While Ubisoft gave us plenty to be excited about at Ubisoft Forward, the good news was tempered by the abuse allegations leading up to the event. As more employees came forward to expose the various types of abuse going on behind the scenes, a Bloomberg report has now uncovered just how the unsavoriness had extended into the actual games themselves.
The report detailed the many examples of how employees were subjected to harassment, abuse, and a toxic work environment. Dominated by a culture of sexism and “machismo,” the direction of certain games was impacted by the same toxicity at Ubisoft. Citing the Assassin’s Creed series as an example, the idea of female protagonists was shot down repeatedly. This stemmed from the top brass at Ubisoft, including the now-departed Serge Hascoët. The reason? Female protagonist just would not sell.
Assassin’s Creed Syndicate went from a balanced time between twins Jacob and Evie Frye to focusing on the male lead. Assassin’s Creed Origins would have killed off Bayek in favor of Aya, but that never happened. Instead, Bayek became the lead while she was relegated to a few missions. The extremely well-received Assassin’s Creed Odyssey was originally going to just feature Kassandra. Meddling by Hascoët and others in the marketing department led to the inclusion of Alexios. Just think of the narrative possibilities that went unexplored.
According to many at Ubisoft, Serge Hascoët was “untouchable.” As the Chief Creation Officer, he held immense power with the ability to cancel or greenlight projects. Hascoët’s resignation came alongside managing director of Ubisoft’s Canadian studios, Yannis Mallat, and global head of human resources, Cécile Cornet.
As more reports came out of Ubisoft, CEO Yves Guillemot issued a statement that promised widespread changes and reform. Considering that he has been the leader of the company while all the abuse has been going on, plenty of eyes are definitely on him. Although the steps taken are in the right direction, many wonder if more should have been done before this became a PR nightmare.
Having known the things going on behind the curtain, perhaps it is understandable why Ubisoft has not had a game with a sole female protagonist in a long time. You will have to go back to 2003’s Beyond Good & Evil to find Jade. 2012’s Assassin’s Creed III: Liberation starred Aveline, although that was a spinoff of the mainline games.
Such anti-female sentiments seemed to fly in the face of actual evidence. The success of both the rebooted Tomb Raider series and Horizon Zero Dawn are clear to see. Ubisoft employees not only had to deal with antiquated thinking, but also a workplace culture that could easily break many.
To be able to still produce great products under such duress, they deserve much better than they got right now. With the clearing out of the rotten apples, it would represent a fresh start for many. Hopefully, such reports will go a long way in ensuring such things never happen again.