| Last updated
While the Assassin's Creed series has seen greater inclusion of women in recent years - with playable female characters appearing in Syndicate, Origins, Odyssey, and the upcoming Assassin's Creed Valhalla - current and former Ubisoft employees have revealed that plans to make these characters much more prominent were rejected by their managers. The excuse given at the time was that female characters don't sell games.
According to a newBloomberg report, 2015's Assassin's Creed Syndicate originally gave equal screen time to brother and sister protagonists Jacob and Evie Frye. However, by release, the female character had been stripped back, leaving you playing as Jacob Frye for the bulk of the game.
This wasn't the last time Ubisoft management is alleged to have stepped in to suppress female characters. In 2017's Assassin's Creed Origins you play as Egyptian warrior Bayek, with control occasionally transferring to his wife Aya for side-missions. However, according to developers who spoke to Bloomberg, at one point in development Bayek was to be seriously injured or killed off early in the game, with the focus switching to Aya as the sole lead. But that was dropped in favour of making Bayek the lead character.
The trend continued with the series' next major entry, 2018's Assassin's Creed Odyssey. Originally Kassandra was due to be the only playable character, with her brother Alexios featuring as a non-player character. However, multiple developers on the project told Bloomberg that this wasn't an option, and instead the game was released with players given the choice to play the story as either Kassandra or Alexios.
That original intention for Odyssey comes through in the game's tie-in novel, in which Kassandra is the canonical lead. However, following the game's announcement, Alexios was given prime place in the game's marketing materials. Initially only he featured in all of the screenshots on the game's Steam page, he was the character in the game's trailer, and he featured on the game's Uplay header image and box art.
In the upcoming Assassin's Creed Valhalla, you'll play as a Viking warrior called Eivor. This character can be either male or female, and you can swap from one to the other at any point while playing the game. However, in the reveal trailer, first gameplay trailer, and in all the assets released as part of the announcement, the Eivor used is the male version of the character. It was only thanks to a collector's edition statue that we could see that there was a female version of Eivor.
According to the developers speaking to Bloomberg and other Ubisoft alumni on Twitter, these directives to include male alternatives or minimise the role of female characters came from chief creative officer Serge Hascoët and the marketing department, who believed female protagonists wouldn't sell games.
More Like ThisMore Like This
I was in the Montréal studio on AC 2 to 10 (origins) and Ubi execs said "women don't sell" EVERY SINGLE TIME.
I am in awe of the Ubi Québec staff who fought teeth and claws to get Evie, and later Kassandra, to even exist.:hearts:
Know that, before them, many battles were lost. https://t.co/u4cobLFbED
- Marie Jasmin à la maison ' BLM (@mariejasmin_) July 21, 2020
I'll say it : I left Gameloft (ran at the time by Ubisoft CEO's brother, later bought by Vivendi) because I was asked to "make that woman's hips bounce more, cause that's what players want, and otherwise, it won't sell and you'll be responsible for your colleague layoffs". Yep. https://t.co/nJuj2NZUZU
- ONIONSKIN (@ONI0NSKIN) July 21, 2020
This has been a long-touted claim in the game industry, despite the huge success of games like the Tomb Raider series and Horizon Zero Dawn. Most recently, The Last Of Us Part II in which you play as two female characters, both of whom featured prominently in marketing - became the fastest-selling PS4 game ever.
Another reason cited by developers for not including female characters in games is the amount of production resources it would require. That was the excuse used for not having any female character options in Assassin's Creed Unity's co-op mode. Creative director Alex Amancio told Polygon in 2014: "It's double the animations, it's double the voices, all that stuff and double the visual assets. Especially because we have customizable assassins. It was really a lot of extra production work."
At the time that claim was disputed by, among others, Jonathan Cooper, who was animation art director on Assassin's Creed 3. He said it would be "a day or two's work". He has since updated that claim to say that he was later told by people at Ubisoft that they were able to have female characters running in the game in "under one hour" and that the "decision to nix female playable characters came from Paris editorial alone".
Hascoët is one of three senior Ubisoft executives to have left their positions this month, alongside Yannis Mallat, managing director of Ubisoft's Canadian studios, and Cécile Cornet, global head of HR. As reported on extensively by Bloomberg, there have been many sexual harassment allegations made against Hascoët over the past decade which have come to light publicly recently as a result of the #metoo movement.
In a letter published prior to Hascoët's resignation, Ubisoft CEO Yves Guillemot acknowledged the problems within his company and outlined his plans to address them. He also said he had "decided to revise the composition of the editorial department" which was the department founded and operated by Hascoët.
There is a lot more in the Bloomberg report and I highly recommend giving it a read.
Chosen for YouChosen for You
Most Read StoriesMost Read