Assassin’s Creed Devs Grill Boss On Chasing Trends And Layoffs

Photo: Christian Petersen (Getty Images)

Ubisoft CEO Yves Guillemot faced tough questions from some exhausted and fed-up staff about recent missteps and future plans in a company-wide Q&A session on Wednesday. The meeting comes just a week after the Assassin’s Creed publisher announced new cancellations, delays, and cost-cutting measuresand told employees “the ball is in your court” to help get the $3 billion company back on track.

“The ball is now in our court—for years it has been in your court so why did you mishandle the ball so badly so we, the workers, have to fix it for you?” read one upvoted question on a list submitted in advance through corporate communication channels and viewed by Kotaku. It was a reference to a now infamous email Guillemot sent to staff last week that appeared to shift blame for the publisher’s recent mistakes and hold lower-level employees accountable for fixing the situation.

Guillemot opened the meeting by apologizing. “I heard your feedback and I’m sorry this was perceived that way,” Guillemot said, according to sources present who were not authorized to speak to press. “When saying ‘the ball is in your court’ to deliver our lineup on time and at the expected level of quality, I wanted to convey the idea that more than ever I need your talent and energy to make it happen. This is a collective journey that starts of course with myself and with the leadership team to create the conditions for all of us to succeed together.”

While that clarification resonated with some developers, others who spoke with Kotaku still feel management is out of touch and found little in the meeting to reassure them. The hour-long affair was filled with industry buzzwords and business jargon and light on specifics. Chief financial officer Frederick Duguet said they needed to reduce costs and increase productivity. Chief people officer Anika Grant rejected a recent proposal for four-day work weeks and said requested raises to keep up with inflation were off the table amid the current financial struggles. None of the executives directly addressed the recent call for a strike over working conditions at the company’s Paris studio.

Guillemot remained vague about the potential for layoffs as well. “It’s not about doing more with less, but finding ways to do things differently across the company,” Guillemot said at one point.

The meeting comes after a particularly poor 2022 for the global publisher which included no marquee blockbuster as several projects were delayed, trapped in development hell, or shipped and failed to find an audience. “It appears that management is out of touch with games saying that we need to adapt to an evolving industry,”?” read one of the questions for the meeting that received hundreds of upvotes. “Why are we chasing trends instead of setting them?”

Those trends could include the company’s 2021 misadventure with NFTs or its partnership with the now-defunct Google Stadia streaming service. It could also describe the publisher’s recent race to ship multiple free-to-play spin-offs of existing franchises and a crowded slate of battle royale and hero-based shooters. Some of these, like Hyperscape and Roller Champions, have already launched and struggled to find audiences. Others like The Division Heartland were announced a while ago and have yet to actually come out.

Ghost Recon: Frontline is another example. Revealed in 2021, it looked like a rip-off of call of duty warzone but with some new gameplay twists. Internal testing reportedly revealed that it did indeed play like a call of duty warzone rip-off and Ubisoft decided to can it last summer along with three other projects, leaving Ghost Recon fans scratching their heads and developers disillusioned.

In today’s meeting, Guillemot spoke of doubling down on Ubisoft’s core franchises like Assassin’s Creed, far cryand its Tom Clancy games, including Rainbow Six Siegewhose potential the CEO compared to Riot Games’ Valorant. Some see it as a retreat not just from chasing trends but from experimentation as well. “We need to acknowledge that the trends are for mega brands,” said Marie-Sophie de Waubert, senior vice president of studio operations, when asked about why the company didn’t pursue more varied, smaller games like Year 1800.

One big criticism of Ubisoft in recent years has been the lack of variation between sequels and an over-reliance on an open-world blueprint that bleeds over from franchise to franchise. When pressed about the lack of inventiveness, Guillemot pointed to far cry 6 as a “good quality” game that was still considered “not innovative enough.” It remains unclear how Ubisoft will juggle the budget demands and production complexity of its big blockbusters with creative risks going forward.

Kotaku understands that developers on some of the recently canceled projects will pivot to helping ship games like Assassin’s Creed Mirage, a smaller and more traditional entry in the stealth action series. Originally planned as an Assassin’s Creed Valhalla expansion, Mirage grew into a full-fledged game in part out of the need to plug holes in Ubisoft’s release calendar. Instead it slipped into the fiscal year starting in April 2023, along with Skull and Bones and Avatar: Frontiers of Pandora. Guillemot recently called that lineup and what comes beyond it the best in the company’s history, though if its recent past is any indication, it’s unlikely to go exactly as planned.

Ubisoft did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

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