Inside Ubisoft – From Low Morale To Internal Tensions
As industry-wide layoffs continue to plague headlines, Ubisoft, the sixth-largest video game company by employees, is at a crossroads. Internally, morale is at an all-time low and employees fear that the publisher could be next to see a major restructuring, inevitably resulting in a high number of people losing their jobs.
The lack of job security is the current feeling felt across the industry, but as Ubisoft leadership continues its never-ending ambition to pursue trends, usually resulting in wasted resources or lackluster results, it won’t be them shown the door if the company needs to reduce costs.
Since the start of 2023, over 15,000 game industry workers have lost their jobs, with over 5600 being lost in January 2024 alone. Ubisoft hasn’t escaped unscathed, as 124 layoffs hit the company in November 2023, but sources, who spoke with Insider Gaming under the condition of anonymity, believe that the writing is on the wall and that number is likely to grow.
But with one of its best pipelines of games in over a decade, why exactly are internal tensions at boiling point? Over the past several months, I’ve been speaking to a number of employees at the company to understand why.
The Wild Goose Chase
In recent years, Ubisoft’s strategy has moved away from innovation and creativity and led the company on a wild goose chase to produce what was popular at the time. From trying to produce the next colossal free-to-play battle royale to its desire for NFTs and web3, the never-ending pursuit has left countless projects being canned, talent being wasted, and a massive amount of money being flushed down the toilet.
At one point in late 2021 to early 2022, the company had around a dozen battle royale games in development, sources said. Many of these projects ultimately failed to captivate players during playtesting and were subsequently canceled.
One such game was Ghost Recon: Frontline, which met fan pushback on its announcement due to the game not aligning with player interests. One of the top comments from its official reveal trailer reads, “The Community: we want a return to roots hardcore tactical stealthy shooter – Ubisoft: We hear you, here’s a Battle Royal game”. It was a sentiment not just reflected by YouTube comments either, as after four years of development, the game was canceled in the summer of 2022 for an undisclosed reason. Four other unannounced games were also publically canceled from mid-2022 to January 2023, in addition to Splinter Cell VR and Project Q.
Battle royale games weren’t Ubisoft’s only trend-chasing impulse though, in late 2021, the company announced Ubisoft Quartz – its attempt to take advantage of the then NFT boom. The announcement was publically slammed, and internally, employees felt embarrassed to even be associated with a company that made such a prolific out-of-touch announcement. Two years on, it seems like Ubisoft has realized that NFTs are not the money-making technology it thought it was. Still, the company continues to quietly work in the NFT/web3 sphere on projects like Champions Tactics: Grimoria Chronicles.
Looking ahead, the publisher’s desires currently lie with live service and extraction-based shooters. Insider Gaming understands that at least three major extraction-based shooters are in development at the publisher. The Division Heartland (release date TBA), Far Cry’s Project Maverick (tentative 2025 release), and a new IP set in World War 2 that is forecasted to release around 2026-2027. Whether or not all of these games will be released remains to be seen, but for those working on the projects, it’s feared that once again, the boat may have sailed by the time they are released.
Constant Delays & Management
In recent years, there has been one thing that you can probably count on with a Ubisoft game – its inevitable delay. It’s a frustration that’s been felt publically and internally, mostly boiling down to unrealistic internal deadlines and poor management.
One of the most well-known examples of constant delays is Skull and Bones, the decade-long-in-development pirate game that has seen six public delays. The game is estimated to have cost in the region of $200 million to produce, a figure that is not expected to be made back, sources said. For the most part, delays stemmed from a plague of power-hungry managers trying to elevate their careers. The constant changes in vision created a rotten atmosphere, with some developers confused as to what they were meant to be doing on a day-to-day basis.
“Some days I would just be sat there watching YouTube videos”, said one former employee who worked on the project.
Eventually, though, the dust finally settled, and the foundations were finally laid on what Skull and Bones was going to be. Internal delays then became public delays as Ubisoft Singapore faced a series of unrealistic deadlines.
