Disgraced former Ubisoft executive Ashraf Ismail has been working at Tencent's TiMi Studio since last year, it has emerged. Ismail was fired from Ubisoft in 2020 following misconduct allegations, but he was quietly hired by Tencent in 2021, where he's been helping to lead development for a new game project.
What's the Ashraf Ismail story, and why was he hired by Tencent?
Back in June 2020, Ismail stepped down from his role as Assassin's Creed Valhalla director after being accused of cheating on his wife with multiple women. Following this, Ismail was then fired from Ubisoft that August; the company cited the "result of investigations" as the public reason for his dismissal. It's likely Ubisoft found enough evidence that the allegations against Ismail were true (although this doesn't seem to have stopped them allegedly continuing to promote known abusers within the company). Now, however, it seems that Ismail has reappeared at Tencent without much fanfare.
According to Axios, Ismail is currently working within the role of consulting creative director for Tencent's TiMi studio group, which is responsible for titles like Call of Duty: Mobile and Pokemon Unite. Back in July, around the same time as it offered to purchase UK holding company Sumo Group, Tencent opened up a new studio within the TiMi collective. This studio was made up of ex-Ubisoft Montreal workers who had worked on the Assassin's Creed series, and Axios says that Ismail has been involved with that studio since it was founded. For its part, TiMi told Axios that Ismail has "carried himself in a professional manner" since joining Tencent, and that he has shown an "eagerness to learn and grow" as a team member and as a person.
Ashraf Ismail's story is part of a wider industry reckoning
Ashraf Ismail reappearing at Tencent matters because his story is part of a wider problem within the gaming industry. In mid-2020, allegations emerged against several Ubisoft execs, leading to their departure from the company and also prompting a lawsuit over a perceived culture of harassment. Several months after those allegations first emerged, Ubisoft CEO Yves Guillemot detailed initiatives the company was taking to change its work culture, but Ubisoft employees claimed these initiatives weren't having much of an effect on the company's overall attitude and outlook. The departures of Serge Hascoët, Cécile Cornet, Yannis Mallat, Ashraf Ismail, and other abusers were supposed to show that abusers and those who propped them up weren't welcome within the industry, but Ismail's reappearance at Tencent suggests that studios are still happy to hire those accused of abuse.
It's not just Ubisoft, either. Almost exactly a year after allegations first emerged against Ubisoft, similar accusations were leveled against Activision Blizzard, with employees complaining of a toxic workplace culture that management ignored (a claim Activision Blizzard itself naturally denies). Accusations of toxic workplace culture have also been made against companies like Paradox and even indie studios like Fullbright, although not all of those allegations necessarily involve misogynistic abuse and harassment.
There are a couple of tentative signs that things might be improving within the industry. Riot Games recently settled its $100 million discrimination lawsuit in favor of the plaintiffs, and Rockstar Games is reportedly making some pretty positive changes to its corporate culture as well. However, it seems like it's going to take a lot more work before the industry really reckons with its harassment and misconduct problems, especially if controversial figures like Ashraf Ismail can find new work so seemingly easily.