Recently leaked documents from an internal company presentation delivered to Canadian Developer Ubisoft employees have revealed the company’s social justice focused approach to business, hiring, and development.
The leaked Ubisoft documents, obtained by Jeremy Hambly of The Quartering and allegedly provided by an Ubisoft insider, are purported to come from a diversity and inclusion webinar presented to Ubisoft employees. Hambly has not released the full documents to the public but has announced that he will be incrementally releasing videos that discuss these documents.
The presentation, and the accompanying documents, focus strongly on the concept of diversity, inclusion, and how Ubisoft can incorporate these elements into their company culture and the messages of their video games. In Hambly’s first video, Hambly plays a clip, allegedly recorded by an Ubisoft employee through the camera of their respective mobile device. The presentation begins with a discussion on diversity from various Ubisoft employees, each of which describes why they believe diversity is a key element to their company’s future:
“It’s embracing our individual uniqueness, to make sure we build on this strength that is diversity and ultimately we will bring more creativity to the company.”
“Diversity has to include using our platform and our cultural influence to take a stand, and to model inclusiveness for our players and to say to people who are being excluded: “You are welcome, you have a voice. We are going to help you speak.”
“There’s diversity, which asks: Who is in the room? And then, there’s inclusion, which asks: Who is being heard?”
“When you’re able to find a way to bridge gaps and bring those people together you can really force multiply what they can bring to the table.”
“This group interview was very different for us. We’re all in a room, trying to build some case scenario, trying to stand out of the crowd. I’m not gonna lie, the room was pretty…not diverse.”
It is evident that the diversity that Ubisoft wishes to support is not based on differences in thought, opinion, or philosophy, but rather on superficial traits such as skin color and gender. Ubisoft employees believe in using their “cultural influence to take a stand,” but for many fans, Ubisoft’s forcible stance and wording led them to classify Ubisoft’s presentation as indoctrination.
At a little under halfway through the video, Ubisoft addresses why they feel diversity is important:
“Becoming more diverse and relying on our strong inclusive culture. We need to make sure everyone at Ubisoft, including minorities feel good at work. We need to mitigate any possible minority effect. According to studies, when a minority represents less than 15% of a given group, they tend to overadapt themselves. To stop being themselves, to fit in at work. We don’t want that at Ubisoft. That’s why we need to work on diversity at large to increase all types of minorities within Ubisoft. Finally, we need to see diverse talent as a competitive advantage. And not hesitate to sponsor people who are not like us, and become more and more inclusive leaders.”
It is important to note that no studies are cited or referenced by the presenter to provide evidence of her claims. Ubisoft cites this alleged over adaptation as a key factor to their self-reported diversity based shortcomings, as if the individuality of a given ‘minority’ employee is erased by their assimilation into a company. However, adapting to different work cultures is a key part of joining the work force, and a highly important one at that, and is common practice through numerous industries.
One could also refute “diverse talent as a competitive advantage.” While inclusion and diversity of unique voices can be beneficial to an individual or a company, market trends suggest that a hyper-focus on ‘diverse talent’ is more detrimental than advantageous. Recent examples of this trend can be seen in the disastrous cases of Battlefield V, Marvel Comics, and Mass Effect: Andromeda, to name a few.
Ubisoft continues their presentation, shifting from discussing their diversity issues to discussing what steps they would take to achieve their ambiguous goal of diversity:
“We would also want to celebrate all of the diversity we already have to make sure people feel welcome and included.”
“From unconscious bias training to providing opportunities and tools that the diversity groups need to speak for themselves.”
“Definitely hiring across all genders, orientations, backgrounds, cultures, languages. Putting all that aside, actively looking for people coming from different backgrounds would be great.
“Something that has made a big difference to myself and colleagues I’ve spoken to about it is the presence of women in high leadership positions here at Ubisoft Toronto. It helps to break down a lot of the “boys club” reputation.
The company culture that led to these quotes is troubling at best. Unconscious bias (also known as implicit bias) has been routinely discredited by professionals, doctors, and even the social psychologists who pioneered the concept . ‘Actively looking for people coming from different backgrounds’ implies that Ubisoft are not hiring based on qualification, but rather hiring instead based on the personal lives and cultures of an applicant. The focus on ‘the presence of women’ is especially insulting because it reduces female employees to their gender and the beneficial optics of their appearance, rather than the skills, actual impact, and quality of said women. These ideas seem to indicate that Ubisoft focuses more on superficial traits when hiring instead of experience, talent, and history.
