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Gaming

Assassin’s Creed Devs Grill boss on trends and layoffs

Ubisoft CEO Yves Guillemot takes the stage at E3 following the announcement of Mario + Rabbids.

Photo: Christian Pietersen (Getty Images)

Ubisoft CEO Yves Guillemot faced tough questions from some exhausted and fed up employees 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 get the $3 billion company back on track.

“The ball is in our court now – it has been in your court for years, so why did you mishandle the ball so much that we, the workers, have to fix it for you?” read an upvoted question on a list pre-submitted through corporate communication channels and reviewed my city. It was a reference to a now infamous Guillemot email sent to staff last week that seemed to shift the blame for the publisher’s recent mistakes and hold lower-level employees accountable for resolving the situation.

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

While that clarification resonated with some developers, others who spoke to my city still feel management is out of control and found little in the meeting to reassure them. The hour-long affair was filled with industry buzzwords and business jargon and light on details. 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, saying that the requested wage increases to keep up with inflation were off the table amid the current financial hardship. None of the executives directly addressed the recent one call for strike about the working conditions in the Paris studio of the company.

Guillemot also remained vague about the possibility of layoffs. “It’s not about doing more with less, it’s about finding ways to do things differently across the company,” Guillemot said at one point.

The meeting comes after a particularly bad 2022 for the global publisher, which did not include a major blockbuster as several projects were delayed, trapped in development hell, or sent and no audience found. “It seems management is out of touch with games and saying we need to adapt to an evolving industry,” read one of the questions for the meeting that received hundreds of positive votes. “Why are we chasing trends instead of put them?”

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

Ghost Recon: Frontline is another example. It was unveiled in 2021 and looked like a rip off Call of Duty Warzone but with some new gameplay twists. Internal tests reportedly revealed that it did indeed play like one Call of Duty Warzone rip-off and Ubisoft decided last summer to abandon it along with three other projects Ghost Recon fans are scratching their heads and developers are disillusioned.

At today’s meeting, Guillemot talked about doubling down on Ubisoft’s core franchises, such as Assassin’s Creed, Distant screamand are Tom Clancy games, incl Rainbow Six Siegewhose potential the CEO compared to Riot Games’ appreciate. Some see it as a haven not only to chase trends, but also to experiment. “We have to recognize that the trends are for mega brands,” said Marie-Sophie de Waubert, senior vice president of studio operations, when asked why the company didn’t pursue more varied, smaller games, such as Anno 1800.

One major criticism of Ubisoft in recent years is the lack of variety between sequels and an over-reliance on an open-world blueprint that spills over from franchise to franchise. When confronted about the lack of inventiveness, Guillemot pointed it out Far cry 6 as a “good quality” game that was still deemed “not innovative enough”. It remains unclear how Ubisoft will balance the budget demands and production complexity of its major blockbusters with creative risks going forward.

my city understands that developers on some of the recently canceled projects will revolve around helping ship games like Assassin’s Creed Mirage, a smaller and more traditional entry in the stealth action series. Originally planned as one Assassin’s Creed Valhalla extension, mirage grew into a full-fledged game in part due to the need to close gaps in Ubisoft’s release calendar. Instead, it slipped in along with the fiscal year that began in April 2023 Skull and bones and Avatar: Limits of Pandora. Guillemot recently called that lineup and beyond it the best in the company’s history, but if the 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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