According to a report by journalist Jason Schreier, Ubisoft intentionally blocked Assassin's Creed from starring female protagonists for a number of years. The report alleges that this was part of a culture of internal misogyny which Ubisoft CEO Yves Guillemot did not sufficiently address.
Why did Ubisoft block Assassin's Creed female leads?
Schreier's report says that the lack of female leads in Assassin's Creed games - up to Syndicate, although both that game and Odyssey feature male and female leads - was largely down to Serge Hascoët, head of creative at that time. Hascoët was "treated almost like a member of the family", according to Schreier, and was given the authority to cancel, greenlight, or overhaul games depending on what he wanted to do. Schreier paints a picture of Hascoët as a difficult colleague, banging his head on the table when bored or making a low growling sound to intimidate employees.
During the development of Assassin's Creed Syndicate, both Jacob and Evie Frye, the game's protagonists, were to be given equal billing. Eventually, Jacob became the de facto "main" character, with Evie as a secondary protagonist. Origins originally featured main character Bayek dying early on and control being given to his wife, Aya, but this was scrapped. Assassin's Creed Odyssey originally only featured Kassandra as a playable character, but eventually, Alexios was brought in to give players a choice. According to Schreier's report, all of these changes "came from Ubisoft's marketing department or from Hascoët".
These allegations are part of what Schreier calls "the machismo of Ubisoft's offices", a culture of harassment and sexism that saw Hascoët holding meetings in strip clubs and making sexually explicit comments to female colleagues. A female employee who worked at Ubisoft HQ says she faced "repeated harassment" from employees including sexually explicit messages and pornographic videos being sent to her. The Bloomberg report details a number of other troubling moments in Ubisoft's internal structure, including racism and sexism from several employees and managers. This culture contextualizes the reluctance of Hascoët and Ubisoft's marketing department to include female leads from Assassin's Creed.
CEO Yves Guillemot has since said that Ubisoft will "embark on a path" to become better and that creative chief Hascoët, HR global head Cécile Cornet, and Canadian managing director Yannis Mallat would all be departing the company. However, veteran narrative designer Kim Belair says Ubisoft's issues arise from it being "a specifically difficult example" due to being a close-knit family-run company. According to Belair, the "entire mindset of the company" has to change to work out why these "bad actors" were allowed to operate within the system for so long. You can check out the full text of Schreier's Bloomberg report right here.
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