Game developer Ubisoft is in the midst of a high-profile sexual misconduct investigation, with several top executives stepping down due to allegations of harassment, assault, and abusive workplace behavior. A new Bloomberg report characterizes the Ubisoft offices as a “frat house,” with employees saying the HR department ignored sexual harassment and racist behavior, including from senior executives.
This attitude, they said, also made its way into Ubisoft’s products, impacting how women were portrayed in games like Assassin’s Creed.
Launched by the five Guillemot brothers, Ubisoft is currently run by Yves Guillemot, who recently assured customers and employees that the company was taking its sexual misconduct investigation seriously. Guillemot is temporarily acting as the chief creative officer as well as CEO, following the resignation of Serge Hascoët, who was reportedly a key figure in Ubisoft’s abusive atmosphere.
The Bloomberg report includes more disturbing allegations from current and former employees, but one story really stands out—not because it’s more shocking, but because it illustrates how Ubisoft’s workplace culture had a wide-reaching impact outside the company. It concerns a long-running internal argument over whether women should have a more prominent role in Ubisoft games.
This is a widely publicized issue in the games industry, with critics routinely highlighting sexist themes in popular games. Big-budget developers like Ubisoft are very male-dominated, and former employees report that they were discouraged from giving female characters prominent roles.
Early plans for Assassin’s Creed Syndicate, Assassin’s Creed Origins, and Assassin’s Creed Odyssey all included central roles for female co-protagonists, but each of those characters was reduced during the development process, leaving the final product with yet another male hero.
In the case of Assassin’s Creed Odyssey, the creative team initially wanted Kassandra to be the only playable character but were told that “women don’t sell,” leading to a situation where Kassandra and her brother Alexios were given equal footing. From the outside, this looked like a step forward for a franchise that usually focused more exclusively on men.
In response to the article, games industry workers came forward to describe similar situations at work. “I was in the Montréal studio on AC 2 to 10 (origins),” said one. “Ubi execs said ‘women don’t sell’ EVERY SINGLE TIME.”
Another said she was demoted by a boss who explicitly wanted all protagonists to be “straight white alpha males.”
In reality, there’s no evidence to suggest that “women don’t sell.” Horizon Zero Dawn and The Last of Us: Part 2 are both massive hits, and the Tomb Raider franchise is a perennial favorite.
We’ve seen exactly the same situation play out in Hollywood, where historically male-dominated subgenres like superhero movies are enjoyed by a diverse audience who respond enthusiastically to the introduction of female protagonists.
The next Assassin’s Creed game, a Viking adventure called Valhalla, comes out later this year. It features male and female versions of the main character, giving gamers two playable gender options. However, Ubisoft’s marketing has still focused squarely on the male version of the character. Assassin’s Creed: Valhalla director Ashraf Ismail stepped down last month following allegations of extramarital affairs with younger fans.
- Ubisoft executives resign amid widespread sexual misconduct allegations
- Assassin’s Creed publisher ‘re-examining’ the franchise, not releasing a game this year
- Cards Against Humanity addresses accusations of racism and sexism
H/T to Bloomberg