Multiple Ubisoft executives have resigned; after the company begun an internal investigation due to numerous executives being accused of sexual misconduct.
On June 21st, streamer Dani Porter Bridges (“MatronEdna”) claimed in a tweet that she and Assassin’s Creed Valhalla creative director Ashraf Ismail had been in a relationship for one year “on and off,” despite Ismail being married [1, 2, 3, 4].
In alleged text messages, Ismail claimed he was divorced, but wore his wedding ring publicly to avoid upsetting his “traditional” Middle-Eastern family. He allegedly also refused to call directly, use FaceTime, or have packages sent to his home (instead going to his office).
Bridges motivation was seemingly after she discovered Ismail was married, and to prevent others for falling for similar alleged deception. After these claims were made public, Ismail allegedly begged Bridges to take down her tweets [1, 2, 3].
Ismail reportedly stated he was stepping down to “to properly deal with the personal issues in my life.” Continuing, Ismail stated “The lives of my family and my own are shattered. I am deeply sorry to everyone hurt in this. There are hundreds of talented, passionate people striving to build an experience for you that do not deserve to be associated with this. I wish them all the best.”
Ubisoft stated to Eurogamer “Ashraf Ismail is stepping down from the project to take a leave of absence. The development team is committed to delivering a great game in Assassin’s Creed Valhalla.”
The accusations against Ismail came at a time where other developers, publishers, and executives across the industry had been accused of inappropriate or abusive behavior [1, 2, 3]. Among these was accusations made by Kathryn Johnston on June 22nd [1, 2], accusing then Ubisoft brand marketing manager Andrien Gbinigie of rape.
One woman claimed to know Gbinigie’s other supposed victims, and supported Johnston’s claims. Another who worked at Ubisoft claimed they brought it up with their managers, but “they declined to follow up on this.”
On that day Gbinigie claimed these accusations were false in a now deleted Medium post. Gbinigie claimed he was not staying in the hotel where the assault took place, and requested CCTV from the hotel’s lobby and elevators, along with alleged messages between them starting platonic, before Gbinigie claimed there were unspecified “red flags” that made him avoid contact with her.
“We are deeply concerned by these accusations,” an Ubisoft spokesperson said in a statement to GamesIndustry.biz on June 24th. “We take any allegations of abuse or harassment very seriously and we are looking very closely into the allegations to determine next steps.”
On June 22nd, John Sylvester also accused then Ubisoft associate director of public relations Stone Chin (along with Logitech’s Alex Momney, Screen Rant reports) of being “sexual predators.” Sylvester did not specify if he himself was a victim, stating “I’m not going to name the victims because they shouldn’t have to be the ones to say it. And there are hundreds more just like them.”
Jay Acevedo also claimed he had told superiors at Ubisoft San Francisco their concerns about Chin, which were ignored. “Perhaps Ubisoft SF will now believe me when I suggested the investigation of Stone Chin back then. Dubious ways to network at events + one situation brought to light by a victim. Recall telling one of my colleagues at the time to ‘be careful and never be alone around him’.”
Another Twitter user replying to Acevedo claimed that Ubisoft San Francisco made the “willful choice to ignore multitudes of problematic behavior at all levels of the marketing ranks.”
On June 25th, Ubisoft issued a statement, addressing the accusations, and how they had begun investigations into them with “specialized external consultants.”
“Concerning recent allegations raised against certain Ubisoft team members: We want to start by apologizing to everyone affected by this – we are truly sorry. We are dedicated to creating an inclusive and safe environment for our teams, players, and communities. It is clear we have fallen short of this in the past. We must do better.
We have started by launching investigations into the allegations with the support of specialized external consultants. Based on the outcomes, we are fully committed to taking any and all appropriate disciplinary action. As these investigations are ongoing, we can’t comment further. We are also auditing our existing policies, processes, and systems to understand where these have broken down, and to ensure we can better prevent, detect, and punish inappropriate behavior.
We will be sharing additional measures that we are putting in place with our teams in the coming days. Our goal is to foster an environment that our employees, partners, and communities can be proud of – one that reflects our values and that is safe for everyone.”
Bloomberg reported on the 26th that vice presidents Tommy François and Maxime Béland had been placed on administrative leave among (in Bloomberg’s words) “several other employees” as part of the investigations at Ubisoft.
Neither of the executives responded to requests for comment to Bloomberg. Ubisoft spokeswoman Stephanie Magnier told Bloomberg “These are [sic] under investigation, so we are not commenting further at this time.”
Business Insider reported on June 28th that Ubisoft CEO Yves Guillemot stated in an internal email (that Business Insider obtained), he stated he was “profoundly affected” by messages he read from staff on Ubisoft’s internal messaging website Mana. He also stated he would “personally follow each of the situations that have been reported.”
Guillemot explained that he asked for “a multidisciplinary working group to be set up across the company” aided by “an external partner” to help address similar accusations in the future. The group will “have to come up with better solutions and tools to detect, report and resolve any incident or serious problem without delay and in an impartial manner.”
The group would also begin organizing focus group meetings for feedback from Ubisoft staff, where Guillemot states he “will regularly participate in these sharing sessions.”
On July 2nd Ubisoft issued another statement, this time from Guillemot. Titled “Change Starts Today“, it laid out Ubisoft’s internal changes. These include Guillemot’s decision to “revise the composition of the Editorial Department, transform our human resource processes, and improve the accountability of all managers on these subjects.”
Guillemot also assigned Lidwine Sauer (Projects Director in the Strategic Innovation Lab) as the newly created Head of Workplace Culture. There will also be “Employee Listening Sessions” (possibly the same ones as mentioned from the internal email above), and a Global Employee Survey.
