AC Sisterhood Interviews ABetterUbisoft

One year ago the employee group known as ABetterUbisoft kicked off their public campaign and signed an open letter to Ubisoft management, calling for more action to tackle reports of abuse. In this exclusive interview, AC Sisterhood interviewed individual members of ABetterUbisoft. The responses reflect these individuals’ own personal views. We’re using pseudonyms to protect their identities.



ACS: “What are some changes that have been enacted since the stories about abuse started to emerge in the summer of 2020? Do you feel this change has been largely a policy change or has it affected the company culture?”


Guillaume:
“WFH is a godsend for anyone who realized through the pandemic that they are far happier and far more productive working fully remote. WFH is also the perfect protection from toxic managers who, frankly, no longer know how to operate in a workplace where they can’t always quietly intimidate and threaten employees face-to-face, off the record. When working from home, all communication is on the record.”

Audrey:
“I hate how Yves [Guillemot, CEO] blames remote work for our drop in productivity during the pandemic and not the fact that people were sick, under constant anxiety, had to work while having their children at home, all while the world was falling apart before our eyes. It also grinds my gears when people discuss labor shortage without acknowledging that we lost a significant part of the workforce to COVID-19, refusing to discuss the effects of long COVID, and having a significant amount of people who died because of the disease and/or from the healthcare systems being overwhelmed.
Heck, we still have had to cut back on some deliverables this summer, pushing back new features, just because we had a lot of people catch COVID-19. [It] is making a significant impact.”

Nicolas:
“We hear that our annual attrition rate for senior staff peaked even higher than we had thought over the last year. At one point we were losing them at a rate of more than 1 in 3.”

Guillaume:
“Here’s an idea for management: take all complaints of bullying and intimidation seriously, get rid of all the offenders, and perhaps more devs will feel comfortable and safe returning.”


When asked to elaborate on ABU’s key demands, one person explains that initially employees sought opportunities to discuss with management how to change the company culture. Instead of open discussions, employees were given surveys to fill and—several months later—a brief summary on what the general ‘sentiment’ was based on these surveys, with a promise that the collective sentiment would be acted on. Employees were not given details on how or when they would see these actions taken.

Interviewees also still firmly believe that Ubisoft continues to promote and move known offenders from studio to studio instead of having them face proper repercussions for their actions.

Benoit:
“It is still happening. I believe that whilst global management may not be aware of it as such, on a local level nothing has been done to prevent the cultures that foster the protection of ‘the best people’.”

Guillaume:
“We know of at least nine alleged abusers named in this thread and elsewhere in the press who are still employed at Ubisoft today. Some have changed roles, been given more responsibility and moved to different studios. We say ‘alleged abusers’ because as a group of employees we can’t verify all anonymous reports. But—and this is really important to understand—we personally made complaints against these people. Some of us witnessed and experienced abuse from them first-hand. So the answer is YES. Not only do we believe it’s still happening but we can see it happening for ourselves.”

Cyril:
“Even when they force abusers to quit, they are still protecting them. From what we know, Serge Hascoët, Michel Ancel, Maxime Béland and many others have not been fired, they simply resigned. They have faced nothing. They just moved away from the issue and did not justify anything. Some of them just find another job elsewhere inside the game industry.”


ACS: “Ubisoft has repeatedly assured fans and employees that it has made significant progress toward positive change. You have expressed that you don’t believe these changes are enough. What do you think still needs to change for the better? What are some ways you think this can be achieved?”

Audrey:
“The day we don’t have to fight for representation in our games and in our teams is the day I’d say this objective is mostly achieved. We’re not there yet.”

Cyril:
“Firing harassers is good, but harassers are not creating the whole toxic culture by themselves, they are the symptoms of this culture. Ubisoft has done nothing yet that matters to change this culture. Ubisoft still places its confidence in managers who have proven that they may still be part of the issue. The overall system is still very vertical, with HQ taking [baffling] decisions and employees being hurt by stray bullets.”

