Ubisoft Singapore ignores questions about its treatment of workers at industry panel

Clockwise from top left: Ubisoft Singapore moderator Michael Lee, Gwen Guo of the Singapore Games Association, Manila studio owner Walter de Torres, and Ubisoft Singapore Lead Animator Joan Hsu in a Tuesday afternoon webinar on the gaming industry.
Clockwise from top left: Ubisoft Singapore moderator Michael Lee, Gwen Guo of the Singapore Games Association, Manila studio owner Walter de Torres, and Ubisoft Singapore Lead Animator Joan Hsu in a Tuesday afternoon webinar on the gaming industry.

Greater transparency is needed to counter the gaming industry’s entrenched misogyny was among vague prescriptions raised in a discussion moderated by a corporate gaming giant under investigation in Singapore for its own crisis of accountability.

A discussion of careers in the gaming industry hosted by Ubisoft Singapore, a company accused of enabling a toxic culture of harassment and discrimination by its employees, took place Tuesday as part of a webinar series. But when it came time to address its shortfalls in shaping young careers, Ubisoft ignored those addressing its workplace culture.

Ubisoft required that questions be submitted in advance, and Coconuts specifically requested that the moderator, Ubisoft spokesperson Michael Lee, ask lead animator Joan Hsu her thoughts on how the industry needs to change.

That and other questions about the allegations facing the company went unasked at the panel on working in the gaming industry held with Gamescom Asia. Instead, other panelists unaffiliated with the company weighed in.

“I do think that overall, we need to be accountable for a lot of things that we do in – I’m not just saying corporations [but] everybody in the industry, we need to have a very honest conversation and prioritize studio culture as to be as important as the technical skills,” said Gwen Guo, chairperson of the Singapore Games Association, in response to a question from Coconuts.

The worldwide reckoning of toxic game culture has been a long time coming since 2014’s #Gamergate exposed deeply entrenched sexism. Its parent organization in France has been sued by workers for allegedly tolerating a culture of sexual harassment.

Today’s discussion came two months after an expose found Ubisoft Singapore was rife with complaints of sexual harassment, bullying and a gap in pay based on race. Former employees described episodes ranging from inappropriate touching to a culture favoring the French management of the Paris-based publisher.

Singapore’s Tripartite Alliance for Fair and Progressive Employment Practices last month announced that it was investigating the company after receiving anonymous complaints of workplace harassment and unfair treatment there.

The alliance did not immediately respond to messages sent Tuesday afternoon. 

Without addressing the allegations directed at Ubisoft, one of the industry’s largest employers, Guo said the “conversation needs to continue and be even more amplified.”

Walter de Torres, founding partner of Manila art studio Pixel Mafia, said there are “lots” to fix but stressed “diversity inclusion” and showing worth to employees are of utmost importance.

“Depending on where you are, whether you’re a studio in Vancouver versus a studio in Singapore or Manila, those with diversity inclusion, what that means is different in each of those regions, but the fact that you’re at least kind of talking about it, and addressing those issues is really important,” he said. 

“Because we are an entertainment company, […] our value is all about our people, so if you aren’t focused on your people, the kind of studio that you’re going to build is not going to have longevity,” he added.

In July’s expose by gaming news site Kotaku, current and former employees described discrimination and “toxic working conditions” going back to 2017. 

It included allegations that former managing director Hugues Ricour, who was removed from his post in February, made suggestive comments to female employees and asked one to kiss him on the cheek. A former developer alleged that in 2018, a male employee unexpectedly rubbed her shoulders without her permission. It said that the company’s human resources department took nine months to transfer the employee to a different building.

There was also a “bro culture” in which male employees made fun of sexual harassment training and did not take it seriously.

Large pay disparities of up to S$13,600 (US$10,000) a year were also reported for local Singaporean staff compared to those imported from abroad.

Gamescom Asia takes place Oct. 14-17.

Other stories you should check out:

Singapore school ups its game with new esports lab (Photos)

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