuck or the historical events surrounding it. I’m just here to help my friends get some satisfaction in their desire to have their voices heard in this story, as well as to help you produce more accurate and interesting followup content, if that’s what you want.

Have you had time to think about how you want to approach this?

So… Andrew hasn’t actually watched the video. The video he already asserted had “mistakes” and requires “more accurate” follow-up content. So, presumably, the only information he’s going on here is that someone told him they didn’t like it, and he didn’t bother checking. Maybe he doesn’t even know what parts of the video he doesn’t like? It’s worth noting that Andrew’s friends who he would have heard from here are the people who wanted to be consulted… who are the same people who bashed the video as being a “hit piece” before it even came out. Who are Aysha. Did Cindy bother to watch the video before blasting out angry legal threats, I wonder? Or did she just hear from someone who heard from someone that they didn’t vibe with it?

There’s also “I have no issue at all with any reporting in the past or future which is unflattering to Homestuck or the historical events surrounding it”, which is another one of those obviously false statements Andy is just hoping you don’t think about, I guess. Keep that one in mind, though, when you think about how he reacted to literally everyone in this story who criticised him.

Andrew has ideas about teams and also me🔗

(Starting at 37:41 in the video)

So Sarah takes the opportunity to finally ask some basic questions. “What’s your story about the Kickstarter? Why do your employees keep publicly attacking this Gio fellow? Why did you call Gio’s source malicious, and what were they actually wrong about? What about all those legal threats you sent people, including me? How come you fired everyone and mislead them about their job security?” A good basic panel.

Andrew responds with… ho boy, a lot.

First of all, it needs to be said that transparency isn’t a black and white concept. There are literally thousands of facts associated with the Kickstarter and subsequent gamedev efforts.

I think Sarah addresses this handily when she says “crowdfunding from thousands of people instead of private funding sources isn’t a way to be accountable to no one; it’s a way to be accountable to thousands of people. It turns what could have been a private game development affair into a public one. Framing people who want to know what’s happening with the game as a bunch of drama-hungry vultures, and acting like you owe no one any kind of explanation is incredibly unfair to these people. Like, I understand that acting like these folks are all just doing Drama Alert shit about the inner workings of the company is the easy way out.”

Many instances of transparency on the level desired by certain sectors of the fandom would unavoidably involve throwing a lot of people I’ve worked with under the bus, which is something I’ve been historically reluctant to do.

The way I’ve generally handled such events is to say, I could either publicly trash the person who just did a bunch of bad things, or I could try to be a little more diplomatic, put a positive spin on the new direction things are taking, and just keep moving forward while rallying efforts of everyone still remaining to repair the damage caused by destructive individuals. This approach may be frustrating to those who are dying to know all the internal details of a turbulent production. But experience has told me this is the only rational way to handle things if you want a project to continue, and not see it be completely destroyed by unnecessarily inflaming drama and pointing fingers at people who caused problems, and are gone anyway.

So this is an interesting argument that’s come up a few times now. According to Andrew, he’s keeping these secrets as an alternative to “throwing people under the bus”. This mirrors the language from the Homestuck^2 cancellation post, and the excuse given for stripping the credits from Hiveswap Act 2 entirely:

From the NYC days when the studio was “mostly made up of women developers” to now, with a team that is “majority queer and poc”, the “Homestuck team” — Andrew and other upper management excluded — have always been in particularly vulnerable social positions. This means What Pumpkin has, if anything, a particular responsibility to protect and support its artists.

But What Pumpkin does the opposite. Instead of supporting their artists and helping them build their careers, they mislead them about their job security and pay, fired them without severance or benefits, and vindictively denied credit to whistle-blowers, intentionally sabotaging their careers.

The @homestuckteam tweet about Act 2 is similarly misleading. From what I’ve seen, the vast majority of the “harassment” the team experiences is mostly criticism directed at management and writers, not the artists and animators by association, like the answer absurdly suggests. Think less “rip him apart” campaigns and more along the lines of team fortress memes. They’re using the language of protection, but they’re using it to justify denying people credit and then lying about it.