The last piece of footage released thus far by Hambly illustrates that the aforementioned conclusions on Ubisoft’s hiring process are not based on fear, anger, or speculation, but rather said conclusions are real and embraced by Ubisoft:
“Another way to increase diversity is to have a strong look at what we do in terms of recruitment. It’s important to look at three criteria when we recruit. The two first ones are the following: we look at hard and technical skills. We look at soft skills and the cultural fit with Ubisoft. I think it’s also important to look at a third criteria: the complementarity [sic] within the team. What is missing within the team? What kind of profiles are missing? In order to really build a diverse team and have a puzzle with a full picture.”
Along with the video clip of Ubisoft’s internal presentation, Hambly also presented 4 pages of an internal Ubisoft PDF file that was issued to employees to provide more detail on their diversity initiatives (Hambly states that the PDF will be explored more in depth in the second installment of his leaks). The PDF documents reveal some interesting facts while actively misrepresenting other facts:
- The In Situ Project, the research project behind Ubisoft’s initiatives, is funded by Refiguring Innovation in Games (ReFiG), which states that ReFiG “is a 5 year project supported by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada. Composed of an international collective of scholars, community organizers and industry representatives, ReFiG is committed to promoting diversity and equity in the game industry and culture and effecting real change in a space that has been exclusionary to so many.” For reference, The Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canda states that it “is the federal research funding agency that promotes and supports postsecondary-based research and training in the humanities and social sciences.”
- Both Anita Sarkeesian’s “Tropes vs. Women in Video Games” web series and website Kotaku are cited as authoritative sources on the subject of representation in gaming. Sarkeesian’s work has routinely been criticized for being uninformed and in bad faith, while Kotaku has a long history of failing to adhere to journalistic standards, false reporting, and sensationalism. These two sources do not represent a fully nuanced view of video game culture, and are highly, highly biased in their views.
- The document puts forward three statistics: 47% of players in Canada are women, 37% define themselves as gamers but 52% have played in the past 4 weeks, and that 46% of gamers across 13 countries are women. The ‘47%’ and ‘37%/52%’ statistics are unsourced. The ‘46%’ statistic cites a study conducted by website Newzoo wherein anyone from hardcore gamers to mobile game players was counted as a gamer. This statistic is skewed, as it does not distinctly classify each demographic nor does it reflect a distinct definition between players of casual mobile games and players who can be classified as ‘gamers’.
- More statistics are presented on the next page, this time of developer responses to the International Game Developers Association Developer Satisfaction Survey 2017. The two that stand out the most as problematic are “81 percent of developers feel that workplace diversity is either “very important” or “somewhat important” and “negative perceptions of the gaming industry stem from problems of sexism and racism” with a report of 57% of those surveyed believe it is a factor in the negative perception of the gaming industry.
The issues concerning these statistics are found within the IGDA DSS 2017 survey and it’s reporting. Only 900 game developers were surveyed, with only 64.8% of these respondents stating that their connection to the games industry was that they ‘make games in a core development role (includes QA)’. Other connections reported by the IDGA include ‘currently unemployed’, ‘looking for first job in the industry’, ‘game journalist or critic’, and ‘supports the development of games in administrative, support, or ancillary roles that are not game creation (e.g., admin, HR, technical support). In layman’s terms, the IDGA is not sampling general public perception, but a small selection of those who are already connected to the industry.
The ‘57%’ statistic is also not as simple as it is on the surface. 38% of respondents felt that society had a negative view of the games industry, 37% felt it was positive, and 25% felt the view was neutral. From there, a list of factors was presented to the respondent with the instruction to select factors they personally believed led to a negative view. The entire basis of this statistic is based on a hypothetical ‘negative view of the games industry’ presented by the IGDA, rather than any verifiable source or research.
From the initial leak of internal documents, Ubisoft appears to be adopting and enforcing a company culture that focuses more on social justice attributes instead of capability and merit. Though Ubisoft claims to be fighting for diversity and empowering of minority categories, the techniques they practice may end up infantilizing said minorities and reducing them to token characteristics instead of focusing on their personal qualities and qualifications. Their use of misleading statistics is also dishonest, as it does not allow the audience to make up their own opinions based on a fair presentation of information.
Ubisoft’s upcoming title, Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey, will be released for the Play Station 4, Xbox One, and PC platforms on October 5, 2018. It is unknown what, if any, effect these leaks will have on sales.
This story is still developing, as Hambly is still currently receiving leaks from Ubisoft employees, and has stated that he will be releasing these and other leaked documents across multiple videos. Bounding Into Comics will continue to follow the story and report on any updates.