Unfortunately, Skull and Bones isn’t the only game to suffer this fate either. Poor management is a publisher-wide issue, from Beyond Good and Evil 2, which has been in development hell for nearly 15 years and is still nowhere near completion, to XDefiant, the free-to-play first-person shooter developed by Ubisoft San Francisco which has faced near-monthly internal delays because of last minute decisions to include additional features that break the current build.
Back to Office
In September 2023, staff at Ubisoft Montreal, some 4000 employees, returned to the office after three years of working from home due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The decision was met with harsh criticism from Montreal employees, but also company-wide, which fell on deaf ears. Now just months later, Ubisoft has started to rollout Return to Office mandates across the company, with the general rule of thumb to see staff having to return to office for a minimum of two days per week company-wide.
One such mandate, set to go enforce in full effect on April 2, 2024, will see the entire Global Publishing group return for those compulsory two days.
In the policy, shared with Insider Gaming under the condition that it doesn’t go public, the policy outlines that Tuesday will be a mandatory “Office Day”, with employees being able to agree on the second day with their Line Manager. Similar policies across the company are also being enforced, with some employees outlining that they fear it’s just the beginning of enforcing full-time mandatory return-to-office. After all, one justification for the mandates is that the company sees the two days in-office per week as a compromise, as other companies in the industry require employees to be in the office more days per week.
The result has left employees in uproar as they frantically scramble for daycare and take care of other arrangements, as well as expressing the obvious concerns over travel and its reliability, cost, and time; something that many employees didn’t need to consider when accepting jobs.
By the Numbers
Unfortunately, the years of constant delays and out-of-touch decisions have hindered the reputation of the company with players. Resentment is being felt, with some employees believing that it’s now being reflected in player numbers.
In early January, Ubisoft released one of its highest-rated Metacritic games in the past decade, Prince of Persia: The Lost Crown. The game hit a height of 88 (Nintendo Switch) with its critic score and a 9.1 user score, leading many to believe that the game could already be in the running for several Game of the Year awards. Despite the impressive scores though, the game has around 300,000 players at the time of writing (estimated $15m in revenue).
Avatar: Frontiers of Pandora, a game that was announced to be in development at Massive in March 2017, was intended to launch to coincide with The Way of Water and capitalize on its inevitable success. However, after several delays, the game launched in December 2023 with limited marketing. At the time of writing, sources revealed that the game has accumulated 1.9 million players (estimated $133m in revenue). For context, Massive’s last two AAA games, The Division (2016) and The Division 2 (2019) did $330m and $264m (roughly) in their initial launch weeks.
Assassin’s Creed Mirage, which was said to be on par with past successful launches such as Assassin’s Creed Origins and Odyssey currently stands at 5 million players (estimated $250m in revenue).
Not All Doom And Gloom
Despite the hardship that Ubisoft continues to face, the company does have one of its best lineups of games in recent memory. If there are no further delays, Ubisoft has two major releases planned for this year; Star Wars Outlaws (First Half of 2024) and Assassin’s Creed Codename Red (Second Half of 2024).
In 2025 and 2026, expect a new mainline entry to Ghost Recon (Project Over) set during the fictional Naiman War, two new Far Cry titles including a multiplayer game (Project Maverick), and a new mainline entry to Far Cry (Project Blackbird), two new Assassin’s Creed games (Hexe and Invictus), and the already announced Splinter Cell Remake. Beyond that, expect several new Assassin’s Creed games, including an Assassin’s Creed Black Flag remake, currently known as Project Obsidian.
Should Ubisoft find success with these upcoming games, the feeling both within and around the company is likely to change. But first, a strong change in direction needs to happen. The cracks are beginning to show and if things were to continue the way they have recently, from leaving employees in turmoil to having competent managers run projects, the inevitable restructuring could see many affected.
Ubisoft was offered the opportunity to comment before the publication of this article but did not comment in the time of publication.