As most of you know, back in July, Ubisoft made the news after an investigative report by journalist Jason Schreier revealed dozens of sexual harassment claims against company management.This resulted in the resignation of Serge Hascoët, Cécile Cornet, and Yannis Mallat, though additional people have since departed. After their recent response to these allegations ahead of Ubisoft Forward, it’s clear that Ubisoft is looking to sweep their controversy under the rug rather than actually commit to dealing with these issues in any meaningful way.
With the announcement of Ubisoft Forward, many were hoping these issues and the underlying culture of misogyny at the company would be addressed publicly beyond the perfunctory PR statements released at the time the report broke. Unfortunately, despite having Ubisoft Forward as a widely viewed platform to do so with, the company did not. Instead, the Ubisoft Twitter account posted a short, four-minute video featuring CEO Yves Guillemot. Within the space of a handful of hours, Ubisoft allowed it to get lost in the inevitable Twitter shuffle and cavalcade of PR tweets that followed from the announcements at its event.
Ahead of #UbiForward, a message from our CEO Yves Guillemot: pic.twitter.com/NDfOj4tFk7— Ubisoft (@Ubisoft) September 10, 2020
As of the writing of this article, the Guillemot video has a little over 660,000 views on Twitter and a mere 50,000 on its English-speaking YouTube channels. Between the Ubisoft and IGN YouTube accounts, the livestream of Ubisoft Forward has over one million combined views and is still growing. Going into this, Ubisoft knew that their Forward event would be much more popular than an individual video, yet still chose to release their apology separately.
The reason for this omission, according to Ubisoft, is a lack of time to fit Guillemot’s apology into either the pre-show, post-show, or the actual event itself. Bear in mind, this is a completely virtual, digital event that they are 100% in control of and could choose to run it for 24 hours in the style of DC Fandome if they wished.
Some might argue they wanted to keep the main event to an hour and keep it nice and even. Even if that were the case, that does not explain why the following topics were all given several minutes of coverage apiece in the pre-show and Guillemot’s apology apparently did not fit:
- Pets of Ubisoft
- Playtest from Home program
- How Employees Got Started in the Field of Gaming
- Streamers’ Wow Moments
- Notre Dame VR
There was also a clear half an hour of space they had to kill before the pre-show in which streamers were seen playing Brawlhalla. Clearly, they were not at a loss for time nor space, otherwise we would not have been shown pictures of someone’s pet rock.
Another argument can be made that Ubisoft Forward is supposed to be a hype, PR event, not the moment to deal with sexist and homophobic allegations against a company. After all, some people just want to play games and might not even care about who’s making them or how. However, this company’s culture affects the games they are making, both in the past and going forward.
They are on the record saying that games with female leads don’t sell, and there is evidence of substantial meddling in the Assassin’s Creed franchise alone. Additionally, part of Guillemot’s statement was an apology for the tone-deafness of Elite Squad, whose shadowy antagonists bear more than a few resemblances to the Black Lives Matter movement, despite Ubisoft’s assurance this was unintentional.
If a PR event isn’t the time to deal with a company’s public image, when is? Admitting to your faults and genuinely committing to doing better, both for your employees and for your fans, should really be a positive message. Quietly putting it in a four-minute Twitter video before your actual PR event buries it, instead leaving a sour taste in people’s mouths and compounding the suspicions that substantial change is not, in fact, in the cards.
Guillemot’s apology, in addition to taking up less than two minutes of the four-minute runtime, also came across as incredibly insincere and ineffective. Phrases like, “We learned that certain Ubisoft employees did not uphold our company’s values,” deflects any blame from him or the rest of the management team, making it sound like they too were in the dark about the behavior—when there is no way that such a widespread culture was isolated. Additionally, using phrases like “our company’s values” is the polite way of tiptoeing around saying “sexual assault and harassment allegations.”
The problem with sweeping these accusations and the resulting changes under the rug is so much greater than a company attempting to avoid a bad reputation and hastily move on from an event. Hiding things is part of what resulted in this trouble in the first place, and going forward, transparency is the only way to ensure that these events don’t repeat themselves. By not being open, honest, nor—it must be said—genuine with their fans, Ubisoft is recommitting to a culture of letting those in power abuse their positions.