Ubisoft’s Next Showcase Cannot Distract From The Needs Of Its Employees
Financially speaking, Ubisoft seems to be in a lot of trouble. A weak release calendar throughout 2021 and 2022 and a string of underperforming games as far back as 2019’s Ghost Recon Breakpoint contributed to a decline in sales and a drop in operating profit. In the previous fiscal year, Ubisoft’s stock lost half of its total value, and now CEO Yves Guillemot has taken a voluntary 30 percent pay cut in accordance with the company’s failure to reach its stated financial goals. What’s more, many of Ubisoft’s upcoming projects seem to be stuck in development hell, including Beyond Good & Evil 2, Skull & Bones, and the Prince of Persia Remake. Ubisoft needs a big hit, and it needs it soon.
By this time of year, we would normally know what Ubisoft has planned. The standard June E3 press conference, which was replaced by the digital Ubisoft Forward showcase in 2020, didn’t happen this month. Instead, we got an Assassin’s Creed anniversary stream that could have been an email, and the promise that we’d see more games later this year. According to rumors, Skull & Bones will be re-revealed in July. Possibly, one might speculate, during a larger Ubisoft summer showcase.
We all know how these things go. Ubisoft shows off a bunch of exciting games, some we knew about and some we didn’t, it takes over the news cycle for a few days, and the stock price briefly shoots up. Everyone writes headlines like “Splinter Cell: Fisher’s Revenge Could Save The Franchise” and “Tom Clancy’s SuperCyber Soldier Is The Ubisoft Game I Never Knew I Needed”. This is what will happen because this is what always happens, but there’s a bigger picture here that’s worth remembering.
In July 2021, a year after Ubisoft’s long history of systemic discrimination and harassment came to light, more than 1,000 current and former Ubisoft employees signed a letter to management that demanded specific action be to end abuse at the company. The letter bid the company to stop protecting known offenders by transferring them between studios, a cross-industry collaboration to establish a process for handling workplace abuse, and for the employees to be given a seat at the table so that they can be involved in company decisions that impact its future. In January, the employee group A Better Ubisoft posted a timeline of the events that followed.
It took Ubisoft nearly three months to reply to the letter. The employees’ concerns were addressed during an internal presentation in October. The message was “we hear you”, but for the members of A Better Ubisoft who had demanded action, the response was insufficient. By the time of the group’s last update in January, the key concerns had still not been properly addressed, and no meaningful change to the structure of Ubisoft or its HR processes had taken place. In the intro of Ubisoft’s latest earning report, where Guillemot announced he was taking a paycut, the CEO bragged about “ambitious” plans to make Ubisoft diverse and inclusive. It sounds like the employees have been waiting a long time to find out what those plans are.
It’s so tempting to follow the business narrative here, to look at the stock prices and the release calendar and do some armchair analytics. I spent the first part of this article doing exactly that. I just worry about overshadowing the very real and important fight going on within Ubisoft, and I don’t want to see a big exciting showcase distract us from that. I’m personally looking forward to some new Ubisoft games, like Mario + Rabbids 2 and Avatar, but we need to be able to celebrate these things while still showing support for the people that make them. Game companies have often used conveniently timed game announcements to sidetrack the conversation and avoid accountability. Regardless of whether or not that’s what is happening here, let’s not forget about A Better Ubisoft and everything they’re fighting for this July.
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