If you’re a fan of the Assassin’s Creed franchise, then you’ll know that Ubisoft Singapore had a part to play in developing Assassin’s Creed Valhalla and also led the development of the pirate blockbuster Skull & Bones. While the studio has been in the spotlight for their games, a spotlight was recently shed on its Singapore studio – for the wrong reasons.
While problems at Ubisoft Montreal, Quebec, Montpelier, and the head Paris office have been widely documented, Ubisoft Singapore has gotten less attention. A recent Kotaku article reported on how devs in Singapore experienced sexual harassment, toxic managers, and bad pay.
The French ceiling
French company Ubisoft set up a studio in Singapore in 2008, lured by Singapore’s government with generous subsidies, according Kotaku‘s sources. In return, local talent would be trained to eventually take over the reins of the growing studio themselves. However, more than 10 years on, many feel that there hasn’t been much development on that front, as much of its core leadership remains French or French Canadian.
Many people Kotaku spoke with felt there was a “French ceiling” at the Singapore studio, which made it hard for anyone who didn’t speak French to succeed – especially if they were from Southeast Asia or were women. For example, meetings may begin in English, but they would eventually transition into French.
The pay disparity
According to sources, Ubisoft weren’t really paying some local junior developers enough – some left after gaining experience, while those who stayed were rarely promoted to higher management roles.
Ubisoft’s job postings on Singapore government’s jobsearch website – a requirement for companies to hire non-Singaporeans – revealed that local employees could be paid just below the minimum salary range listed, while expats were paid up to $10,000 more a year in some instances. However, HR would chalk it up to the different costs of living – a Singaporean would typically live with their parents until late into their 20s.
Ironically, while local pay disparities exist, three former developers Kotaku spoke to claimed that their senior managers in Singapore were paid significantly more than their counterparts in studios like Montreal.
Sexual harassment issues
According to the Kotaku article, sexual harassment issues were often brushed under the rug.
One former developer experienced multiple incidences of harassment from a coworker who had a habit of rubbing her shoulders – often unexpectedly, and usually from behind. At first they blamed it on her miscommunication due to cultural differences on the part of the offending manager – it took 9 months for HR to move him to a separate building.
Another former developer was harassed by a Producer who made inappropriate jokes about “tattoos hidden where she couldn’t see them” and commenting inappropriately that her outfit wasn’t attractive. She was also asked to kiss him on the cheek at a party once (she refused). Her immediate managers reported the Producer’s behaviour to HR, but instead reprimand, he was promoted to the head of the entire studio.
A case of sexual harassment was also posted on NUSWhispers – an anonymous person from NUS alleged that a programmer from Ubisoft Singapore coerced the poster into sex after expressing interest in applying for a position at the company in 2019.
Sexual harassment and unequal treatment of women seems to be a thing also at Activision Blizzard studio in California. It’s gotten so bad that the Californian government is suing the company for a “frat boy” workplace culture” that subjects its female employees to gender-based discrimination and “constant sexual harassment.”
According to the former developers Kotaku spoke to, the toxic working conditions happened under the leadership of Hugues Ricour. He was Singapore’s former managing director who took over from 2018 until he was transferred back to the Paris headquarters in 2020.
For many developers, the pressure and anxiety emanated from Ricour was unbearable. According six people Kotaku spoke with, anyone who voiced doubts about the project or other concerns about how the studio was managed, could face repercussions from being passed over for a pay raise or promotion to being subtly undermined on a project or pushed out altogether.
“When you feel like you’re going to get fired because you’re saying the truth on a project,” said one former developer. Allegedly, Ricour would get threatening at meetings by slamming fists on tables or yelling at the room.
When it comes to employee evaluations, one supervisor told Kotaku they could only give out a limited number of positive reviews, and the evaluations were largely lists of weaknesses and failures. Imagine not getting appreciation for your hard work – this could leave developers feeling stuck, since their confidence takes a beating.
What’s happened so far?
Even though there’s been a lot of issues – to be fair, these things can happen to any large corporation or studio – the people Kotaku spoke with have nothing but praise for most of the middle-management and staff. And since Ricour was transferred out of Singapore, he’s been replaced by Daryl Long, the former head of the smaller Ubisoft Winnipeg studio.
Long is an improvement, according to current developers. However, only time will tell if the studio’s alleged pay gaps and informal hierarchies will evolve.