Ubisoft Devs Call For A Strike, Sexual Harassment Trial Gets Court Date, And What's Really Going On Inside Xbox
The Assassin's Creed publisher isn't part of the trial but its former chief creative is
Almost four years after the allegations originally came to light, legal proceedings for sexual and psychological harassment against three former Ubisoft employees, including its previous long-time chief creative officer, Serge Hascoët, are finally underway. In a February 6 hearing following a criminal investigation, a Bobigny court just outside Paris arranged for the trial to begin in March 2025. The other defendants include Tommy François, a former VP, and Guillaume Patrux, the game director of 2020 VR space sim AGOS.
Though the complaint originally brought by the Solidaires Informatique union in 2021 on behalf of two victims also named Ubisoft CEO Yves Guillemot, he and the company he co-founded with his brothers will not officially be part of the trial. But Hascoët, his former right-hand man and the executive guiding Ubisoft’s creative vision across dozens of studios and franchises ranging from Assassin’s Creed and Far Cry to Rayman and Tom Clancy’s Rainbow Six Siege, will be. Hascoët previously led the company’s once all-powerful Office of Editorial inside Ubisoft’s Paris headquarters, the same department accused of once being a hotbed for sexual misconduct from pornographic jokes to bodily assaults. It’s impossible to separate what went on there from the rest of the company and its leadership.
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Ahead of the hearing, Le Monde recently reported on additional examples of Ubisoft’s HR department allegedly being aware of the abuse and sweeping it under the rug. One woman told the newspaper that after she reported she was sexually harassed and assaulted, an HR rep responded, “you shouldn't come to see her for every little annoyance.” Another person said they were asked by HR during a job interview if they could deal “with somewhat heavy, even sexist jokes.” Le Monde also reports that two HR employees accused of covering up the abuse are still employed by Ubisoft.
Hascoët, meanwhile, was never fired from Ubisoft. Instead, after allegations first surfaced in a report by Liberation, he was allowed to resign. “Serge’s decision comes after in-depth discussions we have had together,” Guillemot wrote to staff at the time. “Following these conversations, I believe, and Serge agrees, that now is the right time for a change.” It was a relatively graceful exit considering the gravity of the accusations and their systemic nature. That decision, judged harshly by many at the time, will no doubt receive even more scrutiny depending on what is eventually unearthed and made public record in the upcoming trial against Hascoët and the others.
Ubisoft developers demand better pay
The February 6 court hearing comes the same week as Ubisoft’s latest financials. The publisher will announce its next quarterly earnings on February 8, which come a year after it began instituting company-wide cost cutting measures, and following the release of some of its best-received games in years, including Assassin’s Creed Mirage, Avatar: Frontiers of Pandora, and Prince of Persia: The Lost Crown.
At the same time, projects due out years ago still remain MIA, including The Division Heartland and the ever-cursed Beyond Good and Evil 2. I previously reported that Star Wars Outlaws is expected to release in the first half of 2024, and Insider Gaming recently reported that Assassin’s Creed Red, the next big open world RPG set in Japan, is slated to arrive in the fall. The success of those big tentpole blockbusters could pull the ailing publisher back from the brink at a time when gaming companies throughout the industry are laying off hundreds.
Amidst these opportunities and pressures, Ubisoft developers in France are calling for a day-long strike on February 14 unless the company agrees to 5% raises. It’s currently proposing between just 2% and 3%. French gaming unions claim that’s “lower than last year, lower than inflation, and lower than the group's profitability.” Some Ubisoft employees in France, which includes the studios behind Ghost Recon, Just Dance, Riders Republic, and the recent Prince of Persia metroidvania, similarly went on a half-day strike last year around this time after inflammatory remarks by Guillemot appearing to put responsibility for fixing the company on their shoulders.
Waiting on the future of Xbox exclusivity to finish loading
As hard reporting and unsourced rumors spread about Starfield and other games coming to PlayStation 5 and the Xbox influencer community began to implode, Microsoft Gaming CEO Phil Spencer broke his silence nearly 24 hours later on Twitter. He didn’t deny anything, but didn’t confirm what was going on either, instead telling everyone to “stay tuned” for “more details” about the “future of Xbox” in a “business update event” scheduled for sometime next week. It sounded vague, ominous, and undecided all at once, putting some fans’ minds at ease but effectively throwing the rest of the speculation into overdrive.
There are three questions right now: why is Microsoft doing this, will it work, and who will benefit. It seems pretty clear that at least in the short term, millions of people who play games will materially benefit from having more access to more games on more platforms. the other two questions are much thornier, and a lot of how people are talking about the potential shift seems driven by whether they think the company is doing this from a position of strength or weakness.
In one version of events, Microsoft, historically a services company, is simply taking Game Pass, the cloud gaming and subscription platform its spent the last five years building, to the next level by finding an additional revenue streams to subsidize the cost and meet players where they already live (overwhelmingly on PlayStation and Nintendo Switch). In another version, Xbox has more or less been in shambles since the launch of the Xbox One. Microsoft spent billions to acquire first-party exclusives but the studios have been slow to deliver new hits. The surprisingly sluggish sales of the Xbox Series X/S, coupled with a massive $69 billion acquisition of Activision Blizzard that took 18 months, during which interest rate hikes made capital very expensive, has forced Microsoft’s hand when it comes to keeping games exclusive to a platform hat’s not growing fast enough.
If you believe version one, it’s a lot easier to think that the pivot, seemingly being the next stage in a well-considered and long-in-the-making strategic plan, will succeed, playing to the tech giants strengths rather than continuing to stumble in a marketplace constructed by its competitors. If you believe version two (which is what I lean toward), it’s not clear that this shift, coming from the same minds that got Xbox to this point, will magically bring it out of the wilderness into the multiplatform promised land.
