Will Ubisoft Ever Live Down Their Assassin’s Creed Gender Blunder?

By Alison Hudson – 21st July 2014
Will Ubisoft Ever Live Down Their Assassin’s Creed Gender Blunder?

This weekend, it happened again: Ubisoft took criticism for their recent Assassin’s Creed Unity blunder. You know, the one where they ct female playable characters? This time, the critic was Ashley Johnson, voice of Ellie in The Last of Us (which is being rereleased for the PS4 this week). She was quoted in a VideoGamer.com interview as saying, “Give me a fucking break! It’s 2014! How many video games do you have to make to realize maybe have an option to have a female be in there?’

Johnson has been far from the first critic. In the six weeks since Ubioft announced that it was cutting female avatars from ACU claiming that “It’s double the animations, it’s double the voices, all that stuff and double the visual assets [..] It was really a lot of extra production work,” they’ve become the poster child for everything that’s wrong with inclusiveness in videogames in 2014.

The push for female inclusion in central roles in gaming has been building for a number of years now, with people like Anita Sakrkeesian  leading the charge against the traditional roles of women in videogames — as set dressing, as victims, or as sidekicks. Ubisoft had the unfortunate luck to get caught at a tipping point, one where demand for inclusion has begun to outstrip the forgiving of traditional gaming tropes. It’s hard to say whether or not Ubisoft deserves all the flack they’re taking, but one thing is clear: the Internet isn’t going to let them forget the Assassin’s Creed gender blunder anytime soon.

It didn’t help Ubisoft that they tried to explain away their Assassin’s Creed gender blunder with such a lame excuse, which essentially told players, “Female characters weren’t worth the extra effort.” They might as well have just said, “We want to alienate female gamers so that they don’t buy our game.” And nowadays, dismissing the female segment of gamer culture is a stupid thing to do.

From cons to cartoons to messageboards, everybody is getting their digs in at Ubisoft nowadays. One of my favorites is this:

And then last week’s announcement that there would be a playable female Robin in the new Super Smash Bros. also provided an opportunity to get a dig in at Microsoft, this time from Twitter user Not Reggie Fil-Amis:

Will Ubisoft ultimately come through with some sort of female character DLC? Who knows. When the Internet zeitgeist latches onto a joke it doesn’t let the joke go easily, and Ubisoft may ultimately decide that the smart move is to backpeddle and give the people what they want. But I’m willing to bet that their next game doesn’t forget to plan for the “extra work” of female playable characters.

And I guarantee you this: no other AAA or mid-tier gaming company will forget the lesson that Ubisoft is allowing the whole industry to learn.

  • This is a really well written piece! I think the lesson will be forgotten by many AAA publishers fairly quickly though, I think this is a mistake that will be made many more times before the leaders of the industry realise that their demographic has changed. It doesn’t work to tailor your games to the boys club market of the past, because with massive free channels such as the internet, the backlash is hard, harsh and immediate. I absolutely adore Ashley Johnson, and I believe Troy Baker actually disagreed with her statements, believing that tokenising women in gaming is more dangerous and hurtful than excluding them completely. I disagree with that, personally. Token characters are not a solution, but women are also not a minority. Tokenising 50% of the population is an oxymoron.

    • Ariamythe

      I wouldn’t categorize Baker’s comments as disagreeing with her. More like he was offering a more nuanced view: companies SHOULD have more female playable characters, but they should put some thought into them and their place in the game. Which I definitely agree with.

      • Yeah, you’re right. I shouldn’t have described it as a disagreement. Although I have to say, I would rather see a “token” playable female in every game than have none in any.

  • GetOverIt

    This is getting stupid. So what, in that time period it was extremely common for women to be oppressed and at the time they had no other reaction to it. Did you all forget Assassin’s Creed Liberations? (or whatever the one in New Orleans was called) where you could ONLY play a female character, you don’t see an uproar from the male demographic.

    • An uproar from the male demographic would be entirely unfounded due to the vast majority of games featuring a male lead, and a very, very small minority having little to no male representation. A man cannot claim to feel ‘unrepresented’ in modern gaming, since there has never, in the history of the industry, been a time when men and boys have not been the sole focus of sales. The exact opposite can be said of women, which is why the greater community is right in thinking that a company that goes out of its way to describe itself as ‘diverse’ is absurd to not include even one playable female.

