For the last few weeks, Ubisoft has sat at the center of attention for all the wrong reasons. Allegations of sexual abuse, harassment, and other forms of impropriety paint a horrid picture about the state of the things within the French company. Consequently, several executives and developers have been let go, with Ubisoft promising to restructure its editorial team. But it seems the publisher’s reported culture of misogyny found its way into a few games, too, most notably those in the Assassin’s Creed series.
A report from Bloomberg dives deeper into the claims, centering on accusations that the Guillemots, the family behind Ubisoft, too long mishandled allegations of abuse. Serge Hascoët, who recently resigned from his CCO post, was especially considered an untouchable fixture. His role allowed him to green light nearly every project that rolled out of Ubisoft’s doors. In turn, he held an executive authority only eclipsed by that of CEO Yves Guillemot.
It comes as no surprise, then, that Hascoët is being accused of meddling in creative endeavors at Ubisoft’s various studios. Given the nature of the harassment accusations that plague his name, it’s also no surprise his reported meddling is the reason a female protagonist has yet to exclusively serve as the lead of mainline Assassin’s Creed installment.
According to current and ex-staff who spoke with Bloomberg, the desire to focus more on female leads dates back to 2015’s AC Syndicate. Reportedly, one of the script’s early outlines featured twins Jacob and Evie Frye receiving an equal amount of screen time. As many may recall, Jacob was playable for a considerably longer amount of time in the final product. This level of “machismo” within Ubisoft influenced the development of AC Origins, as well. Sources allege Bayek’s arc originally saw him seriously wounded or killed early in the narrative. The player would’ve then been given control of his wife, Aya. Her role shrank drastically throughout production, leaving Bayek as the main protagonist. Such a revelation seems especially egregious, since, in AC lore, Aya is the founder of the Assassin’s Order.
2018’s AC Odyssey suffered a similar fate. Initially, the team behind the project wanted only Kassandra to star as the leading Assassin. According to Bloomberg’s sources, the Odyssey crew were told to walk back those plans. Thus, Odyssey allows players to assume the role of Kassandra or her brother, Alexios. Assassin’s Creed Valhalla is now doing something similar, making Eivor either male of female (which can be changed at any point in the game).
The report notes these instructions were either given by Hascoët or Ubisoft’s marketing department, neither of whom believed female leads could sell a game. Of course, such a nonsensical notion ignores the likes of Horizon: Zero Dawn, which sold more than 10 million copies and has a highly-anticipated sequel on the way. There’s also the success of The Last of Us Part II, Crystal Dynamics’ recent Tomb Raider games, and a number of other titles centering on playable female characters.
Ubisoft’s developers couldn’t necessarily disregard directives from Hascoët or the marketing team, even if said directives deliberately contradicted a team’s creative vision. Apparently, Hascoët’s displeasure in a project could result in “detrimental” changes or cancellation. The former CCO, for instance, supposedly wasn’t keen on “linear storytelling and cut scenes.” To appease his interests, writers often had to insert a “strong male lead.”
It’ll be interesting to see how the exodus of Ubisoft’s allegedly less savory executives influences future projects. The company recently restructured its editorial team in pursuit of less homogeneous game design, but it seems like many of the core creative decisions may have been coming from the top all along.