More Ubisoft employees recount a culture of sexism that propped up offenders and informed game design decisions

    
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More Ubisoft employees recount a culture of sexism that propped up offenders and informed game design decisions

The fact that Ubisoft executives have made the studio an unsafe place to work has already been well chronicled, but a new report from former Kotaku writer Jason Schreier, now at Bloomberg Businessweek, is adding a few more voices to the matter while also confirming a number of suspicions about the studio’s design choices and effectively recounting the events.

The piece features some additional stories from more rank-and-file Ubisoft employees. One account comes from a former Ubisoft customer service center worker in North Carolina who attempted to report her manager for making explicit comments about other women’s bodies and derogatory remarks about hers; the first two times she was instructed to “talk it out” with him, the third finally saw the manager removed, but only with corroboration with another male employee. The customer service worker also received a thank-you card from the HR department and a $200 Visa gift card. There’s another report from an employee in a San Francisco office says that she was instructed to smile more and threatened with termination if her attitude didn’t improve.

There’s also confirmation that the sexist environment bled into design choices of Ubisoft’s games. Several current and former Ubisoft employees recount design changes made to the Assassin’s Creed series in order to primarily focus on male protagonists, including a reduction of focus for the female protagonist in Syndicate, a removal of Bayek’s wife Aya as a playable character in Origins, and the switch from making Kassandra the only playable character in Odyssey to giving a choice between her and her brother Alexios. It also points to the infamous remarks about the difficulty in animating women as a given explanation for excluding female avatars in Assassin’s Creed Unity multiplayer.

Finally, there’s reports from anonymous inside sources that state the studio’s HR management “held a general distrust of victims” that undermined the department’s ability to function appropriately. There are also reports of complaints filed in recent weeks over inappropriate jokes from colleagues, unwanted sexual propositions, groping at parties, and sexual assault, with some of these allegations having been originally filed years ago.

The roundup does remark that employees were shocked that Ubisoft moved as quickly as it did when allegations first started making the public rounds, and pointed to chief creative officer Serge Hascoët’s removal as a particular surprise considering he reportedly had a close relationship with CEO Yves Guillemot and was granted the authority to greenlight or halt development of any project he didn’t like.

source: Bloomberg

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hachibushu

the switch from making Kassandra the only playable character in Odyssey to giving a choice between her and her brother Alexios

I don’t see the problem with this. With the others, sure. But it seems that more options are better. I know it makes crafting stories to the character’s persona more difficult if you make certain assumptions. But it’s easy to overcome, and actually introduces more options on other fronts also.

Always allow the player to choose their avatar so that the game is more immersive. Doesn’t seem like too big of an ask, or too controversial an opinion.

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traja

It can demonstrate a pattern. So in this case it would be that they only do that in order to add a male option but not to add a female option. That pattern can be sexist even if the individual action is fine.

Personally I played Alexios for immersion. That time in reality was ridiculously sexist and there is no way the game would depict that.

Techno Wizard
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Techno Wizard

I’m all for women getting fairness but if this shuts down the company then they have done harm and nothing good for women, especially in regards to future employability. Trust will be eroded and known troublemakers will be seen as whistleblowers. Not good.

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Utakata

…so you are suggesting they should take a bullet for the good of the company?

I would argue it’s probably the best for all if the company KO’d at this point for everyone’s sake if it’s gotten that bad. As well as, realigning the company’s work environment should have no or little affect on their bottom line…if not a positive opposite. Therefor, this isn’t a valid and/or reasonable concern by any stretched of the imagination, IMO.

Techno Wizard
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Techno Wizard

Not suggesting that at all. But I do have some experience with whistleblowing. It’s never pleasant for either side. And if the company shuts down later because the management has decided to go on the shelf and startup with a new brand name without the bad rep baggage or experiences insolvency and declares bankruptcy, and that does happen, then whoops. None of them are working, agreeing compromises or gaining compensation. Enjoy the welfare queue, ex-employees.

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Bruno Brito

I’m not getting your point here. We’re talking about sexual harassment. Are you saying the victims should have to endure sexual harassment because of a hypothetical closure of the company?

Techno Wizard
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Techno Wizard

No Bruno. I’m talking about managements tactics after something goes public for whatever reason. After that it’s a matter of grievance resolving. If the grievance at this level can be resolved, which I doubt it can now.

And any that are harassed should make police reports as I would never tolerate that in a workplace.

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Bruno Brito

And any that are harassed should make police reports as I would never tolerate that in a workplace.

