Jul 28, 2022 - Technology

Scoop: Ousted senior Ubisoft game developer quietly working for Tencent

Photo of a man in a sports jacket speaking on stage

Ashraf Ismail at a Ubisoft showcase in 2017. Photo: Christian Petersen/Getty Images

Ashraf Ismail, former top developer on Assassin’s Creed games for Ubisoft before his dismissal from the company in mid-2020, was hired last year to help lead development on a game at Tencent, Axios has learned.

Why it matters: The new role amounts to a second chance for a developer whose fall from Ubisoft amid allegations of abusing his power was part of the MeToo reckoning in the game industry two years ago.

Details: Ismail is serving as "a consulting creative director" with Tencent’s TiMi studio group, according to a company rep, after multiple sources told Axios that Ismail was working there.

  • The Chinese gaming giant opened a studio in Montreal in July 2021. It is staffed by several ex-Ubisoft Montreal developers, some of whom worked on previous Assassin's Creed games led by Ismail.
  • One source tells Axios that Ismail had been involved with that studio since it opened.

Ismail disappeared from the public eye in the summer of 2020 when Ubisoft fired him after an investigation into misconduct.

  • That followed an allegation in June of that year that he’d abused his power and lied about his marital status in courting female fans and possibly Ubisoft employees.
  • Ubisoft never commented on the investigation's results, nor the reason for his dismissal that August.
  • Before his firing, Ismail announced a leave of absence. He avoided specifics but tweeted “I am deeply sorry to everyone hurt in this.”

What they're saying: “During our work with Ash, he has carried himself in a professional manner and has consistently shown an eagerness to learn and grow as both a team member and person," TiMi's company rep told Axios.

  • "We strive to provide a safe, respectful working environment for all and will continue to do so as our team grows and expands.”
  • Ismail did not reply to a request for comment.

The big picture: Stories about the downfall of powerful men in the MeToo era often lead to reports of their attempts to return to public life and debates about whether a new chance is deserved (the toll on those who've come forward with their accounts is less frequently covered).

  • Since mid-2020, several powerful developers and executives accused of misconduct have left or been fired by Ubisoft, Activision and other studios. The few that have returned have done so in lower-profile roles.
  • Many have not resurfaced in the industry.

Between the lines: As for Tencent, it does very well in mobile gaming and has been trying to expand into console gaming, starting new studios, buying others and hiring lots of experienced developers.

  • For the Montreal team, Tencent management said in July 2021 that it was looking for established industry talent experienced in making massive open-world games.
  • On paper, Ismail would appear qualified, having served as game director or creative director on hit games for Ubisoft, such as Assassin's Creed Black Flag and Assassin's Creed Valhalla, between 2012 and 2020.
  • But Tencent never announced him coming on board. Ismail’s LinkedIn makes no mention of the TiMi work, even as other ex-Ubisoft developers have joined the team and updated their profiles accordingly.

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