The Latest Ubisoft Reports Are Absolutely Horrific

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ubisoft allegations

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.

ubisoft allegations
Image: Twitter

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:

Image: Twitter

Salvatore, who worked on For HonorThe 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.

Image: Twitter

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.

Comments

    • Read the article douchenozzle. Particularly the parts including words like ‘corroborated’, ‘reports’, ’employee’, and of course the public twitter discourse.

    • He is one of the most experienced and well researched gaming journalists around, and has broken more hidden stories of gaming’s underbelly than pretty much all others on the market. What is your journalistic experience?

    • Highly respected researcher skintox has pushed back on idiot loser Jason Schrier’s stupid recounting of actual employee eye witness garbage talk.

  • As a PC gamer, ive long known how much of Grade A shit cunt Yves and the rest of his family have been.
    Jim Sterlings videos these past few weeks have been outstanding

    • When one of the best journalists in the medium is a semi-pro wrestler who dresses up in silver spandex and pretends to fuck various 80s kids’ toys while wearing masks, there’s a problem.

      I mean, he’s an excellent investigative journalist. It’s just fucked up that a guy who basically makes stupid shit for fun has to put on his Serious Hat because practically nobody else will.

  • “forced the developers to include a playable male character protagonist as well.”

    It’s kind of ironic thinking back when lots of people used to go apeshit when they thought developers were shoehorning playable female characters into games. In fact, publishers were shoehorning playable male characters in…

    • It may not have been a bad idea. While we can never really know What Could Have Been, we do have some precedent. 82% of players played as Male Shepherd in ME3, and more recently and relevantly, in Odyssey “2/3” players played as the male protagonist. I cannot say, nor would I pretend to know, how many players would not have played Odyssey if the male option was there (I would guess very few), but evidently it’s what the vast majority wanted.

      This doesn’t detract from your comment. The irony is delicious.

      • Also not to detract, but worth noting that the breakdown of player choice doesn’t necessarily mean other metrics were equal. There could be higher engagement, different rate of social posting, better brand attachment among those who picked FemShep. Or FemShep’s performance could have generated more media coverage and social interest, so the value back to Mass Effect could be more than it seems.

        Anyway, just highlighting there is often a lot more to the deliberations sometimes!

        Still very ironic.

        • Another thing is actually that anyone who had male Shephard in the first, second, or both previous games of course wanted to continue with that character thanks to the mechanic of keeping your character/choices between games. That’s how I ended up being female Shephard the whole way through, I usually alternate one game as male then the next as female and so on.

          • there was also the fact that previous two games had maleshep on the cover and all marketing material

        • Frankly, I found the Shepherd ratio to be surprising, cause I’ve only ever seen support for Femshep. She was basically a gaming icon in her time.
          The most -anything- I’d seen for Maleshep (Mascshep? Heshep?) was those videos where they chopped up the audio for the “lols”. You know, the “let’s bang, okay?” ones.

          • Because the femshep support is from a vocal minority.
            I played male shep on the first run and femshep on the second run. I prefer femshep, which is why i have a statue of femshep not maleshep, but dont confuse people on internet message boards as a majority.
            Also “my name is commander shepard….” Better as maleshep. 😛

          • Femshep’s voice performance was so much better than the male actor’s job it was kind of embarrassing.

            He did a fine job, but it was… fine. Jennifer Hale is a stellar voice actor. Practically everyone looks wooden and flat next to her.

      • On the other hand, when the choice is removed, people will still play the game. Lara, Samus, Jill Valentine, and a long list of etcs has proven it beyond doubt.

  • Some of these complaints seem rather innocuous, but the culture around women in general seems pretty abhorrent. Women don’t sell? Mother fucker, Horizon was the best game of this generation and Aloy was a great lead….

    Overall the place sounds like an absolute dumpster fire.

    • dont forget Tomb Raider, Metroid, Life is Strange and should we even begin the mention the amount of mods for games series like TES and Fallout that focus on the female playable characters

    • Something I’ve been trying to tell people for a while and usually get shouted down for saying: The small things are the big things.

      Those off-hand, small comments and details only happen when they’re part of a larger culture that supports them. They’re not necessarily “The Problem” in a vacuum, but they’re indicative of larger cultural norms.

      • There aren’t upvotes anymore, so take this comment instead.

        That’s exactly what so many people seem to miss, it’s never just the one little comment (not that this is actually all that small of a comment), it’s almost always an indication of something larger.

      • Well, certainly there is some correlation between the two, but I don’t accept the broad proposition that some presence of the innocuous issues means there -must- be larger-scale abhorrent behaviour or attitudes. That’s just a philosophical standpoint on which we’d have to agree to disagree on.

  • The craziest thing about this, the absolute craziest thing, is that it doesn’t show in the games. Just try to imagine how much the good, intelligent people there must have had to fight for us to end up with what we did actually get. Also how much more must have been left behind. Those people are the ones doing the real work, putting in twice the effort and passion of the other toxic losers.

    • You can be a brilliant artist or developer and a total piece of shit at the same time. That’s when you need to decide if you can enjoy the products despite the creators shittiness. I’ve seen plenty of discussion of this topic around books but games are usually made by a large team and maybe 1 lead gets their name focused on.

  • I am happy they took the former executives out. It was about time. Women don’t sell. I prefer playing as Kassandra than Alexios. The latter has got a horrible voice.

    • I’ll second that and add my 2c. I played through in Spanish with subtitles, the VA for Kassandra for that was a great match. I wish there was a Greek audio language option. Either way, heavily accented English just didn’t cut it for me.

    • isnt also strange how despite the fact that in the book, Kassandra was the canon Eagle Bearer and was more fleshed out in the game as the Eagle Bearer, that all the marketing was based on Alexios

  • AC games are about bloodlines. So when it comes to player choice on who to play as, I find the idea a bit strange given how things work in the AC world. If Odd was meant to have Kas as the main from the start, then that is all they needed.

    I actually like the idea of Byak being killed off and Aya as the real main, as she, as a character, seemed way better overall. Byak, why cool, is also a bit dull.

    • +1. I’m a big white dude every day. I could easily be the boring as hell bald space marine with a haircut and some armour. If I want escapsim where i can be anyone or anything, I don’t want to be me but with bigger muscles and a gun. Let me be a gay lizard woman who can eat dragon souls or something.

    • Yep. It’s so much more fun to be something I’m not, and I’ll always chose to be anything and everything other than what / who I usually am if I’m given the option.

      • I’d just be quoting The Dude here. Choice is important unless you’re telling a specific story. Generally, the more they give us the choice, the better.

      • Mafia 3, I enjoyed the game, but i can’t say it was “fun” being that particular person at that particular time. Appropriate and extremely interesting though.

  • Those people at Ubi who fought to have spirit journeys cut are heroes.

    I have never ever in any game played a spirit journey section that isnt tedious.

    Having crazy colours and wacky controls for 20 minutes while hearing ethereal voices spout quotes that you might find on r/im14andthisisdeep are something I can live without.

  • I don’t want to comment on the situation here, but I had to mention how genuinely angry it makes me that people had to fight for Kassandra to exist in Odyssey, let alone learning that she was going to be the sole main character. I felt that Odysseys story was far more suited to a female protagonist. I’m aware that might not be a popular opinion, so while we’re here, I enjoyed Colonial Marines

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