We keep hearing about Ubisoft for all the wrong reasons. If you weren't caught up, the French company had to cut ties with several of its leading figures like the two editorial Vice Presidents Tommy François and Maxime Béland, Chief Creative Officer Serge Hascoët (because of numerous sexual harassement and assault cases), human resources Director Cécile Cornet, Ubisoft Canada Director Yannis Mallat and also Ashraf Ismail, Valhalla's Creative Director.
Those events are a testimony of the global unhealthy climate of the studio. Ubisoft CEO Yves Guillemot publicly apologised to its 18 000 employees back in July and did it again just before the second Ubisoft Forward in mid-September.
Last week, another big name surprisingly announced he was leaving the studio: Michel Ancel. He stated wanting to "fully focus on his passion for wild life", but according to French newspaper Libération, the actual reason for this is much more complex.
His departure was reported to be a huge relief for the teams at Ubisoft Montpellier, currently working on the very ambitious Beyond Good & Evil 2, a game that has been in stand-by for the last seven years. A dozen employees reported toxic behavior from Ancel, resulting in burn-outs and mental depression.
Completely autonomous in the creative process, Michel Ancel was reverting on ideas, often throwing away months of development. One of its employees interviewed by Libération illustrates this with Ganesha City, the metropolis we were able to get a glimpse of in the BGE2's trailer during E3 2017:
"Those videos were handmade, under Michel's directions. Everything has been thrown away since. Ancel wanted a Ganesha City with a completely absurd amount of details. We just finished it, three years later and we had to start from scratch like four or five times. Knowing we will be making several planets, you can understand how stupid this process is."
Vision and direction often change during a game's development. But according to the newspaper, Ancel's ones were "abrupt" and he was never giving any justification to his teams.
"He is able to tell you how great you are and how awesome your idea is, just to crush you down during a meeting by telling you how shitty you are", adds another employee. "It was common to come across a colleague in tears". Ancel's proximity with Yves Guillemot was also angering the developers, he was only working on Beyond Good & Evil 2 in the mornings, the rest of the day was entirely dedicated to Wild Sheep, his own studio currently developing WiLD.
In order to make progress on this project, Ubisoft decided to send Jean-Marc Geffroy, Ghost Recon's creative director, as backup. But it only made things worse, ultimately resulting in Rayman's creator abandoning ship.
Also interviewed by Libération, Michel Ancel explains:
"The project had no sense anymore, it's cubes fighting cylinders. I was wondering what was the point of my presence. I reached out to Yves saying that Jean-Marc (Geffroy) had taken the wheel and that BGE2 wasn't Michel Ancel's anymore. Yves (Guillemot) and Serge (Hascoët) told me that they wanted both of us on it, to get Ghost Recon and Beyond Good and Evil in the same project."
In 2019, Ubisoft threatened to completely drop the game if developers were not able to produce a first playable demo. It is more or less around this time that Ancel decided to leave Ubisoft, seeing his control on the project being reduced by his employer. BGE2 was supposed to enter production phase but then, Covid-19 got in the way and delayed things even more.
In his interview with Libération, Michel Ancel never denies Ubisoft Montpellier's awkward working atmosphere, although he greatly reduces his responsibility for it. He repeated it times and times on Instagram, even going as far as calling the accusations against him "Fake news":
"I am not managing the team. I bring a vision and producers and managers decide what to do, when and how. They are powerful people in the making of such big projects. Why don't the journalist speaks about them ?"
Ubisoft waited for Ancel's resignation and for the facts to be publicly related to start an investigation. Yet, this issue was no secret and one can definitely blame the apparent passivity of Ubisoft's leadership for such serious matters...
Beyond Good & Evil 2 keeps moving forward, only this time without Michel Ancel's lead. Libération added that the developing team is currently recruiting and that the studio intends to restart on a healthier basis to finally finish what sounds like a never-ending development. Let's hope that the worst is now behind them...