Dec 6, 2021 - Technology

Ubisoft admits its handling of misconduct lost some workers' trust

Photo collage of a woman wearing a shirt with a Ubisoft logo and a screenshot of a video game starring a viking

Photo illustration: Axios Visuals. Photos: Ubisoft, IGDB

Ubisoft management is acknowledging that its initial response to an ongoing and wide-reaching workplace misconduct scandal was flawed, even as it argues that its corrective actions were largely swift and correct.

Why it matters: Those comments, in an exclusive interview with Axios, come amid recent pushback from workers that the publisher of Assassin’s Creed and Just Dance hasn’t sufficiently addressed a cascade of #MeToo allegations since mid-2020.

What they're saying: “At the beginning of the crisis, we spent a lot of time making sure that we had the right process in place, that we were able to very quickly and efficiently run an investigation and get to some outcomes,” Ubisoft chief people officer Anika Grant said during a video conversation from the company’s headquarters in Paris.

  • “What I think we missed, though, is the employee experience through that. I don't think we always communicated enough back to the people who had raised an issue in the first place about what we found as part of the investigations — the decisions that we made and the actions that we took. And so I think, unfortunately, people lost trust in that process.”
  • Grant is now committing to better follow-through for workers who report misconduct. “That's something right now we are 100% focused on fixing.”

Catch up quick: Ubisoft has been the subject of harassment and misconduct allegations since June 2020, with claims of abuse by powerful men at the company in offices in France, Canada and Singapore that had gone unpunished for years.

  • In July 2020, Ubisoft co-founder and CEO Yves Guillemot promised to take action, and several top people exited, including its chief creative officer and its head of HR, though usually without any public statement as to why.
  • Ubisoft conducted internal listening sessions, hired its first global head of D&I, added an anonymous reporting system, and rolled out a more comprehensive, mandatory company code of conduct. A company survey indicated that a quarter of workers had seen or experienced workplace misconduct.
  • This summer, more than 1,000 current and former developers criticized the company, in the words of the A Better Ubisoft worker group, “for more than a year of kind words, empty promises and an inability or unwillingness to remove known offenders.”
  • Revelations this summer about years of workplace abuse at Activision Blizzard have led to worker groups at both gaming giants expressing solidarity.

Grant, who joined Ubisoft in April and was initially based in Singapore, attributes the 35-year-old, 20,000-employee company’s workplace problems to, among other things, growing “really fast.”

  • She said the company lacked an up-to-date code of conduct, anonymous reporting channels and goals for hiring a diverse workforce.

Ubisoft worker complaints over the past year have dropped, Grant says. To her, this shows positive change is underway.

  • “Not only has the volume of cases that are being raised up or alerts happening declined enormously, but what we're also seeing is that the severity of the kinds of things that are being reported has decreased,” she said.
  • The company is “thinking carefully” about what it can share about the complaints in next year’s annual report. (No gaming company releases reports of misconduct on a routine basis, though Microsoft shareholders voted last week to compel the company to issue an annual report about its handling of sexual harassment.)
  • Grant also says Ubisoft surpassed its 2023 goal of a 24% female workforce in August, noting that 32% of its hires this year were women.

An open letter from dissatisfied workers this past summer issued demands to management. The first: “stop promoting and moving known offenders from studio to studio, team to team, with no repercussions.”

  • “We don't do that at all,” Grant said. Anyone at the company who has been reported for misconduct has been investigated, she said. If they’re still at Ubisoft, they were either exonerated or sanctioned.
  • There have nevertheless been several public accounts that assert workplace abuse continues to happen. “I'm not going to comment on individual cases,” Grant said.
  • Asked if Ubisoft would go back to correct the handling of some earlier complaints to better inform people of any consequences, she said, “I think our focus really is moving forward."

Workers have also said some of the company’s actions have had a silencing effect, even amid efforts by Grant to visit Ubisoft’s many studios and meet with employee groups.

  • “Ubisoft doesn’t have any policy that prevents team members from sharing their workplace experiences publicly,” Grant said.
  • A caveat: She says the company asks people involved in investigations to keep them confidential “to protect the integrity of the process and the rights of all those involved.”

The big picture: As with Activision, many workers and critics of Ubisoft are at an impasse with management. One side says much has already been done, with the other demanding reforms.

  • For Activision, attention has turned to CEO Bobby Kotick, his own actions around misconduct and calls for him to resign.
  • Grant stands by Ubisoft CEO Guillemot, who has never been directly accused of misconduct but who’s been at the company throughout. She says Ubisoft can heal with him in charge.
  • “I recognize it's a long journey,” she said. “I know we are not yet where we want to be. But I do think that we are seeing incremental improvements every day.”

Editor's note: This article has been corrected to reflect that Anika Grant joined Ubisoft in April (not six months ago).

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