Bloomberg have reported on new allegations on Ubisoft’s allegedly predatory working conditions from over three dozen former and current Ubisoft employees.
We previously reported how after numerous sexual misconduct allegations, multiple Ubisoft executives stood down during internal investigations. Anonymous sources also spoke to other outlets, describing the working atmosphere blurred the line between work and leisure, which allegedly lead to predatory behavior.
Now Bloomberg (via former Kotaku journalist Jason Schreier) reports more allegations from “more than three dozen current or former Ubisoft employees” about the working conditions for women at Ubisoft studios.
As previously reported, Bloomberg further confirms that many new cases of sexual misconduct brought to Ubisoft’s attention had been previously brought up to human resources years prior. While some cases resulted in action, most were (in Bloomberg’s words) “ignored, mishandled, or undermined.”
Two people with access to the reports claim that the accusations included everything from “subtle forms of sexism” to sexual assault. The accusations of the poor work atmosphere also extended to the Paris headquarters- described by Bloomberg as a “frat house.”
Those speaking to Bloomberg claimed that across various offices staff and senior executives would openly make misogynistic or racist comments. Executives would also inappropriately touch staff along with other unwanted sexual advances.
Cindy Fitzpatrick, a former member of Ubisoft’s PR department between 2005 and 2009, described how the founders of Ubisoft- CEO Yves Guillemot and his four brothers Christian, Claude, Gérard, Michel- ended up creating an atmosphere where they were not held accountable for their actions.
This was allegedly “especially” true for former creative officer Serge Hascoët, who had previously been reported as the main figure in Ubisoft’s “culture problems” and had “the most toxic behavior in the whole business.” Fitzpatrick explains how the founders and long-time-staff-turned-executives like Hascoët were allegedly “golden children. […] No matter what they do, they seem untouchable.”
Hascoët began as a tester when Ubisoft was founded, and as a creative officer would have the power to greenlight and change projects. Eventually, the founders began to treat him like one of the family. Stories about Hascoët’s behavior allegedly span over a decade, according to claims across 10 people who worked at Ubisoft over that time.
Hascoët would also allegedly “demean” female staff under him, while surrounding himself with men who had also been accused of prefatory behavior. While several employees say they were surprised or outright shocked to see Ubisoft’s responses, others doubted that change could occur with the business being run by those in charge when these issues happened.
Seven current or former employees speaking to Bloomberg described how developers would swap stories about Hascoët was either an eccentric, or far less complimentary descriptions. This included him allegedly banging his head against the table to show he was bored or unhappy. He would also allegedly “growl” by speaking in a guttural tone during meetings or as staff passed by.
Women had allegedly been warned not to go drinking with Hascoët or his associates, and he allegedly held business meetings at strip clubs. The latter was something his deputies also began to do. Women who refused to attend these meetings felt their careers suffered because of it, while men who attended would later be promoted.
Others also pointed out how the ratio of men to women within Ubisoft is allegedly 4:1. Ellen Lee, who worked for seven years at Ubisoft San Francisco in marketing and promotion, stated “The culture there is really hard as a woman. If you weren’t part of the boys’ club, you were just working hard on the outskirts.”
Hascoët other actions in office also included an alleged incident during a meeting where a female presenter went to the bathroom. During this, Hascoët showed colleagues a video of a French song describing sexual acts with a woman who shared the presenters name. He paused just as the woman returned to the room.
The editorial quarters were allegedly fashioned into a frat house by Hascoët, with pornographic videos on computers, “boozy” lunches, and many inappropriate jokes.
Bloomberg also cite a July 10th report by French newspaper Liberation, claiming that Hascoët had made sexually explicit comments to staff, forced subordinates to drink excessively, and gave colleagues cakes that they had no idea contained marijuana. Cannabis is illegal for personal use in France.
There were issues with other staff as well. Former designer Vercuiel claimed that while a group of staff in Bulgaria were watching a trailer for Star Wars: The Force Awakens “People just collectively went, ‘Hey, look, it’s a monkey” when John Boyega appeared on screen. Former purchasing specialist Dawn Le was told by her manager in San Francisco to smile more, or risk losing her job.
