The campus, a little incongruous here, would fit perfectly into Silicon Valley. It’s an upgrade for French tech flagship Ubisoft, whose former HQ was located behind a parking lot and housed around 650 people.
Ubisoft is one of the video game industry’s biggest publishers, a multinational effort best known for “Assassin’s Creed,” “Far Cry,” and putting Tom Clancy’s name on more things than even the prolific military novelist. Today, the company and its portfolio of over 100 active games are seen as a desirable target for competitors as the industry enters a period of consolidation. Ubisoft has also been at the epicenter of some of the industry’s most seismic changes in recent years, including a consideration of workplace misconduct – an issue that company executives say they have correctly treated and seek to put behind them.
As the video game industry evolves, Ubisoft must evolve with it – or die trying. That’s the message the company’s executives sought to get across Thursday at an event in Saint-Mandé where they previewed a long-term strategy centered on a host of games, partnerships and technologies designed to take the company into the next chapter of the industry.
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Some of these initiatives, unveiled to the public on Saturday in a showcase titled “Forward”, include a partnership with Netflix to produce three new mobile games starting in 2023, an expansion of the catalog of indie games available on Ubisoft+, the subscription service for board games. , and a plan for the future of Assassin’s Creed for the 15th anniversary this year of Ubisoft’s best-known franchise.
The video game industry has not been immune to the economic disruptions of recent years, including the impact of the pandemic on consumer spending and supply chains. But major players, including Ubisoft CEO and co-founder Yves Guillemot, expect it to hit more than $300 billion by 2030. Companies seeking a slice of this market face headwinds: technologies evolve, as do the quality expectations of players; talent in this area is in high demand and hard to find; and norms and standards are changing, with developers and actors pushing back against what they see as a culture of sexual harassment, a lack of diversity, and poor working conditions prevalent in the industry.
“It will be a difficult and unforgiving journey: either you keep up with the pace of change or you are out,” Guillemot said Thursday, shortly after news broke of Tencent’s acquisition of a minority stake in Guillemot and its affiliates. brothers founded in 1986. , and through which they run Ubisoft.
While recent flagship titles like “Assassin’s Creed: Valhalla” and “Far Cry 6” have proven themselves commercially, adventures in the realm of live service – more easily monetized multiplayer games intended to be perpetually updated – haven’t quite succeeded. Well, with upcoming games like “XDefiant” failing to draw fanfare while previous attempts like battle royale title “Hyper Scape” and an NFT-laden update for “Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon Breakpoint” crashed and burned. Ubisoft has now endured several tough fiscal quarters and is struggling to find new success amid delays and lackluster releases. In July, before Tencent’s announcement, Guillemot called on staff to cut expenses where possible.
As the company plans for the future, it is focusing its strategy around a handful of its top-performing properties. The new “Assassin’s Creed Mirage” – set in ninth-century Baghdad as a throwback to the series’ narrative origins – is Ubisoft’s first step into a live-service future for its biggest franchise. It will be released in 2023, the company announced on Saturday, and will star Iranian-American actress Shohreh Aghdashloo as Roshan, mentor to street thief turned master assassin Basim Ibn Is’haq.
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After that, “Assassin’s Creed Codename Red” will be set in feudal Japan. It will be followed by “Codename Hexe”, a game with a resolutely witchy look about which the company has revealed few details except that it is developed by Ubisoft Montreal. Ubisoft will also launch a free-to-play mobile game called “Assassin’s Creed Codename Jade”, which is set in 215 BC in China.
“Red” and “Hexe” will connect to a larger Assassin’s Creed hub called “Infinity,” alongside the multiplayer experiences the company is pursuing, including one codenamed “Invictus.” Historically focused on single-player, ‘Assassin’s Creed’ may or may not take a stylish leap into this new era of gaming. of the long series (and parkouring).
Ubisoft will also partner with Netflix to produce an “Assassin’s Creed” mobile game. In 2023, under the same partnership, they will launch mobile games that take inspiration from Ubisoft’s “Valiant Hearts” and “Mighty Quest”.
