Michel Ancel Defends Himself After The Ubisoft Investigation

He leaves, an investigation pops up, he defends himself – the next chapter in the story.

Michel Ancel, the creator of Beyond Good & Evil and Rayman, was claimed by several anonymous developers of Ubisoft to be toxic. Libération, a French publication released an article, as well as interview with and about Ancel. However, the newspaper started its investigation ten days before Ancel announced his retirement from the gaming industry (and from Ubisoft after three decades) to work in a wildlife sanctuary.

Around 15 Ubisoft Montpellier employees (who worked with Ancel) described him as a toxic personality, and the „grotesque” organization of the studio revolved around him, and even though an investigation was happening, Guillemot still reportedly decided to continue trusting him, although the teams working on Beyond Good & Evil 2 did not support his presence (which itself was non-negotiable!). Ancel expressed that there’s no link between his retirement and the internal investigation, adding that he also left Wild Sheep (the studio he founded, which is still reportedly working on a PlayStation 4-exclusive called WiLD, which was announced at Gamescom 2014).

Libération claimed that there were non-stop direction changes regarding Beyond Good & Evil 2 (we will shorten it to BG&E2 onwards) because the „all-powerful” creative director always wanted to be in the centre: he had to approve every decision made in the studio, even though he worked just part-time on the game. „Michel [Ancel] needs ideas to belong to him. He often prefers improvising something of his own rather than listening to the team and having a look at the structured work we had been doing to his request,” an anonymous developer said. This resulted in several months of work getting scrapped: for example, Ganesha City, seen in the BG&E2 announcement in 2017, has been redone four or five times, and Ancel requested the same detail level each time. „He could tell you that you’re a genius and that your idea was astounding, then rip you a new one during a meeting and tell you you’re nothing but shit, that your work is worth nothing, and then not talk to you for a month,” a source said.

This led to a dozen Ubisoft Montpellier employees asking for sick leave after burning out (depression, exhaustion…), and others requested for a transfer. Teams organised in a way to only have one people talk to Ancel, preferably someone who he knew for a while, so he’d get the whiplashes if things go awry. Jean-Marc Geffroy, a senior game director, joined Ubisoft Montpellier, but his arrival created more tension, resulting in Ancel distancing himself even more from the game (being only present for just a few mornings each week), and the game’s development was almost shut down in early 2019. A board of directors was created to save BG&E2, but this made things harder: „To cope, the only solution for us is to accept that, by definition, the board is always right. They say [things], we do [them]. It gets complicated when they don’t agree with each other. The further we are from them, the better,” a source said.

In the interview, Ancel dodged Libération’s tough questions – instead, he talked about how BG&E2 is meant to be the first AAAA game and what challenges it provided, and he said the main issue was the nightmare development, and about the burnouts, he said the team wasn’t prepared for such a big project, saying he also suffered and that a few people were sad. „If you want, we can work on the terms. For me, this sadness can be very deep. Of course [the fact that] a person [is] burning out is terrible. Of course, if someone stops a project after years working on it, it’s a part of their life that disappears. I’m not depreciating that, but you have to consider the context of such a creation, its ambition, its complexity,” Ancel replied. He only mentioned one burnout case that he knew, admitting that there were regular changes, minimising the scope of the issue, adding that he wasn’t surprised when people asked to be removed from the development. He then blamed Geffroy and the management’s constant changes: „The latest big games of Ubisoft Montpellier were made by about 30 or 40 people, now we’re talking about 250 people collaborating from everywhere. People want to work like they used to, they want their comfort zone, they’re losing their references. We’d love to always work based on what we learnt from the previous game. Maybe there were too many sudden changes, the size, the R&D, too many new things,” he added.

After the interview, he created two Instagram posts. The first one outright called Libération’s article fake news: „Fake News. Take a few people with rage and jealousy and let them speak in the name of hundreds. Publish the news fast so that it combines with sexual harassment from other news at Ubisoft. Is this serious? Is this what you expect from a national newspaper? I will fight for the truth because such accusations are a shame. I worked hard on each of my projects and always had respect for the teams. The accusations are wrong. 1 – toxic management: 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?

2 – I always change my mind: false. E.g. I’ve spent years explaining why the city should not be redone from scratch. Hours explaining that characters were good enough and did not need to be redone. Same for planets and all. But sometimes some people in the team changed things despite my advice. Managers are here to solve this. 3 – the 2017 demo was fake and was a video: false. The 2017 demo was solid and made the 2018 demo possible. As opposed to what is in the news, the 2018 demo had the right details, was using real streaming, procedural generation and was playable online. This was a masterpiece of technology.

The news from Libération contains fake Information revealed by a few people who want to destroy me and the projects. This can’t be done without me fighting every single line of that news. I’ve offered the journalist the opportunity to take enough time to look at all the mistakes. Let’s see what he will do.”

In another post, he added: „The other side of the mirror. Today, every information is a product (even the real pain of people in big companies). With their article, Libération. the national newspaper gives us proof of this.

1: There is a big independent investigation about the Ubisoft Montpellier studio. Why didn’t they wait for the results? Why are they making their investigation with a few people? 2: The article contains a lot of mistakes and false information (I’m working on proving this). Why didn’t they check the sources? 3: This is a serious subject. Many people left because they were exhausted, sad, frustrated. Why [are they] going so fast?

I left video games because I was exhausted – this is not a way for me to escape any responsibilities. Like many other people, I participate in an independent investigation because I still believe in truth and justice. I ask Libération to question itself about the violence of its methods. Real stories of real people are not a product. Oh, one more thing. My Instagram account is a personal place of expression, my words are not written or thought by any other people. Here it’s me with my strengths and weaknesses.”

To be continued?

Source: Gamesindustry

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Anikó, our news editor and communication manager, is more interested in the business side of the gaming industry. She worked at banks, and she has a vast knowledge of business life. Still, she likes puzzle and story-oriented games, like Sherlock Holmes: Crimes & Punishments, which is her favourite title. She also played The Sims 3, but after accidentally killing a whole sim family, swore not to play it again. (For our office address, email and phone number check out our IMPRESSUM)

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