Both were reported to human resources, and were allegedly ignored. “You complain about something, it just gets swept under the rug,” Vercuiel told Bloomberg.
Former Ubisoft customer service employee Nina Stewart claims last year her manager would describe other women’s bodies in an explicit manner, while making derogatory comments about her gender and weight; even in front of other staff.
Despite talking to human resources twice, on both occasions she was allegedly told to “talk it out” with him. Only after a third time- and with corroboration from a male co-worker, was the manager removed. In exchange, Stewart was allegedly given a compensatory $200 Visa gift card.
Six former or current employees of Ubisoft’s Toronto office made similarly damning accusations. When Rima Brek was acting as interim director human resources (also vice president editorial Maxime Béland’s wife), two reported incidents during that time allegedly resulted the victims feeling they were ostracized after, and labeled as “troublemakers.”
Béland also allegedly had a foul temper, four staff claiming to Bloomberg that he would even scream at staff in meetings. He had also been accused of choking one female employee during a party. While the story was shared among staff, Kotaku claim when the story became public knowledge on social media, Béland was fired three days later.
Two of the four people discussing Béland claimed he also touched women inappropriately at parties and work events. Kotaku also claimed from their anonymous source he would make inappropriate comments, and stare at women as they walked past.
10 people claim that in the Paris headquarters Tommy François (an associate of Hascoët and 13-year member of Ubisoft) would flirt openly with subordinates, make homophobic jokes, and gave unwanted massages. New staff were allegedly told this behavior was “Tommy being Tommy.”
Five people told Bloomberg that they had reported François to human resources for the past decade; some on multiple occasions. These were for sexual propositions and “genital grabbing.” One claimed that despite writing an email to the CEO about François, he was promoted soon after.
One woman who worked at the headquarters also claimed that colleagues sent her sexually explicit messages and pornographic videos. François (her superior) also allegedly asked her out for drinks “four or five” times; which she rejected each time.
These incidents were all allegedly reported to human resources, to no avail. Instead, she was allegedly asked at one point to move to an Ubisoft studio in a different country. When she did, she claims she was told “you can’t be a producer—you’re a woman” on a frequent basis. She quit less than a year after relocating.
Ubisoft’s allegedly frat-house attitude also affected their games, as Bloomberg explain with examples of Assassin’s Creed games where female protagonists are seemingly rejected in favor of male ones.
Early versions of Assassin’s Creed Syndicate allegedly (according to three people who worked on the game) had equal screen time for protagonists Jacob and Evie. The final product had (in Bloomberg’s words) Jacob “dominating” the game. Early plans for Assassin’s Creed Origins also would have had Bayek killed off early in the story, with his wife Aya taking over.
Assassin’s Creed Odyssey was originally proposed to have Kassandra as the only playable character over Alexios, with the final game giving players a choice between the two.
These changes are allegedly indicative of the sexism “ingrained” into Ubisoft, according to former and current employees. These directives allegedly came from either Ubisoft or Hascoët; both stating a female protagonist would not sell the game.
Staff also claimed they would make big compromises in other areas to prevent changes in others, or outright cancellation. Hascoët allegedly loathed linear storytelling and cutscenes. This resulted in writers allegedly putting in strong male leads to “distract” him from elements he would have otherwise loathed.
Bloomberg puts the blame for Ubisoft’s biggest flops in 2019; The Divison 2 and Ghost Recon Breakpoint, squarely at Hascoët’s feet. Citing their similar themes (“large, open-world environments giving the player a list of tasks to accomplish and checkpoints to clear“), and Ubisoft’s stock dropping 40% that year.
Due to this, the editorial department was overhauled, allegedly with seven staff members promoted to vice presidents under Hascoët, while distributing his influence over projects for more diverse games and ideas. However these included Béland and François. All of those promoted were also men.
Former Ubisoft narrative designer Kim Belair places the core of the issue at Ubisoft being a family-run business, with everyone in higher positions of power being so close to one anther. “The entire mindset of the company has to change. These bad actors were allowed to exist in this system. We have to reevaluate this system. We have to look at why this culture exists.”
Both a spokesperson for Ubisoft, and the former Ubisoft executives reportedly declined to comment; the latter despite several requests.