It’s been a terrible time in the spotlight for Ubisoft. Allegations of impropriety, a toxic workplace culture and mistreatment of staffers have besieged the company for over a month. Reports of misconduct resulted in the departure of Ubisoft’s chief creative officer, and the associated mismanagement saw Ubisoft’s head of human relations and managing director of Ubisoft’s Canadian studios resign. That followed Assassin’s Creed: Valhalla‘s creative director stepping down over an infidelity scandal, not to mention concerns raised by Ubisoft staffers over the normalisation of sexism within Ubisoft Toronto, the lead studio on Watch Dogs: Legion.
Unsurprisingly, it seems those stories were just the tip of the iceberg.
There’s been a flood of information about life within the French-Canadian publisher over the last 24 hours, via a couple of sources. The first comes from Kotaku alumni Jason Schreier, who spoke to around 40 current and former Ubisoft staffers, and adds more colour to the turmoil surrounding some of the recent allegations and departures.
The most serious and consistent claim is against the company’s culture. Former and current Ubisoft employees detailed how some business meetings were held at strip clubs, while inappropriate jokes and porn could be seen playing on staff computers.
While these claims are largely levelled at Ubisoft as a whole, as well as specific concerns around the culture of Ubisoft Toronto, there are no allegations directed at Ubisoft’s Australian office or its management.
“People who worked in the department describe pornographic videos on computers, boozy lunches, and a chorus of inappropriate jokes,” the Bloomberg report says, adding that a former employee emailed Ubisoft CEO Yves Guillemot about the issues to no avail.
The report is consistent with other disturbing stories about systemic cultural toxicity. In one of those stories, around 12 Ubisoft staffers alleged that Ubisoft co-founder choked a female staffer at a work function. Around 100 Ubisoft employees also put their name to an internal letter complaining about management’s failure to protect staff and create a safe working environment, calling on Ubisoft to be more accountable in the handling and resolution of workplace abuse, harassment and sexual misconduct.
“We, the undersigned employees of Ubisoft Toronto, are coming to you with grave concerns about ongoing reported harassment and an inability to feel safe or protected within our own studio,” the internal letter, supplied to Kotaku, said.
The recent reports have also led former Ubisoft staffers to come forward about their experiences. Marie Jasmin, a UX designer at Bethesda, was a staffer at Ubisoft Montreal on the Assassin’s Creed series. She recalled on Twitter how Ubisoft leadership frequently knocked back the idea of female lead characters, with executives reportedly refusing to believe that female lead characters could be commercially successful.
Jasmin’s remark was corroborated by Bloomberg’s reporting, which added that early versions of Assassin’s Creed: Origins and Assassin’s Creed: Syndicate would have given equal time or feature more female protagonists:
For the next game, Assassin’s Creed Syndicate, an early outline of the script gave equal screen time to the twin protagonists, Jacob and Evie, according to three people who worked on the project. In the end, Jacob dominated the game. Assassin’s Creed Origins, released in 2017, was originally going to injure or kill off its male hero, Bayek, early in the story and give the player control of his wife, Aya, according to two people who worked on it. But Aya’s role gradually shrank over the course of development and Bayek became the leading figure.
Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey was originally proposed with Kassandra as the only playable character, but Ubisoft — the Bloomberg report doesn’t identify whether it was a call by Ubisoft’s internal marketing or the editorial team — forced the developers to include a playable male character protagonist as well.
Two former Ubisoft Toronto employees outlined how Splinter Cell: Blacklist featured a playable torture scene which was motioncapped, where the player had to slap the enemy NPC to keep them awake:
Salvatore, who worked on For Honor, The Division 2, Far Cry 5 and Far Cry: Primal and Assassin’s Creed: Syndicate, outlined how developers successfully fought to have some especially graphical sequences, including a dogfighting minigame and “graphic rape scenes with gameplay elements” cut from release. They did not specify what games these sequences were built for.
For a company that frequently opened their E3 conferences with messages of diversity and pre-shows highlighting a company’s culture of inclusion, the barrage of stories is a rolling nightmare. Sadly, the executive departures don’t appear to have had any material impact on the company to date. While Ubisoft stock fell from a high of $US80 a share shortly after the recent resignations, the company’s stock price yesterday finished at $US70.28, several dollars ahead of its stock price in January.
Ubisoft Australia was contacted for a comment and statement. The studio did not reply by the time of publication.