At the end of the day, what really happens is this: Andrew justifies things that are convenient to him as “protecting his team”, even though the “team” is consistently vulnerable populations that Andrew uses as personal shields. The rhetoric he uses is a mock-selflessness that frames any criticism of What Pumpkin — the company — as an attack on the vulnerable employees, sometimes to the point of actually redirecting real vitriol about WP’s corporate policies onto the artists.

Anyway, after all that, once pressed Andrew is going to throw a couple of people under the bus and blame everything that went wrong on them, so look forward to that.

One take is that the doors to these explanations only opened after you posted the video, which is a take I don’t really blame you for having. But the alternative take is a possibility which was never tested, because you posted it before you had a chance to find out. Which is that, if you or someone with a platform of your size had approached WP asking these questions, or attempted to clear up any misunderstandings between two opposing theories about the Kickstarter, these answers would have been provided because no one at WP would want such a visible broadcast to include that sort of misinformation.

First, “the doors to these explanations only opened after you posted the video” isn’t a “take”, it’s a factual description of the events as they happened. Second, Andrew claims that even though they haven’t shared this information before, and still won’t now, they might have this time, because… she had a high enough subscriber count.

The truth is, I don’t think anyone with a significant platform showed any interest in covering the Kickstarter events on the level of detail that you or Gio were diving into. Any demands for the types of extremely fine details you see in Gio’s blog always appeared in small minority pockets of fandom, if they even existed at all.

Unlike Andrew, I don’t think my hunches as to what people care about are automatically the absolute truth, so I’ll let you make up your own mind as to how interested in this story you are. I will say that “what public events happened, and when” don’t qualify as “extremely fine details”, by my definition. I have a file of what I would consider “extremely fine details”, but I didn’t talk about them because, unlike what’s in my actual article, they’re not interesting or relevant.

I think there was a serious risk that any corrections given to him would have been weaponized to continue portraying events negatively, and our corrections could easily just be undercut by further misinformation from his lying source.

This is a fair concern, because the truth about the situation is damning prima facie. If the truth is you did a bunch of bad stuff, of course talking about it is a risk to you. You don’t want people to think you’re awful, and if you’re awful, the truth about that is a danger. “Oh, yeah, we kept secrets because we fucked up, and we really want to hide that.” This is the kind of thing you whisper behind closed doors, though. You don’t just admit that when you’re asked why you kept secrets! Especially since Andrew doesn’t “care much about policies of secrecy”, apparently!?

Also, still, what misinformation, dude? If you’re going to base your entire case on the idea that something in the article was wrong, you can’t just “I object! That was… objectionable!”, you have to actually take specific issue with something. It’s been months and Andy hasn’t even made a motion towards square one. And if you don’t want to tell the truth because you know the truth will make you look worse, that’s still on you!

The totality of this situation, in addition to the fact that hardly anyone was even looking at his blog (I think he only had a few hundred followers) made it apparent the best thing to do was ignore him, and allow his blog to pass as a relative non-event in the grand scheme of fandom history.

Oh no, it looks like my whole framing device was wrong! This didn’t really start with Sarah Z, it turns out Andrew & co. have just been biting their nails and hoping nobody noticed my article since day one. I am writing on a typewriter with no backspace key, though, so we’ll press on. Carriage return, line feed.

One of your questions was whether I thought Gio was a stalker. It’s my personal take that he probably does not technically qualify as one, but I also don’t think it’s a simple “no” either, given his antagonistic fixation toward people at WP, and his persistent invasiveness has made the women at WP uncomfortable. Suffice to say for now, I don’t trust him, I will never speak to him, and probably no one from WP ever will either. On the other hand, I’m perfectly happy to share some information with you, since I can see from your track record that you’ve made a lot of good videos where it looks to me like you’re interested in putting at least some effort into figuring out what’s true, rather than just maximizing the damage done to the targets of your reporting regardless of what you find out. After the backer update came out, I took at look at Gio’s revisions to his article, and unsurprisingly, he just rearranged all the new facts so that he could draw all the same basic negative conclusions he’d already drawn. In fact, he described what was revealed by the update as even worse than what he originally thought. I think this would be a bizarre conclusion for anyone who was looking at that update objectively, and just indicates that the facts never mattered because he had already made up his mind. The only explanation is what everyone at WP suspected all along. He’s a troll.