Guillaume:
“It’s true that we have a new, very small but passionate D&I department who are working on cultural and systemic changes for the future. But that work is incredibly under-staffed and under-funded, and therefore painfully slow. So evidence of real, permanent change on the ground is extremely hard to see. In the meantime we’ve seen a clear backlash internally against the D&I work and initiatives, with measures and language designed to prevent abusive behavior now being used to silence and shut down all dissent.”

Benoit:
“Transparency is key. For two years now I have seen company-wide presentations where management will say “We’re looking forward to continuing to make progress in this area as we have done in the past X months” when the progress made is oft impossible to see and the ‘progress’ we’re promised is nothing but that line. There are often no plans to go with the promise, no roadmap, no deadlines or targets for when things might happen or what might happen.
Management often uses the excuse that because these things take a long time, and often morph and evolve along the way, we can’t be told until they’re ready to launch the change/initiative immediately. We are adults, we also work in games. Games notoriously evolve, morph and change rapidly over their productions, so we are well equipped to understand that this may be the same when it comes to making large changes to company culture. But we are not trusted like adults, we must be spoon-fed only complete initiatives with no consultation with us, the employees, who they affect the most.”

Hélène:
“Without organized worker power, no lasting systemic change will be possible. No matter how much management tries to conceal it, above all they are here to make profit. Any desire to create good games for our communities, respect employees, establish better working conditions or improve diversity and inclusion is subordinate to that, always. That’s why only unions with legal and court-ordered bargaining power can turn things around.”


After having unsuccessfully tried other paths to negotiate with management, all of the people we interviewed now feel that unionization is the best way to have their voices heard.

Hélène:
“[Having a seat at the table] means bargaining power to push for binding, collective labor agreements. High management will never significantly improve things for us unless made to, simply because it cuts into their profits and could endanger them buying their next yacht. We need employee representatives and committees that have the power to stand up to leadership and negotiate better working conditions.
Going public with our demands and accusations was an important step to grow internally, gather public support, and spread the word about what’s really going on behind closed doors. But none of that is affecting company profits enough to make management change much. Unions give us power to negotiate that they can not simply ignore, and as such seems like the only way to get anywhere.”

Guillaume:
“ABU has members from all over the world in many different states, districts and countries. Employment law varies wildly from one place to another which means that although we can support each other globally, official efforts to unionize must be local. Many of us are members of growing unions, all at different stages of the process. I believe that real change will only come when more workers join up and take a stand.”

Benoit:
“In many countries with Ubisoft offices it is compulsory to have a union when a company reaches a certain size, or to have employee representatives with legally enforced powers. It seems unfair that this recognition of unions/employee representatives isn’t replicated equally across all Ubisoft studios, meaning that studios such as Massive and those in France have a direct channel of employee representation from employees to management whereas those in the US, UK, India, Ukraine, Singapore etc. do not.
Initially I wanted to avoid a direct call for unionization due to the fear some people have when you throw the word ‘union’ around, but now I feel voluntary recognition of unions is the way we gain that seat at the table that we demand.”


ACS: “What are some potential advantages you hope to achieve with union representatives that can’t be achieved within the status quo?”


Audrey:
“We need better protection and enforcement of workers’ rights, especially for those in non-management roles.”

Guillaume:
“Management’s solution to every problem we face is always patronizingly, paternalistically top-down. Everything they do, no matter what it is, has to be centrally controlled and carefully limited. I firmly believe that any real solution to safety in the workplace and addressing toxic management can only come from the bottom up. 
It could not have been clearer in 2020, when the huge scale of harassment and abuse was revealed by whistleblowers—mostly on Twitter and then by the press—that central control and the regular, systemic cover-up of complaints was the root of the problem. The only way to complain was internally to managers or HR, and effectively that is still the case. 
Management made a big deal of paying for a new ‘independent’ company to manage the collection of complaints, but all they do is report directly to the same management and HR structure that our complaints went to before. There is no non-management or union oversight of this process. Two years later that ‘independent’ company is still doing the same work and has long since effectively become just another Ubisoft office. There’s nothing independent about it.”

