Ubisoft finally address abuse allegations but is it good enough?Platforms: All
Ahead of Ubisoft’s Forward event last night, Ubisoft CEO Yves Guillemot took to Twitter to address the company’s overwhelming abuse allegations.
During the video message, Guillemot referred to the allegations as “internal issues” in which “certain Ubisoft employees did not uphold” the company's values.
He would go on to say, “I am truly sorry to everyone who was hurt. We have taken significant steps to remove or sanction those who violated our values and code of conduct, and we are working hard to improve our systems and processes.”
Bloomberg first broke the story of these “internal issues” that came in the form of over a dozen public claims of sexual harassment and abuse against Ubisoft employees ranging from subtle forms of sexism, to sexual misconduct from figures of authority, to sexual assault.
While Guillemot claims these allegations only recently came to light, the Bloomberg report strongly suggests otherwise:
Interviews with more than three dozen current or former Ubisoft employees indicate that these claims, and many others that haven’t previously come to light, had been gathering dust in company logs for years. In some instances, Ubisoft took action, but for the most part, complaints were ignored, mishandled, or undermined, employees say.Bloomberg, 21/07/2020
It appears what Guillemot really meant was that these allegations came to light in a way that could not be ignored internally.
Ubisoft has gradually made steps towards addressing these issues internally, with the removal of chief creative officer Serge Hascoët, a key figure in the allegations, along with the firing of Ashraf Ismail, former creative director for Assassin’s Creed Valhalla, after he was accused of engaging in a sexual relationship with a fan and misrepresenting his marital status, essentially abusing his position within the industry to elicit sex from women.
Guillemot, however, has no intention of stepping down or being removed from his position as CEO despite being the man in charge while all this happened, as he would go on to say, “I am fully committed to leading the change at Ubisoft, and to ensuring we always uphold and exemplify our core values, in the company, the industry, the community, and in our games.”
As a means of trying to mend internal and external trust in the company, Guillemot added that they “are also focused on improving diversity and inclusivity at all levels of the company. For example, we will invest $1 million over the next five years in our graduate program. The focus will be on creating opportunities for under-represented groups, including women and people of colour.”
While offering employment for underrepresented figures in the industry is a good thing, this is all entry-level positions, and not enough has been said about improving diversity on a more corporate level. If the problem exists at the top, fixing the bottom won’t change much. There needs to be more representation at every level within the company to help improve the work culture and eradicate any further abuse of power or negligence of care for staff.
Guillemot also offered an apology for using the ‘raised fist’ symbol in relation to a sinister terrorist agency in their mobile game, Tom Clancy's Elite Squad. The fist was popularised by the Black Power movement and recently used as the symbol for the Black Lives Matter protests, so suggesting these civil rights movements are a front for dangerous organisations intent on destroying the western world is a horrific narrative for a major publisher to be lending credibility.
“This kind of oversight cannot happen,” Guillemot said. “We are putting into place safeguards to prevent it in the future. We condemn anyone using our games as a proxy for hate or toxicity. We fully support the Black Lives Matter movement, and today we are making an additional donation to the NAACP Legal Defense Fund.”
As we said when the ‘raised fist’ story first emerged, improved awareness of such mistakes requires more diversity in the decision-making stage. Even as an absent-minded error, such things are only possible when the people signing off on ideas are people divorced from these issues, people of privilege.
When questioned why they chose to post this acknowledgement on Twitter, rather than as part of the broadcast which would find a much larger audience, Ubisoft said the following:
While they do claim to be working to add the video to the full VOD of the broadcast, what are the odds many people will be watching the VODs compared to live? All of the trailers are now released as solo videos, people are more likely to just watch those. It is very much closing the door after the horse has bolted and further proof that Ubisoft is not doing enough of, at worst, are deliberately obstructing any significant accountability.
It is hard to cover video games without covering Ubisoft, they are one of the major publishers in the industry and develop and publish some of the biggest IPs of the modern era. It is a matter of necessity to cover these titles in some capacity but to do so without transparency would be dishonest. It is a difficult and uncomfortable balance, holding publishers accountable while also needing to cover their content. The least that can be done is to make sure this story is acknowledged with every passing announcement until a notable corporate change has been implemented.