And we’re back to the cold open! Why I haven’t been pulling my punches this time around. See, Andrew actually addresses Aysha’s little stalker stunt, and he predictably fumbles it.

Andrew says I asked too many questions, and made someone uncomfortable. That’s almost the kind of accusation that could possibly be true of someone, until you remember that “being a stalker” is being given as both the result of my asking questions and as the reason they didn’t answer my questions. See, Aysha just threw that word out without actually accusing me of doing anything specifically wrong because that’s the kind of thing you do when you’re mad at someone without a good reason. Andrew can’t bring himself to do the decent thing and just say “yeah, Aysha was obviously in the wrong here”, he forces himself to presuppose trivially circular reasoning.

Now, don’t get me wrong, there are some crazy fans out there. KF was in the news recently for apparently harassing an incredibly talented developer to the point of suicide, and I’m sure all those same people have it out for the people from What Pumpkin too.

But that doesn’t justify launching actual harassment campaigns against people who aren’t doing anything wrong. The question of “does [x] really believe they’re being threatened or is that just a smokescreen” comes up regularly when someone lashes out like that, but I think the whole conversation really distracts from the fact that either way they’re doing indefensibly bad things. Their thought process for asking people to attack me is unknowable and irrelevant.

As for “just rearranging all the new facts so I could draw all the same basic negative conclusions”, that’s also trivially false. Based on the build published in the Kickstarter update, I retracted what I said about Act 1 being nearly ready to ship as a direct result of the info in the KS post. I am not at all embarrassed about assessing new info when it’s available. The problem is, in this case, most of the Kickstarter information already matched what I thought was true already, so of course it didn’t necessitate major changes. That’s due to the facts in the update, not my mood. See, I actually did look at the update objectively, as Andrew requests here. I just didn’t agree with its conclusions, which is what he actually wanted.

If WP was able to respond so quickly after your video with a new Kickstarter update sharing that information, why not just share that information a long time ago, which could have theoretically averted a situation like this?

The answer is that the recent backer update really wasn’t as trivial as it seemed. It was more of a measure of last resort. WP had a post like that on file, which is why it was able to be posted pretty quickly. It was just somewhat edited to suit the purpose, and address some of the specific claims.

It makes complete sense that What Pumpkin had a post like that on file. It’s shameful that it took someone publishing a YouTube video and catching them by surprise just to get it posted, but fine. I’ve talked about that already. What’s more fun about this line is Cindy’s original legal threat talked about how labor-intensive it was to post that Kickstarter update, and that it entailed “significant time and resources,” but here’s Andrew just admitting outright that wasn’t true. Cindy just decided she had to push out the harshest legal snarl she could, even if it meant fabricating damages. Neat!

Given that you’re working as some form of reporter here, I don’t think proposing an NDA makes sense, so all that’s really left is to explicitly ask if you are willing to handle the facts I give you responsibly when it comes time to publish content. By this I don’t mean spinning the narrative a certain way. I mean, before you record everything you’re planning to say, come to some mutual agreement with me on which names, job titles or other personal information should be masked, or if there are any particularly explosive or compromising facts that could put anyone in an unsafe position, we consider ways of artfully sidestepping those facts without disrupting the truth too much. Can you agree to this?

So remember earlier when I interpreted WP’s legal threat as a demand for control over criticism of them? Here it is in black-and-white: Andrew is willing to engage (because he’s not opaque, remember) in exchange for an editorial pass over Sarah’s video script, up to and including “disrupting the truth” to some degree. Here, this is done in the name of “protecting his team” which, well, I’ve already talked about.

Andrew either does or doesn't want to talk about it, I can't tell🔗

(Starting at 45:48 in the video)

Sarah responds, again, very well. She asks about the interest evidenced by the response to the ipgd post, and asks about Andrew’s response to and awareness of it at the time.

Andrew responds with what Sarah summarizes as “well, okay, some people were generally interested with what happened at the company, but nothing specific, and it became more of a thing after the ipgd post. I didn’t write it and I didn’t ask her to make it, it’s just that she could say stuff we couldn’t because she wasn’t under NDA.

So Andrew claims here that he didn’t directly write or instruct ipgd to write her post, but that ipgd’s not being covered by NDA put her in a unique position to be able to leak information without legally violating the terms of the NDA. This all matches up with what all we already knew.