Of course, both of these versions treat Microsoft as internally aligned when it comes to what its goals are and how to achieve them. That is not how corporations work, especially not ones with an org chart as complex as Microsoft’s. A third version of events points toward a genuine disagreement between parts of the executive team on how important exclusivity is to Xbox as a platform, and how much money the company should be willing to lose to try and pump it up. The trove of internal emails accidentally leaked as part last year’s FTC trial showed just how messy the debates and decision making can be within the company, and also how foreign gaming is to many of the top-level executives outside of the Xbox team.
One possibility suggested by Spencer’s cryptic tweet to buy more time is that management at the company is still hashing out what to do, can’t come to agreement on one perfect way to move forward, and Microsoft may be preparing to experiment with lots of new approaches because it simply has no idea what will work. Spencer, often active on social media, has clearly been taking more of a break than usual. They only tweet he’s liked since this all blew up was a video of a little girl being overjoyed to get a surprise Xbox Series S.
The thing that has me most skeptical about a possible multiplatform push is that it relies on making great games people want to buy, the one thing Microsoft has struggled to consistently do over the last decade. Xbox leadership has been beating the drum of a new first-party exclusive every three to four months since 2019. Even now, with dozens of acquired studios seemingly firing on all cylinders, there are hiccups. Senua's Saga: Hellblade II will arrive in May, leaving a seven month gap between it and Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3. Between Halo Infinite’s delays, reboots, and heavy reliance on contractors, and Redfall’s disastrous faceplant last year, first-party development at Microsoft clearly has some wrinkles to iron out.
I think there was widespread belief, especially among Xbox fans, that franchise pillars like Halo and newly acquired studios like Obsidian Entertainment would have the full weight of the now three trillion dollar company behind them to deliver exceptional new blockbusters. Throwing more money and bodies at production can’t magically brute force a project into being a GOTY contender, but there are questions about just how committed the rest of Microsoft is to matching the output of a Sony or Nintendo.
The action-RPG Avowed, made by Obsidian, has received a rough reaction from certain fans both when it was showed at last year’s Summer Game Fest showcase and earlier this year during the Xbox Developer Direct. There’s an ambient sense of disappointment, fair or not, that the game’s scope and presentation don’t measure up to the Pillars of Eternity meets Skyrim some imagined the game’s initial CGI trailer was teasing. “One of the heartening things [about Avowed feedback] is that it's the things we know about and are actively working on,” game director Carrie Patel recently said about the reactions on the Dropped Frame podcast. “The sense of hitting & impact in combat. We know it, trust us, we're on it." She added that what was shown was an older build, seemingly trying to address some of the nitpicking over the graphics and visual style in the latest gameplay deep-dive.
Another thing that really stood out to me is when Patel told Eurogamer in an interview last month that Obsidian has roughly stayed the same size since it was acquired five years ago, and Avowed is only being made by 100 developers. It’s a "medium-sized project” by a "medium-sized studio,” which could very well be exactly what it needs, but I think it comes as a surprise to many who are waiting on Microsoft to deliver semi-annual big-budget blockbusters in the vein of Horizon Forbidden West and God of War Ragnarok. Senua's Saga: Hellblade II seemed like it might be one of those, yet it’s priced at just $50, much less than even what Redfall was (Hellblade 1 was just $30).
A quote on a related subject recently surfaced again from Hiroshi Kawai, a producer on Lost Odyssey, the beloved Japanese RPG for the Xbox 360 that Microsoft published. “Microsoft has this interesting sort of hiring scheme where, even if you say you had $100 million in your budget, you would be capped to this thing called ‘headcount’ and it would be completely independent of your budget,” he said in an old interview with Polygon. “So you may only have a headcount for two full-time employees even though you have a massive budget, and you could not increase that. You’d have to essentially trade horses with some other team who’s willing to give up their headcount, and even then it’s still a precious commodity.” Yoshihiro Maruyama, the former manager of Microsoft’s Xbox division in Japan, said the team had to essentially create a shell corporation to get the extra developers hired needed to complete the project.
I ran into something similar when I was reporting on the development of State of Decay 3 in 2022. There seemed to be tension and uncertainty around just how ambitious the zombie survival sequel would be. While some inside the studio were pushing for a bigger scope (which was again hinted at in a purely CGI E3 trailer), they weren’t getting the headcount that might be required to eventually ship that kind of game. Microsoft was very stingy with hiring, some sources told me, leading to confusion around what State of Decay 3 could or should be. This May will mark six years since the last game in the series came out.
A big Final Fantasy VII Rebirth showcase and other news:
A 20-minute State of Play devoted solely to the upcoming sequel gave a ton of way. Many fans were hyped. Many already know they want to play the game and want everything to remain a surprise. PlayStation spoiling its own games was a critique of the Spider-Man 2 extended trailers as well. But if you just can’t wait there’s a free Final Fantasy VII Rebirth demo out now on PS5 that will let you skip that part in the final game if you complete it.
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Tekken creator and director, Katsuhiro Harada, slammed one of Tekken 8’s only negative reviews last night. He put the Finland edition of Game Reactor on blast, bashing its claim the game was “pay-to-win” (additional characters require a season pass), suggested the site would take cash for positive reviews, and joked that game reviewers should have Metacritic scores of their own. He later deleted the tweets.
Nintendo promised “unique propositions” to get players to transfer over to a Switch 2 when it comes out.
Suicide Squad players are showing off some wild combos on TikTok:
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