Hélène:
“At the moment none of our demands have any meaningful power behind them (outside of publicity) let alone legally binding power. In many countries, unions—once established and legally approved—do have that power. Management must talk to [union representatives] and negotiate; we’d no longer be at the mercy of their good will. Plus, once we have a proper union structure in place we can organize much better and go on strike en masse if things continue to deteriorate. I say let’s see them hit their deadlines without us.”


When asked whether employees have experienced so-called “union-busting” tactics within Ubisoft, the answer is a resounding ‘yes’. In some studios attempts to organize have been met with resistance from managers who attempted to persuade workers that it was a bad idea or even pressured workers to sign documents promising they would not attempt to unionize.

Benoit:
“Yes, union-busting is a subtle art form. Discussion about how “we don’t like politics here” or “we want you to come and speak directly to us” and similar are union-busting tactics that make the employees feel as if they’re being heard. We went from being allowed anonymous questions, to having to be named in them when speaking to management, putting the fear of reprisal into those who might otherwise stand up to poor decisions.”


ABU members cite Activision-Blizzard worker group ABetterABK as an inspiration and a beacon of hope for what is possible when employees band together for their rights. Hélène believes that Ubisoft having so many global studios, each with their own regional differences, means workers are still too internationally scattered to organize as impactfully as ABetterABK members have done. Supporters of ABetterABK were able to contribute to a public fund to help protect employees’ livelihoods for the duration of organized strikes and employee walkouts. Hélène believes more still needs to happen before such a thing could be possible for ABU.

Hélène:
“We need more workers to take active part in the movement, better networks and communication, as well as education and training about tactics, long-term strategies and worker power in general. It’s not easy because for obvious reasons management is doing their best to discourage people from talking to each other. For example “you can always talk to HR” is a favorite distraction to give people a fake sense of being listened to, while also conveniently letting the company know who the ‘complainers’ and ‘trouble-makers’ are. But we are working on it and hopefully we will see a lot more of that in the future.”


ACS: “Players often feel torn between wanting to support the developers’ hard work by playing and appreciating their games vs. boycotting the company’s products to signal that they don’t support how the reports of abuse have been handled. Where do you stand on this?”

Cyril:
“Generally speaking, I believe boycotting games is no good unless the devs are calling for it.”

Audrey:
“Gamers can vote with their money but they can also vote with their voice. I think it’s important, especially for content creators, to bring forth the issues but also when a gaming company gets it right.”

Hélène:
“Boycotting is useful when it’s clear why people are doing it, when the company sees a significant dip in sales along with lots of publicity around why that is happening (e.g. fans boycotting the new Harry Potter game because of J.K. Rowling’s repulsive transphobia). If that’s not the case, management likes to just push responsibility for low sales on any number of other factors. Including us workers or—more recently—work from home, which has been a significant improvement in quality of life for many colleagues with low sales now being used as a pretense to reintroduce mandatory work from the office and long commutes. So I think it’s difficult to give a blanket answer without looking at individual circumstances.”


ACS: “What are the best ways fans and players can support ABetterUbisoft?”

Hélène:
“Social media. There is a seemingly never-ending supply of toxic anti-worker trolls who think we should just shut up and take the exploitation so they can get their next game already, or who think that because they don’t like a game our company made, we deserve to be abused. Seeing those comments is not fun, but every time somebody else stands with us in those situations it feels like we’re a little less alone in this fight against the corporate machinery. We see you, and we appreciate you very much.

And, of course, talk to your own co-workers about organizing, no matter where you are! The more we normalize unions and worker power across all industries the better every last one of us will be—all at the low price of a bunch of one-percenters being slightly less ridiculously rich. Looking at the big picture we’re all in the same boat here. Solidarity across all industries is what will eventually bring about lasting change.”