Sarah also asked more about this Accuser who leaked the (correct!) information about Act 7, who Hussie is blaming so much on, and critically asks what specific parts of his testimony were untrue. (She also doesn’t agree to give Hussie editorial control over her video, because again, not a clownshow.)

To which Andrew responds:

The reason this exchange is happening is because your video provoked an extremely negative backlash against WP. Probably the biggest I’ve ever seen, as well as the most negative. I think a million views is more attention than I can recall any media piece on Homestuck ever getting, regardless of how positive or negative it was.

This is just patently false, as clearly demonstrable by looking at… really any metric. Moving on.

The type of negativity I’m talking about here isn’t about critical reception to certain works, like Homestuck^2. It’s about mixing in a lot of misinformation which seems to have galvanized many of those negative sentiments. Or turned minor or sleeping fandom grievances into major active ones. And it would be one thing if I were the target, but since I stepped away earlier last year to focus on other things, I feel like the people who are bearing the full brunt of this negativity are those still charged with bringing Hiveswap to completion, which now feels like it must be done under a new cloud of hostility.

And we’re back to Andrew beating his two favourite drums: “I don’t care about the criticism, I’m just upset that some of what you said was false, maybe, I don’t know what, and also I still haven’t watched the video” and “I don’t care about myself, it’s my team, the people I saddled with all my responsibilities before I took off, they’re the real victims here, when you criticise me.”

There’s another familiar line here: “I don’t care about the HS2 criticism”. Remember that one?

This consistently strikes me as an odd sentiment, because they’re both saying that they’re more angry about people hearing stories about What Pumpkin’s management than they are in what’s actually pretty vicious criticism of their own writing. I mean, Sarah Z rips into Homestuck^2:

Homestuck 2 was bad. It’s bad, y’all. I’m sorry but it’s really bad. I’m trying to be nice here but I really don’t like it. Homestuck 2 is bad. I don’t want to kick a project while it’s down, and as you’ll soon learn, Homestuck 2 is very very down, but I have to be honest when I say that I read all of Homestuck 2 and just found it not very good. Like it’s not even an issue of the plot of Homestuck 2 or whatever because Homestuck 2 doesn’t really have a plot. Nothing has happened. It’s a comic that has run for 400 pages, for over a year, and barely any plot progression has taken place.

If I had to compare the writing of Homestuck 2 to anything, it’s season 4 of Community. Here you have the continuation of a cult favorite series now overseen by a different staff of people, people who hold the original work in such high regard and are so afraid of potentially deviating from it or upsetting the fanbase that their direction seems to be to try to replicate the voice and style of the original writer to the point of it just feeling hollow and shallow and unappealing. Characters are flanderized to such basic caricatures of themselves just so that you know that it’s them and can feel like you’re seeing them in their iconic, fan preferred state. Plotlines get a lot shallower and more focused on providing cool fanservice moments rather than actually making sense or continuing the arc of the story. It’s just… flat. Very very flat and uninteresting, the type of writing that makes you question if you ever really liked the series in the first place.

That is vicious criticism of Aysha and Andrew’s very personal, very current proficiency as writers. That’s a more personal attack than my saying that Andrew made management mistakes back in 2016 could ever be. And yet both of them are willing to accept that in an attempt to put more weight behind their Hiveswap objections. Why? No, really, I don’t know. Aysha literally wasn’t even involved back then. Why do these people care so strongly that people not find out about this story?

Anyway, back to Andrew.

It’s still the case that no one at WP knows why you didn’t seek comment from anyone here before posting, which would have been a simple way to dispel a lot of the misinformation, and in some cases hard evidence could have been used to disprove certain claims.

Well, that’s not true. Remember that whole twitter thread about how WP is unavailable for comment, and Aysha got so mad about it she spun up a whole harassment campaign over it? I think that means she knows.

WP also still isn’t sure why you singled [Homestuck writer] out as someone who couldn’t be trusted to get comments from. Someone mentioned to me somewhere you publicly interacted with Gio to tell him you felt vindicated in believing [Homestuck writer] couldn’t be trusted as a source.

Everything here is false. Sarah didn’t single anyone out as untrustworthy; assuming this is referring to that same tumblr ask from before, that’s just not what happened. As for “publicly interacting with me about feeling vindicated”… no? That literally never happened. At all, on any platform. This is just clearly made-up.

