Ex-Execs At Assassin’s Creed Publisher Arrested For Questioning

Three years after allegations of sexual misconduct inside Assassin’s Creed publisher Ubisoft first surfaced, French authorities are moving ahead with a criminal investigation. Five former executives were detained for questioning on October 3, including former VP Tommy Francois, and CEO Yves Guillemot’s former right-hand head of creative, Serge Hascoët.

The arrests were first reported by the French newspaper Libération, and have been corroborated by Kotaku’s own sources. As part of the detentions, the former executives will give testimony to law enforcement that could be used in an eventual criminal trial. The high-profile action being taken regarding allegations that first came to light in 2020 follows a multi-year investigation involving interviews with over 50 current and former employees, Libération reports.

Hascoët, a 32-year veteran at Ubisoft, had long been in charge of the creative direction of games, franchises, and the company itself as its chief creative officer. Developers across the company were regularly required to present progress on their games to him and others at the publisher’s Paris headquarters, with his feedback determinging the life or death of a project, as well as whether minute gameplay features should be added or abandoned. François, a VP who reported to Hascoët, oversaw Ubisoft’s World Texture Facility (known as “WTF”), a massive database of artwork and onsite research from across the globe that teams relied on for inspiration in crafting the company’s biggest blockbusters like Far Cry and Ghost Recon.

Reports by Libération and Bloomberg accused both men of sexual misconduct and contributing to a misogynistic “boys club” mentality at the Paris office. Hasocet would allegeldy make sexual comments about employees and growl at them in a suggesetive manner during meetings, while François was accused of trying to forcibly kiss a female colleague at a work party while another male colleague held her from behind. Both men departed from the company in July 2020 right after the reports were published, but Ubisoft never confirmed if either one of them was actually fired.

While far from the only employees accused of sexual misconduct at the company, they were two of the most high-profile. In June 2021, the French union Solidaires Informatique Jeu Vidéo, along with multiple victims, filed complaints with the Bobigny criminal court against the company as a whole as well as Guillemot and then head of human resources, Cecile Cornet, of “institutional harassment” for failing to maintain a safe work environment and, in some instances, allegedly looking the other way. According to Libération’s earlier report, Cornet told some staff at Ubisoft that “Yves [Guillemot] is OK with toxic management, as long as the results of these managers exceed their level of toxicity.”

Depending on the outcome of the interrogations, the former executives, including Hascoët, could be forced to present their testimony before a judge. It’s unclear if any current executives at the company, like Guillemot, have been questioned by police as part of the investigation so far. The company has mostly tried to turn the page on the workplace reckoning, and is currently preparing to release Assassin’s Creed Mirage on October 5, the first new game in the blockbuster franchise since 2020.

“Ubisoft has no knowledge of what has been shared and therefore can’t comment,” a spokesperson for the company told Kotaku.


Gollum Publisher Used AI To Write Apology

An investigation by German outlet Game Two into what went wrong during the development of Lord of the Rings: Gollum has made claims that the publisher’s apology for the terrible state of the released game was written by AI ChatGPT. The claim appears alongside a laundry list of alleged issues behind the game’s development, including poorly paid crunch and unpleasant working conditions at developer Daedalic.

The German developer Daedalic cut its teeth on point-and-click adventures. Generally with aspirations above ability, these most often proved beautiful but cumbersome games, with a very dedicated European fanbase. However, when it came to developing Lord of the Rings: Gollum, goals were set far higher, with an intention to create a AAA game, except without a AAA budget or team. This, it is now being reported, seemingly led to unpleasant times, impossible goals, and a wave of job losses.

Report: Warum Gollum scheitern MUSSTE [ENG SUB] | GAME TWO #307

Described by Kotaku as “2023’s worst game,” Gollum did not exactly release to a fanfare. Currently sitting on an absolutely brutal Metascore of 34, it’s unquestionable that something went wrong. Game Two set out to find out what, speaking to 32 former and current Daedalic employees, and found grim times.

Following a string of expensive flops in the always-tiny adventure market, former employees told Game Two that a culture of crunch became the norm at the studio, causing a lot of burn-out, especially for younger workers. At least one person speaking to camera says that they were offered less than minimum wage when extending their contract. Extraordinarily, Game Two shows an email allegedly from COO Stephan Harms that states the company may no longer pay for overtime, and that it’s “a completely normal and common parameter in our industry,” adding, “crunch times are the norm.” Daedalic denied to Game Two that overtime wasn’t compensated.

The other large issue that was raised was the management style of CEO Carsten Fichtelmann and COO Stephan Harms. Daedalic refuted the claims that the work environment was unpleasant, saying it was a “friendly” place to work, but multiple sources—some on camera—stated that Fichtelmann especially was often angry and reduced employees to tears.

Read More: Review: 2023’s Worst Game, Gollum, Has Entered The Chat

Daedalic staff reported feeling much more positive when it came to be development of Gollum. There was a lot of internal enthusiasm for the world of Tolkien, and it was a huge scoop for a small German studio, giving the company aspirations of international success.

With worldwide attention from the gaming press, and a lot of promotional activity, the ambition was in place to develop a AAA game. Except, it seems from this report, it wasn’t matched by hiring a team large enough to achieve it. Current Daedalic owners Bastei Lübbe weren’t prepared to give the studio the extra funding they needed, the game eventually made on a tiny budget of €15 million.

Coming from a background of making story-led adventure games, sources told Game Two that the same approach was taken to Gollum, with the mechanics of how it would actually play coming too late. The team also met significant problems creating a main character that moved on all-fours, which led to a litany of issues. And with limited staff and money, and an internal sense that the game couldn’t be saved, the multiple delays to the game were described by some sources as “damage limitation.”

Terrible in-game trailers were released apparently without the development team’s knowledge, which even Daedalic acknowledged could have been better. However, the report states that staff continued to put in every effort they could—including crunch—to try to rescue the project. Which clearly didn’t work out.

Read More: Lord Of The Rings: Gollum Studio Apologizes For ‘Underwhelming Experience’

Shortly after release, Daedalic seemingly posted an apology to social media, describing Lord of the Rings: Gollum as an “underwhelming experience,” while promising patches. An apology that, rather concerningly, incorrectly spelt the name of the game, while packing in empty aphorisms. It later became clear that the apology wasn’t written by Daedalic, but rather their new owners, publisher Nacon, and published without Daedalic’s approval. But even more extraordinarily, two anonymous sources of Game Two told them that the apology was written by ChatGPT.

We’ve done our best to reach out to Nacon regarding this claim, although the company is very shy about sharing contact information on its website. We’ve also reached out Daedalic to ask for responses to specific claims made in the Game Two report.

Very sadly, the response by Daedalic to the situation was to entirely close down its development division, in order to focus purely on publishing other developers’ games. That saw 25 people lose their jobs.