In case you missed it over the last few weeks, Ubisoft has landed in quite a lot of trouble. As Bloomberg reported, the publisher faces allegations of rampant sexual harassment. The complaints range from comparatively subtle instances of sexist behavior to outright sexual assault on female employees. Ubisoft has been aware of the allegations for years and only recently acted in the face of media attention and public outcry. This allowed a culture of rampant misogyny to fester and spread throughout the company.
While this came as a surprise to the general public, this isn’t the first time that Ubisoft came under fire for allegations of sexism. Some may recall the small controversy that emerged in 2014 when word got out that there would be no playable female characters in the multiplayer mode for Assassin’s Creed Unity. This was unusual, as there had been female player characters in the multiplayer modes of several previous games in the series. Ubisoft only fanned the flames with their confused and contradictory public response.
And at the time, it did seem like it was being blown out of proportion. While the company’s excuses may seem weak in retrospect, some at least appeared to hold water. While they likely exaggerated the effort it would have taken to incorporate a female character into the game, it would still have been some effort.
It turns out this was not the only time female characters were cut from Ubisoft games, as IGN pointed out. The follow up to Unity, Assassin’s Creed: Syndicate, starred sibling protagonists Jacob and Evie Fry. While on the surface, that sounded like a step in the right direction, Jacob ended up receiving most of the focus. It turns out that wasn’t always the plan, as the original version of the script gave the two roughly equal prominence.
Something similar happened with both Assassin Creed Origins and Odyssey. The original script called for the protagonist Bayek to be killed at some point during the story. Players would then take control of his wife Aya for the rest of the game. In Odyssey, the development team had initially intended to make the female player character Kassandra the sole protagonist. Both of these decisions were overruled either by the marketing team or former Chief Creative Officer Serge Hascoët.
It is unfortunate but not unheard of for a game developer to dismiss the inclusion of female characters. It’s downright shocking to hear that Ubisoft took active steps to limit representation. This decision was evidently based on the belief that games with female main characters are harder to sell. That assumption is provably untrue and clearly shows the level of institutional misogyny that has been allowed to take root within Ubisoft’s management.