Why Was the Most Important Announcement Missing During Ubisoft Forward?

It has been three weeks since allegations of sexual abuse, harassment, and misconduct first appeared.

Earlier today, Ubisoft Forward took place, revealing Far Cry 6 among showing additional gameplay for Watch Dogs: Legion and Assassin’s Creed Valhalla. Shortly before the show began, Ubisoft tweeted the following image without the #UbiForward hashtag the account has used for all its posts pertaining to the event.

“Ubisoft Forward comes during a time of big internal change,” says the image. “Because all the content has been pre-recorded, we wanted to recognize that the issues we’re currently dealing with won’t be addressed directly in the show. We still have significant work to do and are committed to this process. We will provide more updates soon.”

Abuse allegations against Ubisoft executives first arose on the week of June 23, and have steadily continued since then. Among those accused are Andrien Gbinigie, Stone Chin, Maxime Béland, Tommy François, and, most recently, Pat Plourde and Travis McGill. Béland has resigned and François is currently on disciplinary leave. Top executives like Serge Hascoët, Ubisoft’s chief creative officer who was in charge of every Ubisoft game, and Yannis Mallat, the head of Ubisoft Canada, are also out as of July 11. Cecile Cornet, global head of Human Resources, has stepped down from her role but remains with the company.

In a company-wide letter obtained by Kotaku on July 11, CEO Yves Guillemot wrote to Ubisoft employees:

In my last message to you, I laid out a series of initiatives that are guiding us as we begin making significant changes within Ubisoft. I also committed to looking across our entire organization, at all levels and geographies, to determine where and how we have fallen short in our guarantee to provide a safe and inclusive workplace environment for all of you. Over the past few weeks, I have been engaged in this rigorous review, and today I want to let you know of some important personnel changes that are a part of reshaping the way we work together.

Serge Hascoët has chosen to resign from his position as Chief Creative Officer, effective immediately. Serge’s decision comes after in-depth discussions we have had together. Following these conversations, I believe, and Serge agrees, that now is the right time for a change. I will take on the CCO role temporarily as we work to define and organize the leadership of the Editorial Department. During this time, I will also personally oversee a complete overhaul of the way in which this team works. My goal is to create an inclusive and open culture that embraces more diverse and multidisciplinary expertise. I will communicate more details about these changes in due course.

Yannis Mallat, Managing Director of Ubisoft’s Canadian studios, will be stepping down from his role and will leave the Company effective immediately. The recent allegations that have come to light in Canada against multiple employees make it impossible for him to continue in this position.

Additionally, I will be appointing a new Global Head of HR to replace Cécile Cornet, who has decided that it is in the best interest of the company’s unity for her to step down from her role as Global Head of HR. This search will begin immediately, and we will be working with an industry-leading firm to identify the right person. We need to strengthen our HR function, restructure it further and adapt it to the new challenges of our industry. In doing this, we will better serve and support you. We are hiring a top international management consulting firm to audit and reshape our HR procedures and policies.

Toxic behaviors are unacceptable and are in direct contrast to values on which I have never compromised — and never will. As we collectively embark on a path leading to a better Ubisoft, it is my expectation that every leader across this organization manages their teams with the utmost respect. I also expect them to work to drive the change we need, always thinking of what is best for all of you and for Ubisoft.

Yves

On July 2, Guillemot had published a lengthy statement declaring a commitment to changing Ubisoft’s culture. Among the goals will be the revision of the company’s Editorial Department, which was composed entirely of white men until now. Additionally, Lidwine Sauer has been appointed as the company’s Head of Workplace Culture to “suggest comprehensive changes that will benefit all of us. Lidwine will report directly to me in this new capacity and will create an international and diverse multidisciplinary working group within Ubisoft to support these efforts.” There will also be employee listening sections, the launch of a global employee survey, a comprehensive review of policies and procedures, the creation of a Head of Diversity and Inclusion position, and the continuation of ongoing investigations into allegations.

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While systemic change doesn’t happen overnight, Ubisoft has had a glaring three weeks to respond in a meaningful way during the company’s biggest event of the year. It doesn’t bode as a reassuring start for the commitment to improvement that Guillemot announced not long ago, especially because a bare minimum-effort clip could have easily been recorded.

Other companies have shown it was entirely possible. On June 9, following the global Black Lives Matter protests that erupted after the murder of George Floyd, who was killed by Minneapolis police on May 25, Bungie dedicated eight minutes and 46 seconds of their major pre-recorded Destiny 2 stream to Floyd (Floyd was killed in that time). It took Bungie two weeks to integrate this segment in the middle of the presser, encouraging viewers to sign up, donate, organize, and mobilize with links to various organizations and resources.

It begs the question: why could Ubisoft not somehow do something of the same vein in an act of solidarity and transparency with current and past developers, survivors, and community members? Especially considering that the presentation was only 45 minutes long. As a result, Ubisoft’s statement quickly rang hollow with many journalists, developers, fans, and members of the industry.

In a statement uploaded earlier today, Guillemot stated that “Ubisoft has fallen short in its obligation to guarantee a safe and inclusive workplace environment for its employees. This is unacceptable, as toxic behaviors are in direct contrast to values on which I have never compromised — and never will. I am committed to implementing profound changes across the Company to improve and strengthen our workplace culture.”

If Guillemot means what he says, then he better start taking accountability for the workplace culture that he has fostered. This involves realizing that separating abuse allegations from a marketing showcase of upcoming products is a statement in and of itself — one that has not gone unnoticed.

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Natalie Flores

Natalie is Fanbyte's Featured Contributor, with bylines at places like VICE, Polygon, PC Gamer, Paste Magazine, and more.

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