Ubisoft at epicenter of game industry sexual harassment crisis

Originally published at: https://boingboing.net/2020/07/21/ubisoft-at-epicenter-of-game-i.html


I’m far from surprised but i remember when i used to be really excited about the really different games Ubisoft was making years ago, and how over the years it just devolved into regurgitating Assassin’s Creed and Tom Clancy games. Glad i haven’t bought their games since… hmm… since the Wii days? I certainly hope that their work culture changes for the better but not holding my breath over them.


The entire gaming industry needs to be sued for employment violations to within an inch of its shitty life. Only then will they start wising up and acting like adults. None of this is cool, and now I need to sit down with my youngest son as he preps for a game degree and talk to him about this stuff and how to treat fellow employees once he graduates.


This is horrible, inexcusable, and needs to be fought with every weapon we have.

Is this actually any worse, on average, than say the worst 10% of a randomly selected sample of companies? In the gaming industry or otherwise? I don’t want to be mistaken about whether Ubisoft is unusually bad or if everything everywhere is much worse than I thought. Both seem plausible to me. (Ideally I’d also ask that we try to report the trifecta of sexual harassment acts committed per man, sexual harassment acts experienced per woman, and gender ratio in a company/industry/job title).

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I am shocked it isn’t Riot Games honestly for all that we heard about them over the years.

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Good luck to them breaking into the industry, it’s difficult but just like graphic design and video production there are so many more avenues these days to do your own thing independent of big studios. Plus there are organizations like museums, libraries, etc that occasionally do stuff with 3D modelling that they can look into :slight_smile:


If only there were some way for employees to band together to improve their situation and give them greater leverage to address systemic issues with their employer… :thinking:


One of the greatest tricks the game industry has pulled off was convincing its workers that they were lucky to work in the industry and thus definitely, positively didn’t need anything like a union. Working 80 hour weeks is fun and cool! Frequently having to move to find new jobs because your old company collapsed while owing you significant back pay is normal! If you don’t like it, find another industry to work in, there are plenty of inexperienced young people who will be happy to take your job for less money.

(My time in the game industry involved working with a number of people who had been in it for a while - almost all of them fantasized about finding work outside it. The artists and animators couldn’t, because their job skills were too specialized, and whatever they did meant training in some other field and starting over from scratch. Which they didn’t have the savings to do.)


I’d argue that’s true across “white” collar jobs, too. They ignore the fact that labor unions don’t just focus on pay (as most white collar workers are salaried, and paid pretty well) but on the whole set of circumstances people labor under. One of the first major national movements in the US was not about pay, but about the length of the shift, which in some cases could be as long as 14-16 hour days.


We’re in a good state for it with a fair number of companies, and I majored in game design as well. So I hope and expect he’ll land on his feet, but he’s already challenged with mild autism, and the one thing I worry most about his him ending up in a toxic environment and reflexively modeling those behaviors to fit in with the others. I’ve worked hard to raise kids who are compassionate and caring, and that would break my heart.


Then we all need to roam the game world map and gather up a bunch of collectibles so we can level up, unlock new weapons, and fight it with those as well.

But seriously, I do wonder if Ubi is just successful enough to be more awful or if it’s representative of the industry as a whole.

Yup. Government jobs are one of the few exceptions which is why other employers often don’t want to hire ex-gov workers. Not because said workers are necessarily lazy, but they know better than to buy the line that white-collar needs no unions. They expect employers to do onerous things like abide by labour laws.

They won’t say that’s the reason (because it might encourage their current employees to unionize) but it’s a big part of the thinking.


Yeah, the game industry is a combination of that (in particular white collar tech jobs, where unions have often been viewed as something that would somehow worsen working conditions/wages) and the dynamics of creative industries (in terms of people being made to feel lucky to work there). Only lacking the unions of creative industries and also the good wages of white collar/tech jobs.