The problem with this assessment, is that you’re hypothesizing that the cops would be any help. Reality is that sexual harassment is underreported because the repercurtions rarely hit the perpetrators. Many victims are humiliated, and their cases tend to end up with no result. Rape is the most underreported crime in the US. Sexual harassment is one of the crimes that least sees a courtroom, and when in court, the odds are stacked against the victim because of precedent from old days.

https://www.rainn.org/statistics/criminal-justice-system

Here’s some statistics. Of 1000 cases, 230 reports. Of the 230 reports, 46 arrests. Of the 46 arrests, 9 cases referred to prosecution. Of the 9 cases, 5 will lead to a felony prosecution. Of the 5 cases, 4.6 rapists ( which means we’re already talking about sexual assault, not sexual harassment as a whole ) will get jailtime.

And here’s some stories about cases being dismissed:

In one Alabama case, a woman who worked at Blue Cross Blue Shield said her supervisor told her she only had a job was because they “needed a skirt in the office.” That same supervisor allegedly asked the woman to spend the night with him at a hotel, asked her to “blow” him, constantly called her “babe,” and repeatedly zipped and unzipped his pants in front of her. He also had a habit of referring to women with words like “bitch,” “slut,” and “tramp.” The case was filed and dismissed in the US District Court for the Northern District of Alabama. The dismissal was upheld by the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals in 2007.

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A 911 phone dispatcher for the city of San Mateo, California, said her co-worker touched her stomach and commented on how soft and sexy it was. When she tried to push him away, the co-worker forced his hand underneath her sweater and bra to fondle her breast. He tried again, but stopped when another colleague entered the room. Two other women reported similar harassment from the same employee. The case was filed and dismissed in the US District Court for the Northern District of California. The dismissal was upheld by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in 2000.

————-

At a Coca-Cola bottling plant in Chicago, a woman said her male supervisor repeatedly asked her out on dates, which she declined. He often asked about her personal life and told her how beautiful she was, put his hand on her shoulders at least six times, placed “I love you” signs on her desk, and tried to kiss her three times. The case was filed and dismissed in the US District Court for the Northern District of Illinois. The dismissal was upheld by the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals in 1993.

————-

At a construction site in Alabama, a male electrical worker said his supervisor repeatedly made comments about his genitals, talked about raping him, and asked him to “feel his pipe.” When the worker complained, his supervisor said there was nothing he could do. The supervisor allegedly made multiple sexual comments a day during the 10 days they worked together. After complaining to another supervisor, and then taking a few days off work, the worker was told he no longer had a job. The case was filed and dismissed in the US District Court for the Southern District of Alabama in 2000.

—————–

The problem is the overreliance on a system that is ill-equipped to deal with the victims and the crime itself. Most of the sexual harassment that happens in gaming will never see any kind of jail time. The idea behind the movement that is happening right now is for the victims to have some kind of solace knowing the community will have their back and protect them and the space they once considered safe, because the police and the justice system, if you go by statistical and historical evidence, won’t do jack shit.

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hachibushu

As an alternative, the company could have addressed the problems without the need for whistleblowers. To paraphrase and repurpose a quote, Companies that make systemic changes from the inside impossible, make regulation of the same from the outside inevitable.

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Ashfyn Ninegold

It’s really such a simple thing: You care for your employees and make sure they have a safe environment to work in.

Being constantly aware that you are the object of another’s sexual interest without your permission is not a safe environment no matter what the gender or sexual orientation. Work is work, not a mosh pit for sweaty palmed groping and lewd suggestions.

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Arktouros

While it’s undeniably true that there have been huge blockbuster games with female protagonists I don’t take issue with game designers shying away from them in general. If the vast majority of your audience are males who want to play male characters then it makes sense that is your default option. Just a safe business move as being representative simply doesn’t guarantee success.

As for the rest of the dudes acting like scumbags good that they’re getting taking care of. Albeit I think it’s kinda amusing that it didn’t matter at all until the company started failing (40% stock decline from the high last year per the article). Goes to show you what the company actually values in the end.

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Witches

Faulty logic, not being representative doesn’t guarantee success either.

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Arktouros

It’s not faulty logic because one doesn’t have to be true and the other false. In this case both statements are true. Whether or not you are representative in your game design doesn’t determine success. However what is proven true is catering to your customer base and what they prefer is most likely to lead to success in any business.

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Ashfyn Ninegold

By this logic then, “If the vast majority of your audience” doesn’t raid “then it makes sense that” non-raiding “is your default.” But we know this is not true.

I’m sorry Ark, but this just has to be pointed out. You can see the faulty logic there.

Besides which, women make up 51% of the world’s population, but they are relegated to a minor role in almost every single decision made by men. The fact that women must fight back constantly to keep from being trivialized and objectified is just not acceptable. That parity with male counterparts is such a stretch for most companies and the men who run them is simply inexcusable.

