Between the hype for the upcoming Assassin’s Creed Valhalla and the multiple allegations of sexual misconduct within the company, it has also been revealed by Bloomberg’s Jason Schreier that Ubisoft has diminished and erased the roles of multiple female leads throughout the Assassin’s Creed series.
Assassin’s Creed is Ubisoft’s most popular franchise, spanning 11 main games and many, many spin-offs. Schreier discovered that within the four most recent games – Unity, Syndicate, Origins, and Odyssey – Ubisoft chose to shrink the presence of leading women excessively.
Under the creative control of Serge Hascoët, Ubisoft reduced the roles of leading women in Assassin’s Creed Unity, Syndicate, Origins, and Odyssey.
When Assassin’s Creed Unity was released in 2014, online gamers were restricted to male characters, as apparently animating women and creating clothing for them was “really a lot of extra production work.”
The inequity continued into Syndicate, as three people who worked on the 2015 game revealed that an early outline of the script allocated an equal amount of time to Evie and Jacob, the twin protagonists. However, by the time the game was released, Syndicate’s story was dominated by Jacob.
Ubisoft had the chance to explore an interesting and unique storyline through Origin’s Aya, planning to have her take over the story as revenge for the death of her husband. According to two people who worked on the game, over the course of development Aya’s role continued to shrink until she was naught but a side character to Bayek.
Among many details I learned while reporting this piece: the developers of Assassin’s Creed Odyssey wanted Kassandra to be the only playable lead, but Ubisoft’s marketing team and creative lead Serge Hascoët wouldn’t allow it. Women don’t sell, they said. https://t.co/67689QMHbr
— Jason Schreier (@jasonschreier) July 21, 2020
This was not an uncommon procedure within the developmental phase of a Ubisoft game, reported by multiple developers under the creative control of Serge Hascoët. It was stated that developers determined to protect their projects from detrimental changes – or even cancellation – would often make big compromises to appease Hascoët. Schreier reports that “Hascoët openly expressed disdain for linear storytelling and cut scenes,” and that in order to keep his attention, developers needed to scrap their ideas for female leads in favour of strong male ones.
Under Hascoët’s direction that “women don’t sell” as protagonists, Assassin’s Creed Odyssey was doomed to follow in the steps of Syndicate and Origins, cancelling plans to have Kassandra as the sole playable character. Despite the storyline making more sense when played through the eyes of Kassandra, Ubisoft decided that Odyssey needed a male option and chose to market Alexios over Kassandra in multiple ways.
It seems that people like Ubisoft’s Hascoët are still holding on to the decades-old misconception that female protagonists don’t sell, ignoring wildly popular protagonists like Lara Croft from the Tomb Raider series, and Aloy from Horizon Zero Dawn and it’s upcoming sequel Horizon Forbidden West to be released on the Playstation 5.
Thankfully, it seems Serge Hascoët’s tyranny over Ubisoft’s creative control has come to an end, with the chief creative officer resigning due to sexual misconduct allegations.
While this has all been going down, people still seem excited for the release of Assassin’s Creed Valhalla among other anticipated releases, eager to unravel the mysteries of Eivor; a protagonist whose gender can be changed by players throughout the game at will. With these questionable decision-makers having left the company, the introduction of these features seems set to jumpstart Ubisoft’s steps forward into more inclusive gaming.