Sep 12, 2022 - Technology

Interview: Ubisoft CEO on company’s scandals and attempts to reform

Photo Illustration of Ubisoft CEO, Yves Guillemot, with abstract shapes.
Photo illustration: Allie Carl/Axios. Photo: Stephen Totilo

PARIS — Ubisoft CEO Yves Guillemot tells Axios that company reform in the wake of workplace misconduct scandals, that demoralized employees and had some players talking boycott, “has been my main focus for the past two years.”

Why it matters: Guillemot is testing the premise that a boss during bad times can also effectively deliver reform.

  • “I think we are a very good company and we had problems, we solved them and the goal is to be again the best place,” Guillemot says, acknowledging the hit to the company’s reputation in recent years.
  • Asked if Ubisoft would support a recent call for employees in its large Canadian studios to unionize, he says: “It's really up to the people to decide.”

Catch up quick: Since the summer of 2020, the publisher of Assassin’s Creed and Just Dance has faced allegations of sexual misconduct and toxic management at multiple Ubisoft studios.

  • Several top managers accused of misconduct soon exited the company, though with little official acknowledgment as to why.
  • In statements since, Guillemot and other Ubisoft leaders have pointed to transformations to the company’s HR system, increased initiatives around diversity and inclusion, and the further review of worker complaints as signs of meaningful change.
  • While Guillemot has recently avoided talking to reporters, skepticism about the changes has risen. Most prominently, a worker collective called A Better Ubisoft complained of “minimal” progress.

In Paris, last week, Guillemot opened up some during an interview with Axios, where he sat near a table topped with chocolate bars, the CEO’s favorite snack.

  • Guillemot had just completed a two-hour presentation to the press alongside other Ubisoft executives, promoting a vision for the company to marshal its more than 20,000 worldwide employees, capitalize on a recent €300 million investment from Tencent and expand its Assassin’s Creed, Far Cry and Tom Clancy game franchises.
  • During his speech, he praised his workforce, admitted “we stumbled” over workplace issues but also noted that the company has hired 4,000 people in the past year, including 600 people who had worked at Ubisoft before.

No one has accused Guillemot directly of misconduct. He says he felt betrayed in 2020 by those close to him, without naming names.

  • “You realize that things happened very close to you, that you wouldn't accept, had you known about them,” he tells Axios. “You're upset by the fact that it could happen and that you didn't see it.”
  • Any incredulity around Guillemot’s professed ignorance, heard from some current and former workers, stems from myriad allegations involving senior people — since departed from Ubisoft — in the same Paris HQ where the CEO works.
  • Guillemot says he’s taken measures to fill his purported blind spots: a dedicated HR team for the centralized “editorial” group and “regular” meetings with employee resource groups, “to help ensure I hear from more diverse voices within the company, including those who are not part of HQ leadership.”

Asked why this happened at his company, which Guillemot founded in 1986 with his brothers, he says: “We were not organized enough to detect the problems and resolve them.”

  • He floated that some problems emerged because of generational differences. “The company was running and there were ways things were done. And then there was a new young generation, coming [into the company] with different needs. And we had to adapt. I think we didn't adapt fast enough to what people expected and needed.”

Frustrated workers have called for more, including a greater voice in dealing with complaints and decision-making. In a group interview with the AC Sisterhood blog last week, three members of A Better Ubisoft said workers in more of Ubisoft’s globally distributed studios needed to unionize.

  • Guillemot noted that Ubisoft didn’t get in the way of the start of a worker union in its Swedish studios. (Legally, they had to allow it.)
  • He added: “The most important thing for us is to make sure that communication is as efficient as possible.”

Some leaders step down amid scandal, even when they are not directly implicated.

  • Guillemot responded to Axios’ questions about whether he considered resigning by saying: “The option was to fix it.”

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