    • Ariamythe

      Ditto everything Auseil said. And to add to it:

      There’s a difference between a named character in a story-driven game and a customizable character in a multiplayer game. In these kinds of games the character is more like an avatar, a representative of the player, as opposed to a POV the player experiences the game through.

      Not that they couldn’t do customizable protagonists in story driven games, too, if they wanted; one of the best things about Mass Effect 3 was the ability to cast the hero as male or female. But no one is going to fault them for not going that far in the story games.

  • I genuinely find it laughable that you think listing 15 games with female leads is clear evidence of equality in gaming. Nobody is saying women have never been in games ever, we’re saying that the number of playable men in gaming is HIGHLY disproportional to the number of playable women – figures that do not correlate with a very small gender divide in the demographic.

  • Josh Hatchett

    I would love to see some female uploads as DLC in the future. However, I’m not sure that makes up for the underlying issue. If it were just a single protagonist who happened to be male it wouldn’t be a big deal, but in making a game with customizable characters where you can play together, there really should be playable female characters,

    Then again, Call of Duty didn’t have females for years…

  • Ariamythe

    LOL I love how you had to go back over a decade AND across all systems (including Steam) to pull together that list. Here, let me come up with a counter-list …

    The Amazing Spider-Man 2
    Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag
    Batman: Arkham Knight
    Battlefield 4
    Call of Duty: Ghosts
    Homefront: THe Revolution
    inFAMOUS Second Son
    Killzone Shadowfall
    Metal Gear Solid V
    Murdered: Soul Subject
    Rayman: Legends
    Sniper Elite III
    Watch Dogs
    Wolfenstein: The New Order

    Those are fifteen games *released on optical disc for PS4 in less than a year’s time* that all feature male (generally Caucasian) leads. On one console. In less than a year. So forgive us if we’re not impressed that games like Bloodrayne, whose cheescake T&A protagonist released in 2003, doesn’t impress us too much. :)

  • You’ve never once had to complain because you are catered to in every industry, in every way, on a global, national and micro level. Now you are complaining, because somebody other than you wants a piece of the cake. If it doesn’t bother you whether or not the playables are male or female, you should use your view point to consider why it might matter so much to others – which you evidently haven’t done. The fact that there are far, far fewer women’s stories being told is not because women just inherently have fewer stories than men, and it’s not because the market in gaming is massively mostly men, as both of those arguments are factually untrue. They make for an incredibly naive and ignorant argument.

  • Ariamythe

    You’re strawmanning my arguments. I have never once said I would only be happy when all white males are eliminated as story leads. Merely pointing out how easy it is to find one, because they’re EVERYWHERE.

    And re: Batman and Spiderman. Funny, white males tend to dominate comic books as well. Consider their inclusion a bit of intersectional criticism.

  • zblacktt

    Nobody cares but those looking for attention. This has been SO blown up over something that is not even a issue. Next the gays will demand to be in every single game put out as well.

    • Kevin Maginnis

      Your kidding right? You do realize how fast everyone on this forum will pounce on you for a comment like that. And it’s not really an issue because, and I’m guessing here that you are Male so it wouldn’t be an issue for you, but for the vast majority of Female gamers it really is a big issue.
      And the issue isn’t that we’re not getting a female main-character, it’s that we’re not getting a single female character out of four freaking people.
      And what’s incredibly laughable is that Ubisoft is saying that they couldn’t afford to create a female character, even though they have 10 studios working on the game and a near limitless budget as well.

  • Kevin Maginnis

    Alright I was going to give you a detailed argument explaining why your just wrong and incredibly bigoted, but it’s obvious that your the typical male gamer demographic who think that any amount of change is bad.

  • Kevin Maginnis

    So basically what your saying is that we should stop complaining about all the negatives like race, gender and sexual orientation representation and just keep buying games, is that what your saying?
    Because that is stupid, if we didn’t continually complain about all the dumb things AAA publishers did than nothing would be solved and every game would have micro-transactions and have all the content butchered and re-sold as “dlc”.

    It’s our job to complain as gamers because if we don’t than the video game publishers will continue to do the same things they have been for years and nothing will change.

    And don’t give me that but it could be worse bullshit, because yeah it could be worse, but that doesn’t mean that it’s good.