Photo: Christian Petersen (Getty Images)
In a new interview with La Presse, Ubisoft CEO Yves Guillemot appeared to say that toxicity in the game industry stems from necessary “friction” in the creative process. The implication was that it was almost inevitable. Two years in a workplace that dealt with sexual harassment, misconduct and the imposition of the publisher behind Assassin’s Creed and Far Cry sounded tone-deaf at best, and like an endorsement of power struggles between development teams at worst. When asked to clarify his comments, Ubisoft Kotaku provided a more detailed explanation from the CEO.
“I want to be clear, as I’ve said before, there is absolutely no place for toxicity at Ubisoft or in our industry,” Guillemot wrote in a statement. “When I talked about sometimes friction, I thought of the creative tension that is common and essential in innovative companies like ours, where people have the freedom to challenge ideas and have heated but healthy debates.”
To prevent this tension from turning negative or to address it if it does, strong policies, values and associated procedures are essential. The past two-and-[a]-half year we have made a lot of progress in that area to provide safe and great experiences for all our teams. Healthy, respectful work environments are our top priority and we are pleased to say that our latest surveys have reassured our team members that we are on the right track.
“Heated but healthy” gets to the heart of some of the biggest complaints from some current and former Ubisoft employees. Those Kotaku spoke to often described an atmosphere in certain studios that seemed to reward bullies, while banning the less institutionally empowered people who called them out. Whether it was a manager, design leader, or director, respectfully questioning them or taking a principled stance in a team meeting could throw the deviant employee off a project or block their career indefinitely.
One of these bullies was reportedly Michel Ancel, the designer behind Rayman and the original Beyond Good & Evil who was tapped to direct the sequel. According to a 2020 investigation by the French newspaper Libération, Ancel was disorganized, making impractical requests and berating staff if he didn’t like the work they showed him. Three sources familiar with Beyond Good & Evil 2 development at Ubisoft Montpellier believed the allegations in the report were correct and that Ancel’s reputation as a toxic executive was well known within the company.
Do you have a tip about your time at Ubisoft and how the company may or may not improve? Message us at email@example.com or you can safely reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Did Guillemot know? Libération reported that he did, citing a 2017 meeting where, when confronted with complaints about Ancel, the CEO reportedly said that Ancel’s stardom in the games industry was both helpful to the public perception of Ubisoft, but to him. also difficult to manage, and that it would be up to employee representatives and HR to protect the people who work under him. It wasn’t until the larger workshop settlement that Ancel was investigated and eventually resigned in September 2020.
In a recent interview with Axios, Guillemot claimed ignorance about one’s bad behavior. “You realize things have happened very close to you that you wouldn’t accept had you known about it,” he said. “You’re upset that it could happen and you didn’t see it.” But again, the CEO had a controversial answer as to why a culture that nurtured and protected seemingly bad actors was proliferating under his watch.
“We were not organized enough to find and solve the problems,” he told Axios. “The business was running and there were ways of doing things. And then came a new young generation [into the company] with different needs. And we had to adapt. I don’t think we adapted quickly enough to what people expected and needed.”
The comment, which appeared to blame a workplace reckoning with sexual abuse allegations over a generation gap, was roundly mocked online. Guillemot made no attempt to clarify that, and Ubisoft declined to comment today when Kotaku asked about the pattern of controversial suggestions from the man responsible for leading the publisher’s cultural transformation.