I’m struck by how freely Andrew is willing to act on stuff he hasn’t at all confirmed. He still hasn’t even watched the video, and now he’s citing “I think someone mentioned to me, somewhere, that [false thing] happened” as if it were a point of fact. How do you not check that before you send the email? “I think I remember someone else thinking you did this so that makes it true. I reckon they’re right, and that’s the same thing as checking, I think.” Good lord.

I’m not approaching this topic from a standpoint of legality regarding the way you went about researching your video, this is more about basic courtesy.

Having said this, it’s still not my intention to approach our conversation with language that sounds either litigious or accusatory. So I’m not literally asking you why you didn’t consult with WP, and I’m not trying to force you to answer for these decisions here. Instead I’ll just offer what my sense has been about this from the beginning. It seems to me that anyone trying to investigate these matters begins from a confusing starting point, and is limited by the fact that they don’t know what they don’t know. If an investigator did know certain key details already, they’d know how better to approach gathering more facts, which topics were landmines to be careful with, etc

Well, about that. See, you made this company called What Pumpkin, and they already skipped past basic courtesy and blasted Sarah with absurd legal demands (some of which you already said yourself were false!), including asking why she didn’t consult with WP, so it’s a little late to be telling this story now.

As for all this Hard Evidence that could have been used to disprove claims about you, that’s literally what I’ve asked for. Heck, you don’t need me, you’ve had years to publish any exonerating evidence about yourself you wanted! The people who are talking about this are limited by what we don’t know, yes, but that’s because you’ve consistently chosen to withhold all of the relevant information. Even right now, today, I’d be happy to publish all the hard evidence you’d like to show. You’re the one who doesn’t want to talk about this, and everyone knows it. That’s why we’ve stopped asking!

You asked a few questions here, but you didn’t seem to address the point near the end of my previous email. Which was that I preferred to move through these events as a “process” which should have a particular starting point. By starting with the insane events of NYC that went unreported, this should help you begin to see what I mean when I say these were miserable experiences for WP staff in ways that were totally beyond anyone’s control. You may even begin to develop an appreciation for why WP’s original note to Dave was worded as strongly as it was. Cindy had to personally travel to the vacated NYC office and haul out smashed equipment herself. The events being poked at here are a lot more serious than the way rumors have been framing them.

I also think the truth of the NYC events shouldn’t just be dismissed as irrelevant, because your video massively elevated Gio’s version of events. Some key themes of that report were things like WP mishandling the concerns of NYC staff, being callously uncommunicative, or the idea that I closed the studio “on a whim”. None of that is true. But you don’t need to believe me just because I say so. I have email transcripts of what happened, and can share them. But if you’re not interested in understanding the events on that level, and would prefer to keep hopping around the timeline asking questions in a way that’s disconnected from understanding the totality of what it’s been like for WP to deliver this game, I don’t think I can continue supplying information. I need some sense that you care about understanding the toll it’s taken on the people at the center of this, and how the way your video is currently framing these events has enormously compounded the suffering already caused by a series of events which had for the most part been put to rest. Are you willing to read the story about how the NYC studio really closed?

Man, I’d love to hear what “Gio’s version of events” is, because I don’t remember giving any personal testimony about my time working at What Pumpkin. Here I thought I was just making a note of what events seem to have happened, and when. I’ve been pretty clear whenever I pointed out something only came from one source, or wasn’t robustly proven.

So, there’s a ton of exonerating evidence, Andrew promises, but he’s not willing to share any of it because… Sarah asked questions when Andrew invited her to? There’s really nothing of any substance here, just more gesturing that Andrew thinks everything would be fine if you understood the whole story, which he definitely won’t share. Also, he’s very transparent.

Various tidbits🔗

(Starting at 53:52 in the video)

So Sarah replies, again, very well:

Thanks for getting back to me. This was admittedly somewhat frustrating to read- you initially contacted me in order to tell me I’d gotten specific details wrong and so that I could use your account as a reference point in any future content. I’ve since repeatedly informed you that I am happy to listen to your side of events, and that I will take it into consideration for the production of any future content. I’ve restated my willingness to listen in every email since, but I nevertheless seem to be getting several replies that express hesitation to tell me anything, which is curious given that you contacted me. Let me unequivocally restate that yes, I am willing to listen to your side of what happened at WhatPumpkin if you are willing to share it. If you don’t wish to share your account of what happened, then there is no reason to continue with this conversation and any future video content will be made without it.

