Developers working on Assassin's Creed Odyssey were pressured into adding a male lead by Ubisoft executives, when female lead Kassandra was originally intended to be the sole protagonist, a new report claims.
According to Bloomberg, which has investigated recent reports of harassment, misogyny, abuse and racism within Ubisoft, the company's "machismo" culture spilled over into its products, impacting the development of some of its biggest games, and in particular the Assassin's Creed series.
The report claims developers were pressured by Ubisoft executives to minimize the role of female protagonists in the Assassin's Creed series, resulting in prominent female characters having lesser roles in the final games.
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According to Bloomberg's sources, an early outline of the Assassin's Creed Syndicate script gave equal screen time to the game's twin protagonists, Jacob and Evie; however, in the end product, Jacob was the lead protagonist.
The issue reportedly arose again with Assassin's Creed Origins. According to Bloomberg's sources, Bayek's wife Aya was set to become the lead protagonist of the game, but her role shrank over time, with Bayek taking center stage in the final version of the game.
More recently, it's reported that Kassandra was set to be the sole protagonist of Assassin's Creed Odyssey, but Ubisoft execs told the developers that this was not an option, and instead the game offers players the choice of playing as either Kassandra or her brother Alexios.
"All of the directives came from Ubisoft’s marketing department or from [Serge] Hascoët, both of whom suggested female protagonists wouldn’t sell," the Bloomberg report says.
Following the report, former Ubisoft employees took to Twitter to back the claims. One former female employee claims she was told on many occasions that "women don't sell", while another said she was told that "the protagonist must be a straight, white, alpha male".
The gentleman from editorial said "the protagonist must be a STRAIGHT WHITE ALPHA MALE" and underlined it in red marker, stamping a foot, for emphasis. I was demoted over this issue, and quit. I trust this cannot be interpreted as "disparaging" since the studio was proud of it. https://t.co/PphYi94vxQJuly 21, 2020
Bloomberg's investigation comes on the back of recent reports of harassment, abuse and a toxic environment at Ubisoft.
Earlier this month, three Ubsioft executives stepped down from their roles following the allegations: CCO Serge Hascoët, global head of HR Cécile Cornet, and CEO of Ubisoft Montreal Yannis Mallat. Prior to those execs stepping down, Ubisoft released an official statement addressing the allegations, which said:
"Concerning recent allegations raised against certain Ubisoft team members: We want to start by apologizing to everyone affected by this – we are truly sorry. We are dedicated to creating an inclusive and safe environment for our teams, players, and communities. It is clear we have fallen short of this in the past. We must do better.
"We have started by launching investigations into the allegations with the support of specialized external consultants. Based on the outcomes, we are fully committed to taking any and all appropriate disciplinary action. As these investigations are ongoing, we can't comment further. We are also auditing our existing policies, processes, and systems to understand where these have broken down, and to ensure we can better prevent, detect, and punish inappropriate behavior.
"We will be sharing additional measures that we are putting in place with our teams in the coming days. Our goal is to foster an environment that our employees, partners, and communities can be proud of – one that reflects our values and that is safe for everyone."