Ubisoft CEO Yves Guillemot responded to accusations rocking the French company this week during delivery of the FY2020-21 first-quarter sales results. The allegations at hand are very serious and include abusive and exploitative behavior by staff, which was ignored for years by management, as well as major issues with representation. Many Ubisoft staff have come forward with stories of Ubisoft execs routinely killing pushes for more female and minority main characters by saying they “don’t sell”.
There were also more direct allegations of creating a misogynistic and hostile environment across the company against Ubisoft’s chief creative officer Serge Hascoët. All in all, it’s not good for Ubi.
“While Ubisoft’s current performance and business prospects are stronger than ever, we nonetheless face a very serious challenge following the recent allegations and accusations of misconduct and inappropriate behavior within our Group. I am determined to make profound changes in order to improve and strengthen our corporate culture,” Guillemot said.
“We already have acted swiftly and firmly, announcing and introducing large-scale initiatives intended to transform our organization. Our overriding aim is ensuring that all Ubisoft employees have a safe and inclusive workplace environment. As a leader in our industry, we have to be intransigent in order to create an exemplary culture where everyone feels respected and valued. This is vital to ensure that all of the talented people who make up Ubisoft feel fulfilled in their jobs.”
The statements come after Ubisoft as a whole has promised various solutions to a culture of exploitation and abuse that has apparently been rampant within the game studio.
Ubisoft planned out five “major changes” currently in the works: The company will undertake an investigation with third-party consultants over the alleged abuse claims, the establishment of a confidential “listening and alert platform” to report harassment, discrimination, and other abuse, a “transformation” of the systems handling HR and complaints, and the hiring of a Head of Workplace Culture and Head of Diversity and Inclusion, which will report directly to the CEO on necessary matters.
These plans seem like they’re heading in the right direction, but for the Ubisoft CEO Yves Guillemot to say that the company has already acted implies that they think this is enough. Ubisoft is a name that many gamers trust, and the allegations suggest a more substantive change from top to bottom is needed.
There are other elements of the reform plan that some are pointing out as too vague to be helpful. Ubisoft CEO and other voices have routinely repeated the idea of “diversity performance criterion”, which basically means that “a portion of team leads’ bonuses will be tied to their ability to create a positive and inclusive workplace environment.” How the company will qualify these metrics is unclear, and could lead to some very strange cultural shifts that could actually make the problems worse.
Usual wisdom around incentivization implies that more freedom and support for creativity is better for achieving goals. If you want to deal with the problem of workplace harassment and abuse, you need to both give employees structure to report the problem and have an organic desire at the top level to combat such problems. Adding a monetary incentive kind of implies that people are being financially forced in a way. Who knows, maybe this will work out, but some people are skeptical.
Ubisoft is making steps in the right direction though, but this kind of multi-faceted problem will need rolling solutions that adjust to changes and new developments. Only time will tell if their strategy works or not.