Morale about the future of Ubisoft varies from person to person. While there is plenty of frustration and uncertainty, some express careful hope that change is possible.

Hélène:
“I feel disappointment and resentment within the group due to management’s
inaction. Leadership keeps pretending they’ve changed so much, that things are
different now – relying on results from internal surveys with biased questions
and their own make-believe. But our salaries are still trash, there’s still toxicity
in the studios, and we are losing experienced developers in droves. Many
people are leaving or have already left the company for studios with better
conditions or just a different industry all together. The frustration is tangible.
There’s been some reshuffling at the higher levels, some people leaving, some
being moved around, some newly introduced, and some new positions created.
The vibe has changed a bit thanks to that, but there are still plenty of known
abusers in the company and it will take a long time still before it could be called
a transformation. There are a ton of new company initiatives, trainings, a long
code of conduct etc. that we go through, but that doesn’t help too much if
powerful people in the company continue to behave terribly and remain
untouchable.”

Guillaume:
“One year later and management have completely failed to work with us or meet our four key demands. But we do know that our presence is felt and we
believe our campaign has altered the company’s course. A rumored high profile
role for one serial abuser never materialized, and more have quietly left the
payroll.
What keeps us together is the open letter and our four key demands. In the
process of taking that stand together, we’ve built a powerful foundation for the
future: a huge support network that can collectively push to make Ubisoft a
better place to work.”


When reached out for comment, Ubisoft’s Chief People Officer Anika Grant provided AC Sisterhood with this statement:

“Ubisoft responded swiftly to the allegations that arose in 2020, and since then we have made great strides on our commitment to building a workplace where everyone feels safe, valued and respected. As a part of this work, we have made significant changes to our HR organization, including the creation of a specialized Employee Relations team that is dedicated to helping prevent and effectively resolve incidents. We have revamped our reporting channels to ensure all team members have the ability to speak up and feel comfortable doing so, and work closely with third-party external partners to ensure investigations are anonymous and unbiased. Any team member who has been named in a report and remains at Ubisoft has had their case rigorously reviewed and has either been cleared, or appropriately disciplined. If a disciplined employee does stay on they will have an individualized action plan to support and monitor their progress.

As we advance, we are also channeling our efforts in prevention. We have strengthened our Code of Conduct, created a new mandatory training on harassment and discrimination for all employees that is required for new hires and then for all team members in an annual refresh. We also introduced changes last year in our performance evaluation system to ensure we are fostering an inclusive environment where success is not just about what teams achieve, but also how they achieve it. Over the coming year we will partner with our teams to continue to evolve and refine our approach to further strengthen this link.

We believe in the importance of open, honest dialogue and ensuring our teams have different channels to provide feedback, through forums such as global and local townhalls, office hours and regular employee listening surveys. Our Employee Resource Groups participate in frequent discussions with leadership teams, including Yves, who meets quarterly with the global ERG leaders. In addition, leadership engages regularly with their relevant local employee representatives and we have elected employee representatives on our Board of Directors. Ubisoft’s people strategy is built upon the principles of listening, transparency and accountability. We are committed to continuing to engage in open and honest dialogue with all our employees and ensuring that their feedback can help shape our global HR strategies and initiatives.

Looking forward, we are committed to putting diversity and inclusion at the heart of everything we do. To lead this work, we have created a strong and growing Diversity, Inclusion and Accessibility team who is responsible for engaging everyone at Ubisoft on this journey and ensuring it is a strategic priority at all levels of our organization, from our teams to our games.”


Published by acsisterhood

AC Sisterhood is a movement that strives to highlight women's accomplishments as well as the challenges they face within the video game industry. Started by a group of passionate Assassin's Creed fans in 2020, the movement advocates for fair and equitable treatment of all who work in games, and solidarity and safe conditions for the players who engage with those games.

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