Ubisoft is facing backlash from staff after over 1000 employees signed a letter in support of Activision-Blizzard staff that walked out of the company on Wednesday in protest of the toxic working conditions. The letter, written in reaction to an internal email sent by CEO Yves Guillemot, expresses solidarity with the abused at Activision-Blizzard and calls out Ubisoft management for their handling of similar cases within the company.
Last year, three big names at Ubisoft were forced to resign following reports that they had ignored sexual misconduct claims and created a culture of harassment, often related to drinking at company events. Those forced to step down included Yannis Mallat, who was Managing Director of Ubisoft’s Canadian studios after the firm said that "recent allegations that have come to light in Canada against multiple employees make it impossible for him to continue in this position."
Chief Creative Officer Serge Hascoët was also forced to leave the company, alongside head of Human Relations Cécile Cornet, with Ubisoft stating they were doing "comprehensive work... to improve and strengthen its workplace culture". This was part of a "rigorous review that the Company initiated in response to recent allegations and accusations of misconduct and inappropriate behavior", according to a statement released at the time, but the more recent letter casts doubt over the veracity of those claims.
According to the employees that undersigned the letter, this was mere lip service, with staff stating they have seen nothing more than "kind words, empty promises and an inability or unwillingness to remove known offenders". They state simply that the company needs "to do more" and accuse them of choosing profit over the security and wellbeing of their staff, something that will be all too familiar to those involved in the Activision-Blizzard situation.
Perhaps most damning is the assessment of how Ubisoft reacted, with employees saying they have "stood by and watched as you fired only the most public offenders. You let the rest resign or worse, promoted them." The letter demands that staff are included in future discussions as to how the company moves forward, with employees having lost faith in their employers’ ability or desire to change the company culture for the better or hold those guilty parties accountable for their actions.
This will worry Ubisoft in particular, as the reference to collective bargaining power for staff could be a precursor to unionization for an industry that seems to need representation for employees to avoid future scandal. Activision themselves have already retained a law firm known for their anti-union work, but it may be that massive publishing giants are forced to accept worker rights are no longer something they can ignore, and give the people responsible for their success a greater voice in how the companies are run.
In an email obtained by Axios’s Stephen Totilo, CEO Yves Guillemot did respond to the claims, in part dismissing the idea nothing has changed and claiming the company has made ‘important progress’. The reception to this will be interesting, with similar claims made by Activision in the past week dismissed as tone-deaf and offensive by the people involved, as well as remaining staff still at the publishing giant.
Toward the end of the open letter from Ubisoft staff is a powerful call to action, stating baldly that "We need real, fundamental change, within Ubisoft, within ActivisionBlizzard, and across the industry." In the wake of the slew of allegations against both companies, it is hard to argue that is not the case, but the conduct of Ubisoft as described in the letter suggests there are many bridges to cross before workers in game development are treated with the same dignity and respect they deserve and that their employers claim to give them.