New Ubisoft Allegations Claim Widespread Culture Of "Fear And Oppression"
Many high-level, "alpha" executives within Ubisoft perpetuate the "frat-house culture" across its studios.
Following news that Assassin's Creed Valhalla creative director Ashraf Ismail was fired from the company, new reports paint a grim picture of abuse that allegedly runs rampant across many Ubisoft studios.
Over the past few weeks, Gamasutra has talked to dozens of former and current Ubisoft staffers at the Montreal (Valhalla), Quebec (Gods & Monsters), and Singapore (Skull & Bones) studios. Each testimony, all anonymous for fear of reprisal, calls out many of the same people for many of the same offenses.
Hugo Giard (quest director, Gods & Monsters), Hugues Ricour (managing director, Singapore), Jonathan Dumont (creative director, Assassin's Creed Odyssey), Jordi Woudstra (former marketing product manager, Singapore), Justin Farren (former creative director, Skull & Bones), Marc-Alexis Cote (executive producer, Quebec), and Stephane Mehay (associated producer, Quebec) were all named for contributing to and perpetuating a culture of "fear and oppression" across the three specified studios. The executives are allegedly accused of various actions, such as leveraging their power to objectify women by asking them for kisses at work events (Ricour), using their physical appearance to intimidate women and especially new hires (Dumont), and sexually assaulting women by touching them inappropriately in and out of meetings (a widespread issue).
The Gamasutra report contains a bunch of testimonies from sources who claim the publisher enables this toxic "frat-house culture" because Ubisoft rewards those who fit the "alpha" mold.
"I think Ubisoft has a culture of allowing creative directors to be aggressive and dominant and they encourage it from editorial," an anonymous source told Gamasutra. "They always chose large, loud, alpha male figures to lead projects and so they saw the bullying and harassment as part of the job. I always found Ubisoft had a hard time firing anyone. They really didn't want to do it. I've worked at places where people being rude, or aggressive, or even too strongly opinionated would get you fired, but Ubisoft would just let people coast unless they did something really publicly bad."
Ubisoft declined to comment on the allegations specified in the report, but the studio did reiterate that it's taking each one seriously. "We won't comment on individual employees. We take any allegations of abuse or harassment very seriously, and each of them will be promptly and thoroughly investigated," a company spokesperson said. "Swift, appropriate action will be taken based on the outcomes of these investigations."
A Kotaku investigation, which tracks the accusations levied against many of the same Ubisoft employees, points to abusers not mentioned in the Gamasutra report. Antoine Emond, Ubisoft Massive's director of consumer experience (The Division 2), allegedly wielded his power to prey on interns at work. And Stone Chin, a long-time public relations manager at Ubisoft San Francisco (South Park: The Fractured But Whole), was allegedly accused of sexually assaulting a woman in the games industry. Both employees no longer work at Ubisoft.
Since Ubisoft began reckoning with the myriad of allegations that sparked at the start of summer, a number of high-level employees have either been fired or placed on some kind of administrative leave. Alongside Ismail, co-VP Tommy François was recently fired, executives Serge Hascoet, Yannis Mallat, and Cecile Cornet have all stepped down, creative director Maxime Béland resigned after being suspended, and more.
Ubisoft has detailed a huge "structural shift" being planned, including restructuring the editorial department, improving human resources processes, and ensuring managers are held accountable.
Both the Gamasutra and Kotaku reports purport that this pattern of abuse has apparently been happening for decades. Ubisoft CEO Yves Guillemot has said the studio "must do everything we can to ensure no one is in these situations ever again."
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