An “online confidential alert platform” was also set up for employees and “external individuals” to report “harassment, discrimination and other inappropriate behaviors, including those that infringe on our Code of Fair Conduct.” The platform is administered by Whispli, with reports being reviewed by “a committee of CSR and legal experts.”
An external consulting firm would also be brought in to audit Ubisoft’s policies and procedures, utilizing the feedback from the aforementioned survey and listening sessions. “My goal is to ensure Ubisoft’s policies and procedures are best in class,” Guillemot states. “We will share the audit’s results and the subsequent changes that are rolled out as they happen.”
Finally, Guillemot’s statement discusses creating a new “Head of Diversity and Inclusion” position, who shall report directly to Guillemot. “I am committed to improving diversity across the organization, including in all of our management teams.”
“These concrete actions are just the beginning of profound changes at all levels,” Guillemot explains. “I am convinced that, all together, we will build a better Ubisoft for the benefit of all.”
Video Games Chronicle (VGC) reported on July 12th that two Ubisoft executives had resigned from their positions. These include Ubisoft’s managing director of their Canadian studios Yannis Mallat, and global head of human resources Cécile Cornet.
Ubisoft stated “the recent allegations that have come to light in Canada against multiple employees make it impossible for [Mallat] to continue in this position.” Further, they explained that they were restructuring their human resources team “in order to adapt it to the new challenges of the video game industry.”
French newspaper Liberation (via GamesIndustry.biz, all subsequent translation by GamesIndustry.biz) also reported an additional executive who resigned that same day; creative officer Serge Hascoët. He was said to be the main figure in Ubisoft’s “culture problems,” with one anonymous source telling Liberation he had “the most toxic behavior in the whole business.”
On July 14th, GamesIndustry.biz delved further into Liberation’s damning report, wherein anonymous sources claimed issues brought to human resources had been ignored for years. Human resources staff reportedly told those who brought complaints to them comments such as “They’re creatives, that’s how they work,” and “If you can’t work with him, maybe it’s time you go.”
Cornet had also allegedly tried to “clear HR’s name” and distance human resources from their duty after the allegations came to light. A “high ranking” employee dubbed Romane told Liberation “During the meeting, all the departments whose function is to guarantee a safe working environment, diversity, and inclusion were present, and there I was told that they needed to be cleared of all responsibilities.”
They described another staff call of 90 human resources managers as “grotesque.” “The Montreal HR boss intervened and said: ‘These articles are unfair, and if Yves doesn’t share a public statement that exonerates HR, it’s simple, I will leave Ubisoft with half of my team.’ After this, all his right-hand staff fell in line: ‘I agree’, ‘I agree’…”
“It was insane,” Romane said. “Our discussions took a weird turn, a number of HR would place themselves as the victims. Even if you can absolutely understand that not all HR departments are guilty of having concealed toxic behaviours, it still constitutes a collective failure.”
A human resources staff member told Liberation that out of all the recent claims sent to human resources, half of them had been previously brought up to them before. A quarter involved Hascoët, or members of the editorial team he led. He had also been described as misogynistic and homophobic.
Another source claimed that Ubisoft superiors attempted to quash issues until they were abandoned. Attempts to create a code of conduct in 2015 were also (in GameIndustry.biz’ words) “watered down” by human resources managers.
This included removing clauses for what would happen if a manager was accused of harassment; deemed “too pessimistic and employees would then believe that it can happen.”
One source claimed the anonymous reporting for harassment had been used two year prior to report corruption within Ubisoft. Pitches to use it for harassment complaints where rejected by Cornet.
A “Respect at Ubisoft” unit, created on June 22nd to deal with reports of harassment, had allegedly received over 100 cases since it formed, including cases of bullying and rape. 20 people are allegedly under investigation.
One source claimed that Cornet had stated “Yves is fine with a toxic management team as long as the results coming from these managers exceed their toxicity.” The source also claimed that Cornet had also said that Ubisoft believed “in third chances, or more, if it’s key personnel.”
Another source by the name of Catherine said that Guillemot had taken the recent accusations seriously, and that he wished to be informed about all cases. However, after Liberation‘s first article on July 1st, some Ubisoft managers have allegedly called the new actions a witch hunt, with reactions at numerous studios being “extreme.”
GamesIndustry.biz also delved into a report by Le Journal de Montréal. An anonymous employee stated working on “Far Cry has earned me two burnouts, psychological harassment, sexual harassment, sexism, humiliation, and human resources never deigned to listen to me.” [Translation: Google Translate].
These included comments on her physique, inappropriate invitations from the studio’s artistic director, and blackmail costing her a promotion. Working at that 3000 person Ubisoft studio was described as a “climate of terror.” The anonymous source even still feared repercussions for her career.
A dozen other sources told Le Journal de Montréal similar stories. A “long-time employee” stated the Ubisoft’s sexism was “something that is endemic, and not just in Montreal.” She claimed the team leader had told her she was hired because she was “cute,” and that it was surprising that she did her job well.
The employee also claimed that there was “no possibility of advancement. After nine years in the industry, I was paid less than men who had returned two years ago.”
There was also a reported blurring of work and leisure, which allegedly lead to predatory behavior. Staff would buy beer at 4 p.m. on a Friday, and during a winter party the employee claims she had her buttocks and breasts regularly pinched while moving from one building to another.
“Unfortunately, at Ubisoft, people who do wrong are protected. It is often people who are in high places, and if we go to see human resources or our managers, usually they do nothing,” she explained.
Finally she stated “If there is a concern, the targeted person receives a promotion. And if you ask questions about pay equity, you are simply told that you can lower your responsibilities, so that you have less stress. This is where I left Ubisoft.”