Literally, in this story, the only reason a woman is believed is because a male co-worker backed her up. This is the garbage behavior women have had put up with since the invention of male domination.

There are lots of games that have zero problem with depicting female bodies. This was a bad, blatantly mendacious excuse when they made it and now it is revealed to be just what it is: misogyny.

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Arktouros

I absolutely 100% think that if only a small percentage of your player base focuses on raiding content it should not be focused or prioritized. That goes for any type of content. A great example of this was Guild Wars 2 where the pre-HOT and post-HOT period of the game they focused exclusively on SPvP and Raids and it was a period of intense negative feedback from virtually everyone. It prompted a whole shift for their studio (mostly because their financials were dying as well).

Don’t ever apologize for disagreeing, good discussion is always welcome. I don’t see the fault of the logic because the logic of catering your product to your user base isn’t faulty. There are innumerable examples of catering your content to match your users’ expectations and desires. While, obviously, the ideal would be to provide options to include the maximum users as possible there is also a point of diminishing returns where the investment of time and resources to add additional options realistically won’t yield as profitable results. Large corporations often times are about min-maxing their return on investment so even if something would still be technically profitable it doesn’t mean it’ll be as profitable as if they spent their resources elsewhere.

While the struggles of women in various places within society is certainly real this was neither the point I was bringing up or addressing and generally don’t disagree with your points on that different topic.

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Tee Parsley

I tend to play the character with the better voice acting, irrespective of gender, when given the choice.

Here’s hoping the game companies start recognizing that value and factor it in more.

Otherwise good to see more asshats getting the boot.

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Arktouros

Anything with Mary Elizabeth McGlynn as a playable character I’m 100% going to play it.

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Bannex

To clarify my post I do not think the real problem is the treatment of men in the aftermath. Sexual harassment and the ‘mad men’ style of corporate culture is 100% the real problem here.

I didn’t think I needed to state the obvious.

Bree Royce
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Bree Royce

Thank you for clarifying that.

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Utakata

Meta/Personal:

*The left pigtail discretely leans over to Ms. Bree and whispers:*

You know I prefer to call it “ribbing” as opposed to “trading barbs” in this case. But if that still not appropriate and/or distracts from the debate, I’ll tone it back. Sorry about that. And I’ll try better next time. :(

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Utakata

…and with that, I’ll put aside the as for mentioned comfort /popcorn, as I am satisfied with the response. Thank you for sharing that. /bows

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Bruno Brito

The roundup does remark that employees were shocked that Ubisoft moved as quickly as it did when allegations first started making the public rounds, and pointed to chief creative officer Serge Hascoët’s removal as a particular surprise considering he reportedly had a close relationship with CEO Yves Guillemot and was granted the authority to greenlight or halt development of any project he didn’t like.

This sounds like the upper echelons trying to avoid anything getting near them by shredding connections.

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Jon Wax

Trying to firewall the shareholders?

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Bruno Brito

Who knows. It seems a lot like finding a scapegoat.

I’m not saying that the entire upper echelon is also plagued with sexist culture. BUT if that’s the case, i’m not going to be surprised, and i think an investigation should occur. An entire culture doesn’t install itself just by happening, it’s either by neglect or by acceptance/enforcing.

O RA
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O RA

none of this beginning to seem petty.

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Hikari Kenzaki

It’s worth noting that the head of HR had already left/been pushed out before this article ever dropped. Ubi was pretty fast to oust a large portion of its execs and upper management over this.

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Greaterdivinity

Some of the shit is wild…a rape scene where the controller rumbles and provides feedback of…the rape? An interactive torture scene where you need to slap the person to keep them from passing out?

Ubisoft has a LOT more housecleaning to do. I know of some of the folks who got named in this latest round (including former employees) and had heard some stories about their behavior for a while, and it seems like it’s far more extensive than that. They need to go hard at removing mid/senior level managers have that created, fostered, and protected this environment, including retooling HR from the ground up.

Then again, depressingly, HR only exists to protect the company. It’s beyond gross that the misconception that HR exists for employees is a thing, because it’s most definitely not.

I’m just hopeful this leads to more people openly calling out this shit moving forward, knowing that the internet has their backs.

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Bannex

Man I just don’t see how rape belongs in video games at all. Call me old fashioned.

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Greaterdivinity

Potentially controversial take: As in any storytelling, it can have a place within the story. Though given the nature of the subject, giving it a place without it being gross/exploitative is challenging.

In the context of games it can absolutely be a narrative element, but making it a gameplay element would be nigh impossible to do without being awful.

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Bannex

Yeah I meant gameplay element. I can understand in terms of story but even still there are ways to provide that information without vibrating the controller.

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ichi sakari

this corp has always seemed shitty

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