Feminism

Dear Ubisoft, You Really Let Us Female Gamers Down with the New Assassin’s Creed

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I love Assassin’s Creed. I have every iteration to date, and have played them all to 100 percent and beyond. In fact, generally speaking, I am a big fan of Ubisoft productions; particularly their Tom Clancy games like Splintercell and Rainbow Six.

However, the latest and greatest Assassin’s Creed title built for next generation gaming consoles PS4 and Xbox One will not be joining the rest of the sequentially stacked games in my library.

By now you may have heard the hubbub or seen the hashtag women gamers are using to rebel against the fifth major installment of the Ubisoft blockbuster. Specifically they (we!) are upset at the idea of not being able to select a female avatar to represent ourselves with during online co-op play in Ubisoft’s down-to-the-last-brick-accurate historical representation of Paris during the culturally diverse, and gender-issue-charged French Revolution.

This lack of representation is coming from a game series that historically has had female avatars, and that has a warm and fuzzy disclaimer prominently displayed in the beginning of their Assassin’s Creed titles: “This game was developed by a multicultural team of various faiths and beliefs.

All those good intentions, plus – if the Assassin’s Creed IV budget is any indication of what Ubisoft’s new game will cost to produce – one hundred million dollars, and we’re still coming up short. Even with nine fully staffed studios employing about a thousand people all over the world, still we’re hearing, “Sorry, you can’t have a woman avatar because #womenaretoohardtoanimate.

I find this to be unacceptable. Ubisoft will allow players to pick from one of four pasty faced men, who apparently can be customized to the hilt with a diverse array of weapons, costumes, and skillsets so that the avatar feels unique to the player. But not a single one of them can be a girl?

Let’s be clear that avatars are the issue here – customizable self-representations designed to help you stand out uniquely while playing online. The last few core versions of Assassin’s Creed have included female avatars in the co-operative part of the game, and even a female protagonist in one occasion — consequently winning points and brand loyalty from female gamers. This is why the issue is a big deal. This is a game that historically has at least attempted to be inclusive. AC3, which featured an African-French woman as the protagonist, is the best selling copy of their game yet, at 12.3 million copies sold. But now, when all the chips are all on the table for Assassin’s Creed’s Unity debut on a new and shiny next generation console market, women are conspicuously left out of the game in favor of safe white men.

Without knowing the entire storyline in advance, we can’t really be upset that Ubisoft chose not to make the protagonist of their latest game a woman assassindespite the fact that the most famous and probably the most notorious assassin of the French revolution was a woman. We can be disappointed maybe, but we can’t really be too pissed about no female lead for AC5 — because after all, it is their game, and they can make it any way they damn well please, right? We can be reasonably upset, though, that coming from an operation prattling on loudly about diversity, and about having a cultural and religious rainbow of people from all over the globe working on this game, women avatars were simply shoved off of the “feature” list in (according to Ubisoft) an attempt to stay on budget and within time lines for their yearly blockbuster release. Ubisoft’s technical director James Therien says,  “[Having a female avatar] was on our feature list until not too long ago, but it’s a question of focus and production. So we wanted to make sure we had the best experience for the character. A female character means that you have to redo a lot of animation, a lot of costumes. It would have doubled the work on those things, and I mean it’s something the team really wanted, but we had to make a decision… It’s unfortunate, but it’s a reality of game development.” So what this guy is saying, is that despite the dev team really wanting a gender option, he and other management types refused it to not only the developers, but also to us as consumers because of the cold hard “realities” of video game development.

Again, we’re talking nine studios with a thousand people, presumably spending upwards of a hundred million dollars to make and market just this one title. But, you know, then reality sets in.

As just one woman gamer who has already spent hundreds of dollars, and easily a thousand hours on this AAA game franchise, this tells me that women simply were not prioritized into the release schedule of this title at all.

Out of all the things they could have cut to stay on budget and time, they choose to ditch the idea of even a single female avatar out of the four available options? We haven’t heard one word about anything else at all being cut due to budget or time restraints. The fact that Ubisoft thinks that the most basic and obvious of all considerations a game could make is actually a “feature” that is first in line to get chopped is very telling about their actual attitude towards diversity, and inclusion regardless of what their happy rainbow disclaimer says.

Every single amazingly accurate and outrageously expensive detail in this game has been obviously and inexcusably prioritized ahead of a gender option to represent their players online.

Do they think it’s going to be good enough to offer a playable woman character in a DLC that we are going to end up having to pay extra for?

I have another cold hard “reality” of video game development to postulate. At least 45 percent of gamers are women. By making such a big stink about being race and gender inclusive with the previous editions of this game, and then suddenly alienating about half of Assassin’s Creed fans with this latest release, Ubisoft is probably dooming this title to underperform.

So, Ubisoft, in the aftermath of the lame excuses you offered up in response to questions about this obviously bad decision, if you don’t do the right thing here, your female audience may likely alienate you the same way that you have done to them.

In the end, it is the market that decides these sorts of issues for bloated corporations. Providing adequate representation might be the right thing to do, but it takes more than that for a major company to actually take responsibility for doing it. How much this game underperforms profit projections will depend in large part on how many women consumers get offended by the company’s casual dismissal of their very existence as gamers. Women I know who were previously invested in this title are very likely not going to want to buy this particular version after they hear about this, and believe me — it’s not just this one woman talking about it. Obviously, the development team for this game couldn’t sway the opinions of Ubisoft execs. Maybe the market can though, and that is why I personally won’t be buying this title. It’s the only way that my opinion is likely to make a difference to the bigwigs at Ubisoft.

If you are a woman gamer, there is a petition you can sign here, directed at the Ubisoft execs who just don’t seem to get what the fuss is about.