There are then apparently a few emails back and forth, and eventually Sarah gets enough information to at least give a coherent summary of Andrew’s claims: (This is Sarah, now)

…if what Andrew showed me is true, WhatPumpkin did hire someone who later turned out to behave in toxic and inappropriate ways, and because of the person’s position it supposedly required them to shut things down really quickly. To that end, I think that’s helpful information about the closure of the company and I understand the difficult position that can put an employer in. According to Andrew, the person has been spreading false rumors about the company online for a long time now. What I will say I didn’t get was any information about any specific false claim this person made that 1, was in Gio’s article, or 2, more importantly, was in my video. There was this general allusion to ‘this toxic ex-employee is lying about us online’, but nothing that actually relates to like… what things were said, what things were lies, and why a bunch of Twitter DMs and threatening emails got sent over it.

Or, for that matter, how a person could manage to convince several former What Pumpkin employees that their workplace and employers were bad. Like… dozens of people don’t just suddenly get tricked into believing that they’re being treated like shit by their employer without reason. And the people who messaged me messaged me with firsthand personal grievances, not hearsay or “he said/she said/they said” shit. If said person was lying, then what were they lying about and why were so many people willing to believe them?

On the whole, Hussie doesn’t tell me about any specific lies this person spread about the company at all, especially none that relate to my video, or even Gio’s article for that matter. Just the general idea that there exists an employee out there who was a bad person and makes things up about the company.

So there’s a lot Sarah is obviously correct about here. One disgruntled ex-employee doesn’t explain why so many people have specific, concrete stories of how What Pumpkin wronged them personally. The idea that WP makes baseless legal threats isn’t a lie this guy told, because that’s something Sarah actually experienced firsthand, in this very story. Nor is the vague mention that some unhappy ex-employee exists a substitute for specifying what your actual complaint is!

Let’s humour Andrew and take a minute to look at this Accuser fellow, though, since he wants so desperately for us to focus on that angle. Earlier in this thread, Andrew pointed him out as someone they’ve been aware of since they caused problems during the Kickstarter planning in early-to-mid 2012. This is the same person who WP says (in the Kickstarter update) left the team in early 2014.

Wait a minute. This toxic guy — who Andrew is now ambiguously blaming all negative sentiments about WP about on — was kept on for two full years after the inappropriate behaviour started? If he’s as awful as they’re saying he is, in what universe was What Pumpkin not grossly at fault for keeping him around so long? If they’re telling the truth, it sounds like they sabotaged their own project by tolerating this guy for as long as they did.

According to Sarah’s interviews,

One person I spoke to who worked not at the games studio, but in closer proximity to Hussie, described their experience as “like 10 million HR violations a day”, talking about how the company allegedly had no HR department at the time and thus a lot of inappropriate behaviour was ignored or excused.

So What Pumpkin didn’t build the HR infrastructure they needed to deal with inappropriate behaviour, tolerated someone they claim to be as toxic as the devil himself, and that’s their best excuse!

Even with all that said, I think it’s a mistake to focus on the details of this Accuser guy anyway. Even if I knew everything, it would just be the tawdry drama of this one character, which isn’t the story I care about. What matters are the facts. The real, substantive truth of what happened. The Accuser contributed to that with a number of stories that, it turns out, were true! Officially confirmed, case closed. WP says they lied about some ambiguous details, but they can’t come up any actual points they’re even willing to claim are false, let alone show proof about. The “malicious ex-employee” story is a huge, intentional distraction designed to position WP as the victim in a story they can’t even keep straight.

Andrew Engages🔗

Anyway, Sarah emails back

The primary point of confusion for me in terms of questions still relates to the claims made by [Name Redacted]- I am still not entirely certain what “distorted rumours” and “poisoning the well” specifically entail. Were specific false claims made by [Name Redacted] that later got picked up in the video or article? Which parts does this context make untrue? So far, this information serves as helpful contextualization, but I am still uncertain as to its specific relation to the “unreliable information” about which you initially contacted me. Is there any final information regarding the specifics of [Name Redacted]’s involvement, the aforementioned factual inconsistencies, or WhatPumpkin’s development process, that you wish to share?