Still a big issue in the game industry, unsurprisingly, despite a generation of workers who had to deal with this shit now being in management and trying to avoid it. (And never mind how totally counter-productive it is, in terms of work amount/quality, to put in these kinds of long hours.) The number of people I’ve known who’ve had cots in their cubicles… It manages to be even worse outside the US, amazingly. I remember reading an article by a Japanese game developer writing in an industry trade magazine some years back, talking about how he literally lived at work. He spent 24 hours a day sitting in front of his computer, working, eating and even sleeping in his chair. He went to the apartment he rented every so often for fresh clothes. Although this was in part due to the other element in game development - the prevalence of young men living teenage “gamer” lifestyles. (Which is also a big contributor to sexual harassment issues in the industry.)

Based on personal experience, I’d say it’s fairly representative. But as a big, successful company, you’re a lot more likely to hear about the issues there, and employees, current and former, are also more likely to talk about their experiences in the first place. (No one is likely to care about what happened at a small studio few have heard of, that may not even still exist, and former workers are that much less likely to talk about it as a result. Also current workers at small studios are less likely to talk about issues because they couldn’t remain anonymous.)


Indeed! That’s another field that most people don’t realize is heavily unionized (or not everyone, at least).

Exactly. One thing I’m hoping happens after the pandemic is that people realize how they are being exploited with regards to how much they are working in lockdown.

And now most people who work remotely can just roll out of bed for a 14 hour work day…

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For what it is worth I have known several developers with conditions like your son, working in app development and the digital agency space. They are prized for their focus and attention to the job, and well treated by their co-workers. Can’t say I like the idea of him going into mainstream gaming.

And the reverse. The stories I heard about people who worked in film and television, for example, and moved over into games and were absolutely shocked and appalled by what they found there.

One thing about the game industry in recent years is more small groups working from home staying connected online, where rolling out of bed and getting to work was already expected. I wonder how many companies will start pushing for telecommuting after this so they can get more hours of work out of their workers, or at least to have them “on call” for the better part of 24 hours a day.

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Now, that’s interesting! I can see that, though. Of course, the film/TV industry were largely unionized in the 30s to the 60s, at the high point of unionization in general. The gaming industry really started to evolved well after the sustained attack on unions by the right, so I can see the reason for the disconnect. It doesn’t help that we don’t really teach labor history properly in the US either… or we assume it’s just white men working in blue collar jobs.

They will and I think people will see it as a win at first, though maybe not.


Yeah typical game studios and developers treat their regular employees like shit, i can’t expect them to look out for anyone else. They’d just use them until they stopped being productive. Software or tech studios tend to treat their employees much better, i’d suggest looking at a place like Apple, Dell, NVIDIA, etc.

Exactly this. I spent 25 years inside that industry before I realized how miserable I actually was. The allure is powerful, and the threat of a dozen 22-year-olds lined up behind you for your job is real.

I finally got out into a different tech field and it’s a breath of fresh air. Normal hours, better pay, caring, mature bosses (with actual management training), respectful workplace. My only regret is not getting out sooner.

There’s another aspect to this that many overlook. AAA console and PC development is a rarified skillset that doesn’t apply well outside the field. The longer you stay in, the harder it is to get out because you’ve spent your career on proprietary C++ engines and in-house tools written from scratch. All your SDK experience is on secret vendor-supplied APIs under NDAs. Meanwhile, the rest of the world has long since moved on to high level IL languages like C#, cloud architectures, and mature tech stacks built on middleware you’ve never heard of because you’ve worked in a cave for 20 years. I was only to get out by going into management. Nobody wanted my hard-earned technical skills.


And the threat is regularly carried out. I’ve heard people say that the average game programmer lasts five years in the industry. I don’t know if it’s true, but it doesn’t sound unlikely. I’ve blamed the heavy churn for the fact that I frequently see the same issues reappearing in game development - everything from bad work practices to gameplay issues. There’s no industry memory - people haven’t been around long enough to be aware that it was a problem that was already solved, much less what the solution was.

And, ironically, programmers are the best positioned to find work elsewhere. I know game designers and artists who’ve spend decades in game development and would definitely like to leave, but they don’t really have any transferable skills or experience. (Although given the convergence of the art pipelines for film/tv and video games, some newly minted AAA artists will find they have skills that can work in multiple industries, now. Not that film/tv FX is all that different from game work, though.) They often ended up in management, not because they were particularly well suited to it, but because they’d just managed to survive long enough in the industry that, well, what else were they going to do?