Ubisoft: Soft on Harassment?

Image Credit: Unsplash License: Sigmund

Liam Ferguson takes a look at the recent allegations against Ubisoft and where the company can go from this point on.

Ubisoft Entertainment is one of the most prolific and popular companies in the gaming industry as a whole, with almost 20,000 employees across 26 studios in 18 countries and a value of over one billion USD. They are responsible for some of the biggest franchises in gaming from Assassin’s Creed to Far Cry, and also are without a doubt, rotten to the core. Ubisoft has always tried to pivot away from any modicum of valid criticism against itself, repeatedly stating how their games are apolitical and scramble to cover up claims of a frat-house culture within company walls. However, stemming from reports during the summer of 2020, it is increasingly clear that Ubisoft needs a complete overhaul in management as they face and try to ignore PR crisis after crisis. 

Firstly, let’s discuss Ubisoft’s constant insistence that the games they put out into the world are free of politics. One does not need to look far to find a plethora of developer interviews and articles in which executives at the company claim that they are not looking to make any political statements with any given title. It is, needless to say, ridiculous to say that any piece of art is free from politics or any deeper messaging behind what is initially shown, but it is even more of a strange stance to take when one considers the kind of games Ubisoft generally put out. Taking the newly released Far Cry 6 is the latest example of this, being a game set in a fictitious take on what is clearly Cuba, and showcasing a narrative that centers around defeating a facist regime. Shortly after the game’s reveal to the world, narrative director Navid Khavari was quick to tell interviewers at The Gamer that the team “doesn’t want to make a political statement about what’s happening in Cuba.” This particular quote set the internet ablaze and seemed to be the straw that broke the camel’s back in this specific Ubisoft charade, as a number of days later Khavari backpedaled this statement in a post on the Ubisoft Blog stating that the game’s story “is political”. With this quick change of opinion one has to wonder why the company bothers to keep up the lie that surely pleases investors and continues to make their games look thematically devoid of any soul. Nevertheless, acknowledging that Far Cry 6 is, in fact, a politically charged game, is a step in the right direction that hopefully will lead to less spineless advertising campaigns for future releases. 

French newspaper Libération compared Ubisoft’s HR department to a brick wall

The 2020 reports of abhorrent company culture are what truly has left Ubisoft’s reputation in the gutter. The company faced a litany of allegations worldwide, with nearly every studio being called out as having a toxic environment. Allegations range from top executives sexually assaulting employees to HR outright ignoring valid complaints against the top brass. Following a report from Bloomberg’s Jason Schrier, it was revealed that Ubisoft harbored a fraternity house style workplace environment that consistently ignored and dismissed complaints from marginalised employees. A primary example of the company’s horrible leaders was Serge Hascoët, CEO Yves Guillemot’s close personal friend and right hand man. He used his position of power to intimidate and sexually harass the people he employed and incited a stance within Ubisoft that “women [protagonists] don’t sell” games. Hascoët, alongside other chief executives with allegations placed against them, were all allowed to gracefully resign from the company as Guillemot played ignorant to what his co-workers and friends had been using their positions for. A deep report from French newspaper Libération compared Ubisoft’s HR department to a brick wall, just a day before Global Head of HR Cécile Cornet conveniently resigned from her position. Employees coming to the department with complaints of workplace misconduct against top executives such as Hascoët were told that “they’re creatives that’s how they work,” among other remarks to dismiss concerns. It was reported in May 2021 by Le Télégramme that very little has changed within Ubisoft as a large amount of HR staff within the company’s French and Canadian offices who were part of the issues were allowed to maintain their positions. 

Additionally, Ubisoft is a family run business with Guillemot at its head, which caused even more controversy in September 2020 as the company released Tom Clancy’s Elite Squad to the world. This title, developed by Owlient, featured an intro video that relied heavily on right-wing conspiracy theories as an evil organisation known as ‘Umbra’ were displayed sporting a logo that matched the raised fist globally associated with the Black Lives Matter movement. Owlient being the studio responsible for this racially charged and dangerous imagery is especially important as, at the time, it was co-managed by Charlie Guillemot, son of aforementioned Yves Guillemot. Ubisoft were quick to respond meekly to the imagery as they claimed it was “insensitive in how it was portrayed” and, of course, stated any resemblance to the BLM initiative was “coincidental” before removing it from the ill-fated game. As expected, Charlie Guillemot was allowed to withdraw from the company gracefully in May 2021 alongside studio co-head Rémi Pellerin, and faced no real consequences for these actions. 

The CEO and co-founder has clearly spent years sweeping allegations against his company under the rug and going out of his way to protect those who use the power he gave them to abuse staff

This all leads to a primary problem at Ubisoft; Yves Guillemot. The CEO and co-founder has clearly spent years sweeping allegations against his company under the rug, and going out of his way to protect those who use the power he gave them to abuse staff. Guillemot has proudly been displayed within Ubisoft Forwards, the studio’s serialised live-streamed development updates, since these reports and has yet to offer any real statement on them outside of promises to “do better”. He has stated that he had no idea of what was going on right under his nose which, if true, means he is bad at his job and should lose it. If untrue, it means he is a willfully negligent liar and should still lose his job. Over a year after the sweeping allegations, Ubisoft remains largely unchanged because of Guillemot. In July 2021, an open letter was published by over 1,000 current and former Ubisoft employees that stated the company “continues to protect and promote known offenders and their allies.” This letter too received a meek non-response from Guillemot and the group behind the letter stated that the majority of their demands for a better Ubisoft were sidelined by his reaction. 

At the end of the day, Ubisoft cannot be healed without a complete and utter restructure in management that leads to current and former executives being held legally accountable for their actions. A company with widespread, horrific allegations like this should not be able to get away with a few half-apologies on Twitter. Yves Guillemot is one of the many corporate heads that need to roll in order for any long-lasting change to take effect within the company that clearly is soft on harassment.