And Hussie responds

Since [redacted] put in more work socially connecting with many members of the staff, they believe him, and start listening to his counter narrative. Which is something to the effect of, this studio closed spontaneously for unfair reasons, was horribly mismanaged, and the reason you aren’t hearing anything from them now is because they just don’t care about you (again, paraphrasing).

There’s a recurring theme in communications from WP (and Andrew, in particular) where they will say something is “false.” The actual thing they say that about, though, is rarely a specific point of fact, but rather a whole presentation. In other words, they don’t make a distinction between a point in an article being “false” and an article taking a tone they disagree with. They erase the very real distinction between fact and tone and simply call the whole thing false if they disagree with the way it makes people feel at the end. It’s fair to be upset that someone didn’t frame you in a positive way, but it’s important to be clear if that’s what you’re upset about; you can’t just disagree with the tone and call that the same thing as lying.

This article is already overlong as it is, so I’m going to skip some largely uninteresting blockquotes where Andrew refers to critical ex-employees as “poisoned”, as if someone invented some sort of mind control poison that just makes people hate WP irrationally, even though they’ve done nothing wrong ever. (Now, of course, What Pumpkin claims to have identified my anonymous source based on their claims, so even What Pumpkin thinks these claims are unique enough to identify a specific person. But also, that many people are parroting the same story? So that doesn’t work.)

Hussie did finally, finally link to specific sections he had objections with:

If you read Gio’s article starting here at “Insight into the NYC Team Firing”: https://blog.giovanh.com/blog/2020/10/03/the-hiveswap-fiasco/#insight-into-nyc-team-firing

Down to the side-channel fundraising header, that entire section is skewed by the [Accuser] narrative. That this was a spontaneous and callous mass-firing with no explanation. Having the [Accuser] incident as context makes it all make more sense, but that context is missing from the article making this material misleading, and puts WP in a very awkward position in terms of offering a defense, since to do so would reactivate the concerns over whether reporting this would put people in a compromising position.

Then the [other guy]-poisoned narrative also has relevance to this section, about lack of accreditation to the NYC staff. https://blog.giovanh.com/blog/2020/10/03/the-hiveswap-fiasco/#crediting-and-art-theft

By the time Act 1 comes out in late 2017, it’s been two years since the NYC closure, and among the [other guy]-poisoned staff, the narrative about what WP did wrong starts to evolve after this.

Two very similar narratives here. In both cases, Andrew doesn’t take any issue with any of the facts, but argues that they were missing context. Context that Andrew and What Pumpkin had for years, but withheld. That context being that there existed an ex-employee who was allegedly some sort of mastermind who manipulated many different people into all telling unflattering stories about What Pumpkin. Stories that Andrew doesn’t take any factual issue with. That’s the context that makes misleading people about their job security and firing them without a safety net not “callous.” Andy just wishes I had included the context, that I asked for, but WP choose to keep secret.

There’s a lot of complaining in general that the information people are reading is from the perspective of fans and employees, not the company. Jojo wrote a good video on this topic, but to summarize; yes, all the talk is from the perspective of fans and employees, because that’s all the information there is. By definition, because What Pumpkin the company is incredibly tight-lipped and refuses to even make statements about issues — let alone be transparent about their processes — there isn’t information from their perspective. This is a choice they made, and if they were really upset about the consequences, they would at least start communicating now.

And then there’s the kicker. See, that last paragraph continues

It’s not just about closing abruptly without communication, it also relates to claims that some NYC staff aren’t being credited for some work that evidently carried over from the NYC build. From what I saw at the time, as well as some direct interactions she had with us, it seems like [Alice] was the most vocal champion of that narrative, just as she was of [Accuser]’s narrative right after closure. Those claims are mostly covered by that section in the article.