Ubisoft sought to develop at the pace of these new projects. It hired 4,000 people in the fiscal year ending March 2022, nearly a third of them women, according to Anika Grant, chief human resources officer. Six hundred of those new employees had previously left the company and been rehired — a sign, says Marie-Sophie de Waubert, senior vice president of studio operations, “that people are feeling the change” at Ubisoft.
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Since the summer of 2020, the company has been under #MeToo scrutiny, with employees accusing management of tacitly fostering a culture of misconduct and abuse. While several accused executives have left the company following investigations, some employees – including a collective of current and former employees called “A Better Ubisoft” – continue to express their displeasure with the way the management dealt with reports of misconduct.
“Yes, we stumbled, and we recognized it,” Guillemot said euphemistically on Thursday. The CEO – who was named in a complaint filed in July 2021 by a French union and some employees alleging “institutional sexual harassment” at the company – said Ubisoft “learned a lot along the way” and had “ made significant progress.
Since 2020, Ubisoft has rolled out a new misconduct reporting system, hired a diversity and inclusion team, and required company leaders to receive anti-harassment and anti-discrimination training, says Grant, who was hired in April last year to run a beleaguered company. HR team which had itself been the subject of employee complaints. “It’s not where it was a year ago,” she said. “I think as an organization we have evolved.”
The members of “A Better Ubisoft” wrote in a Q&A posted Wednesday on a website run by the Assassin’s Creed Sisterhood movement, a fan community that advocates for better gender representation in the franchise, that they consider the changes implemented in the company in the aftermath of the inadequate scandals. Some of the members, quoted under pseudonyms, said the diversity and inclusion team was “understaffed and underfunded”, complained about a top-down approach from management and said some of the people accused of misconduct were still working for the company.
Grant, the director of human resources, said anyone at Ubisoft who had been the subject of a complaint was investigated. “If they stay, they’ve either been exonerated or appropriately sanctioned,” she told the Post.
“A lot of talking and not a lot of walking,” a pseudonymous member of “A Better Ubisoft” reportedly said.
“From what I see from the whole company, I don’t think that’s fair,” Marc-Alexis Côté, vice president and executive producer of “Assassin’s Creed,” said Thursday. Côté, who also ran Ubisoft’s Quebec City studio, one of several studios named two years ago in complaints about toxic work environments at the company, said “things have gone a long way. changed since 2020, both within the [Quebec] studio and within Ubisoft in the broad sense”, with regular dialogue with staff and the implementation of more “collaborative” and less “competitive” working methods.
“The Ubisoft of 2022 is not the Ubisoft of 2020. That’s a good thing,” Côté said. “And I hope that the Ubisoft of 2024 is not the Ubisoft of 2022, and that we are on the path of continuous improvement,” he added.
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All this turmoil leaves Ubisoft in an uncertain state as the video game industry enters a period of unprecedented consolidation exemplified by the purchase of Activision Blizzard by Microsoft for $68.7 billion, the takeover of Zynga by Take -Two for $12.7 billion and Sony’s acquisition of Bungie for $3.6 billion. Tencent’s nearly $300 million purchase of a 49.9% economic stake in Guillemot Brothers Limited increases the Chinese conglomerate’s control of Ubisoft, from which it previously bought a 4.5% stake. According to Guillemot, this will not presage a takeover.
Within Ubisoft, news of Tencent’s investment appears to have been welcomed by executives, who say they support Guillemot’s message, presented in an email to staff seen by The Washington Post, that Ubisoft will remain independent. . “Creatively, it’s business as usual – it doesn’t affect us at all,” said Fawzi Mesmar, vice president of editorial at Ubisoft.
Still, “what I know for sure about the gaming industry, being here for twenty years, is that it’s always going to change,” he added. “There is never a dull moment.”
Nathan Grayson contributed to this report.