Monday, June 17Royal Holloway's offical student publication, est. 1986

Ubisoft – A “Boys Club” Rife With Sexual Harassment

If you haven’t heard of Ubisoft, you’ll have heard of their games. They’re the largest video game developer and publisher in Europe , with a vast repertoire of titles including Assassin’s Creed, Far Cry, Just Dance, Rayman, Watch Dogs, Rabbids and just about anything with the name ‘Tom Clancy’ it. In 2018 alone, they made over two billion dollars in with the release of Assassin’s Creed Odyssey and Far Cry 5, and they have over eighteen thousand employees. They’re so big, in fact, that they are one of only seven publishers invited to give a press conference at E3 (the single biggest event in games media), alongside Sony, Microsoft, Nintendo and EA. So now that mass allegations of decades of sexual harassment and predatory behaviour within the one of the company’s largest studios have surfaced, I can’t help but feel betrayed that  company of such size and supposed clout let something so abhorrent happen for so long. And with the recent release of Watch Dogs Legion, and the upcoming release Assassin’s Creed Valhalla, I think it’s worth recapping everything that has been revealed this year.

On 26th June, over one hundred employees of Ubisoft Toronto signed and sent a letter to the studio executives, regarding “grave concerns about ongoing reported harassment and an inability to feel safe or protected within (their) own studio”. These included reports of sexual harassment perpetrated by prominent Ubisoft employees, specifically regarding development liaison Andrien Gbinigie, who allegedly sexually harassed and assaulted a female employee, and denied the claims later. The letter also highlighted their HR department’s attempt to suppress and ignore other reported cases of harassment and assault committed by Ubisoft’s higher-ups.

Sadly, Gbinigie is far from the only culprit, and potentially the least powerful. There’s CCO Serge Hascoet, who reportedly held important meetings in strip clubs and religiously made inappropriate comments towards his female employees. There’s Tommy Francois, vice president of editorial and Hascoet’s “right-hand man”, who allegedly made repeated threats of rape and homophobic comments to his staff, and regularly sent inappropriate videos to colleagues. Then there’s Maxime Beland, creative director, who was accused of multiple instances of harassment, up to and including choking a woman at an office party. As recently as 25th September, it was reported that Michel Ancel, Rayman creator and creative lead of the upcoming Beyond Good and Evil 2, was under investigation due to complaint about his “toxic management style”. 

Luckily, all of these people have either been sacked or placed on indefinite leave, and further responsible parties have also been let go. Ancel has now retired from the video games industry entirely, in part because of the investigation. Yannis Mallat, the CEO of Ubisoft Canada who let this behaviour occur under his watch, and Cecile Cornet, the global head of HR who, you’ll recall, refused to act on the vast amount of incidents reported to her, no longer work for the company. In fact, the whole editorial department and corporate line-up is being reorganised to “improve and strengthen (their) workplace culture”.

But this, of course, raises a concern; what is the culture at Ubisoft currently like? Anonymous Ubisoft employees described their work environment as a “boys club”, an apt description for a company that, again, held regular meetings in strip clubs. Others stated that “you’re conditioned to feel like you’re lucky to be there”, and any whistle-blowing means you “paint [your]self with a scarlet letter”. In a recent survey provided to The Verge by Ubisoft, “one in four respondents said that they had either witnessed or experienced workplace misconduct themselves in the past two years”. If you’re a woman employed at Ubisoft, you’re expected to let people treat you however they feel, because you’re lucky to even have a job there in the first place, and calling them out for their behaviour is abusing the opportunity you’ve been given. It’s a structure worthy of Hollywood itself. 

Sadly, the reason companies such as Ubisoft are so confident that they’ll get away with it is quite simple; they mostly can. Remember, it took over a hundred employees out of the studios six hundred to even have the issue raised with management. Individual reported incidents were ignored by HR, and many of the incidents may not have been reported. The perpetrators are not nobodies; they each hold an extreme amount of power and influence across the entire company. Hascoet could apparently “greenlight or cancel a project” single-handedly, who’s going to report the guy who could ruin your career in a second? Gaming is already a tough industry for women to get into, and reporting your harasser could lock you out of it forever; would you risk it?

And while we have since seen Ubisoft respond to these allegations since they came out, they are still a long way from fully redeeming themselves. So, what can we do? What power do you or I have in making Ubisoft feel the full weight of their responsibility? Well, there’s a couple of options.

  • Stop buying Ubisoft games! The only thing massive companies like Ubisoft respond to is their income, so the best way to let them know you aren’t happy with them is to not give them your money. If you really want to play their games then buy them second-hand. 
  • Don’t forget about it! It’s very easy to be passionate about a cause for a little while, and then let that passion fade away as the news does (as many people have with Black Lives Matter), but it lets the perpetrators get away with nothing but some bad press. Some of them have been fired, but Ubisoft is promising to change their entire work culture, which will not happen if they think they’ve gotten away with it.

It may not be enough to make a difference straight away, but I won’t be forgetting about these allegations anytime soon, and hopefully you won’t either. Hopefully, in the near future, I can do something as simple as play a video game without wondering how many people were hurt in its creation.