Ubisoft’s former chief creative officer Serge Hascoët, who recently resigned amid multiple allegations of abuse, reportedly wielded a huge amount of influence over Ubisoft games, using it to minimise female protagonists and, according to a new Bloomberg report, squashing games in genres he didn’t like.
Earlier this year, Dragon Age designer Mike Laidlaw, who had been working on a mystery game for Ubisoft since 2018, left the company. No game was announced, but according to sources that Bloomberg claims are familiar with the project it was an Arthurian RPG code-named Avalon. It was cancelled in 2019.
The team, with Laidlaw as the game director, envisioned a sword-and-sorcery style fantasy romp, but they quickly came up against a big obstacle: Hascoët and his dislike of fantasy. The creative boss allegedly had it in for the genre and set a very high bar for the team, demanding that it be “better than Tolkien”.
Hascoët apparently rejected several fantasy pitches before Avalon and continued to shoot down ideas from the Avalon team after development started. While things were progressing well, according to people involved in its development, Hascoët wasn’t content.
In 2019, some pretty huge changes were made to appease him, including a science-fiction setting and another based on Greek mythology. All of these changes were rejected, though Ubisoft did announce another RPG inspired by Greek mythology, Gods & Monsters, around the same time. It was originally due in February 2020, but it’s been indefinitely delayed.
By autumn 2019, Avalon was done, with Laidlaw leaving a few months later. Hascoët has been blamed for stifling creativity, allegedly telling the marketing team that women don’t sell. This led to creative changes in various games, like Bayek becoming Assassin’s Creed Origins’ protagonist instead of his wife, Aya, who was originally going to have top billing.
Over the last month, abusers across the industry have been called out, and a large number of those allegations have been made against Ubisoft employees and executives. Hascoët, Ubisoft Montreal CEO Yannis Mallat, head of HR Cécile Cornet and vice president Maxime Béland have all resigned, while creative director Ashraf Ismail has stepped down from his position and taken a leave of absence.
Ubisoft CEO Yves Guillemot tried to dodge the blame by saying that other employees have “betrayed the trust” he placed in them, rather than taking responsibility for the long-term issues and abuse occurring in the company he runs. Guillemot has also promised a structural shift to address workplace toxicity, but the last time Ubisoft had a shake up it promoted two people who have since been accused of harassment, Béland and vice president of editorial Tommy François.
Guillemot has now stepped into the role of chief creative officer, though this is apparently only temporary. It remains to be seen, then, what shape the structural changes take and if they can undo what seem like deep-seated problems.