I know that [Alice] was the one leading the charge on the credit issues because she sent us an email about it after Act 1’s release. In it she requested credit in a friendly tone, citing a few minor things appearing in Act 1 like a font design she contributed to, and small touches to characters like the gold trim on one of outfits. Probably under ordinary circumstances I would have replied to this in a friendly way, and even if her claims didn’t totally track (iirc they didn’t really, after consulting with some others), I’m sure I would have erred on the side of caution and just credited her. But this was a pretty crazy email to get because it wasn’t even long before receiving this that I saw her in public spaces saying wildly vitriolic things about me and WP, repeating the false points from the [Accuser] narrative and such.

…she’d already publicly burned the bridge with WP for anyone to be inclined to make the changes to the credits over such small points. I can at least acknowledge there’s a chance some of her influence in the NYC build leaked through to the next version in small ways, and it wouldn’t have been off base to credit her. But this is pretty much the only situation I can think of like that. No one else from the NYC team went improperly uncredited.

So here stands Hussie’s best attempt at dealing with an actual point of fact: that NYC staff weren’t credited for their work. His explanation of this is… they deliberately chose to withhold credit from select employees because they thought they were badmouthing the company on the internet. So not only did they not credit the NYC staff for their work, they specifically chose people they personally disliked to exclude from credit.

Speaking of the Accuser, this was actually one of their more out-there claims: “Not crediting WP NYC also fits in with a long pattern of behaviour. Depriving people of proper credit is something Andrew had a significant habit of doing.” I couldn’t even research that, I just had to present it as-is. “They also said Hussie deprived people of credit. Huh!” But then Hussie comes in and just confesses to it.

Maybe this is why he’s learned to so desperately avoid dealing with points of fact. Maybe demanding people only judge you by your vibes is actually the better strategy for him.

Oh, and also, because Hussie got the idea in the head that she was “poisoned”, he didn’t hire her back specifically as retribution, because why not.

I think it’s pretty likely she would have been hired back if not for getting poisoned by his influence.

So that’s Hussie’s best stab at contesting my article. Okay. But, y’know, this is a thread between Andrew and Sarah, so what about her video?

The short answer is, I don’t quite know yet, because I still haven’t gotten around to viewing the video, which I can soon.

Well, the man’s consistent.

So then later Andrew actually watches the video they're mad about🔗

But unfortunately, I don’t have a lot to say about it, because Hussie doesn’t have a lot to say about it. Apparently he comes up with a second guy who’s also the devil and also spreads malicious lies about What Pumpkin (but apparently the true kind still), and also everything that went wrong during development was his fault and not Hussie’s.

And then, apparently, the conversation just peters out, with more and more question dodging.

But Cindy's back!🔗

(Starting at 1:12:14 in the video)

Sarah gets one last email from What Pumpkin. This time Cindy again:

The members of our team were, and still are, really hurt by your video. [Repeats of things Andrew said already]

I’m only able to be this honest with you because I know Andrew has shared with you some of the background details nobody has heard about before. I still wish you would have gotten in touch with us before publishing your video, but that doesn’t justify the anger in my email to Dave. My team was really hurt by the video’s amplification of the misinformation about us, and in the moment I let my emotions and frustration get the best of me. It wasn’t the right way to handle things, and I apologize for that.

Well, I mean, at least Cindy’s aware she lashed out inappropriately in a fit of anger. That’s more than can be said for Aysha. It’s still absurd. “I let my frustration get the best of the me” is an excuse for your friend calling you a name in middle school, not the grown-adult CEO-of-a-real-company sending you honest-to-god legal threats that cite damages in the thousands of dollars.


Good lord, I don’t even know what I could say to cap off that clownshow. It’s just all so absurd, I can’t pull off a punchy ending, the best I can do is just point up, jaw agape.

Just to cover my bases, I wrote What Pumpkin yet another email back in May in an attempt to ask basic questions about Hiveswap and clear up points they disagreed about:

An email body

This was, of course ignored. All in the spirit of transparency.


  1. You can tell “at What Pumpkin’s leisure” is the only standard being used here, because it’s the only one they ever cite. No specific facts that were wrong, no specific libel, no standard of any sort. Just what they want. If the standard were “erase false information”, you’d see something be called false, here. 

  2. For the purpose of this article, I’m using he/him pronouns for Andrew in places (Andrew says he now uses any pronouns) just because there are only a few characters in this already overlong story, and if I use they/them for Andrew it turns out it gets really unreadable, really fast. 

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