How Ubisoft’s editorial teams are quietly moving games like Assassin’s Creed, Roller Champions

You are probably familiar with video game development jobs such as programmer, artist, or designer. But one of the most influential roles at Ubisoft is one that isn’t always the same for most people: the role of the editorial team.

This advisory group’s job is to set the creative direction for Ubisoft and its games at large, and it’s been in a state of flux lately. The editors had get an overhaul beforehand early 2020, only to need another one later this year after a wave of abuse allegations collected from several senior Ubisoft employeesincluding editorial leads.

In the pre-2020 structure, reports suggested that many of Ubisoft’s games ended up very similar, with just one or two people dictating the creative direction of the company as a whole. And while the team’s initial reshuffle may have been well-intentioned, it left at least two people with allegations against them that dictated the company’s creative pillars. So it had to be different again.

And that’s where Fawzi Mesmar came in. Mesmar joined Ubisoft a little over a year ago as VP of Editorial, bringing with him nearly two decades of industrial design experience at companies such as Atlus, Gameloft, King and EA DICE. He landed the role at a particularly difficult moment, and while his team’s general policy of shaping the company’s creative direction remains intact, the nuances appear to be changing. Speaking to IGN, Mesmar describes the broad outlines of his role as working with top leadership to put together a “creative framework” to help individual game teams with their creative vision. They set up the pillars and then help teams achieve them throughout the development process.

“We treat these as guidelines,” says Mesmar. “So these aren’t things that every single project has to have or that every single project has to adhere to. They are creative guidelines. Think of them as a framework to activate your creativity, not a checkbox to tick… and one game can’t be everything. We wouldn’t expect [that from] even the games that want to follow the guidelines or take into account some of these criteria. Games need to focus on what they are and who they are for.”

So what is this framework? mesmars previously alluded to, and it effectively focuses on three pillars. The first “total focus on quality” is pretty self-explanatory. The second is making games that are culturally meaningful, which Mesmar describes as a drive to make games that form the fabric of pop culture at large. So, quite bluntly, games that are well made and that a lot of people like – pretty simple.

The situation is somewhat different with the third pillar – Mesmar wants to “create third spaces”.

“If work is your first space and home is your second, then the third space is this… You can just drop in, come out and connect with like-minded individuals or groups of people that you are free to express yourself to and connect with can . I would imagine it similar to a skate park. you can show up [whenever] In a skate park you just sit there and hang out, even if you don’t want to skate.”

Joining Mesmar’s efforts is Raashi Sikka, another new hire who joined Ubisoft in February 2021 after the same storm of accusations rocked the editorial team. Sikka is Ubisoft’s Vice President of Global Diversity, Accessibility and Inclusion – a role Ubisoft has not previously had at all. She tells me that while D&I efforts existed earlier in the company, they weren’t all united under one banner.

“Things happened, they just happened in different places used by different teams with different words and languages,” she says. “And what we’ve really been trying to do is come together with a common direction, a common vocabulary and a common language and a North Star that the entire organization — 20,000 people — can support and help us walk in that common direction.”

While Sikka’s role spans Ubisoft’s HR teams, it also overlaps with Mesmar’s as both work with creative teams to ensure game content is more diverse and inclusive. In practice, this involves talking to development teams at various stages of a project to identify where diversity and inclusion issues might play a role in everything they do. Mesmar explains that depending on where they are in the project, these conversations can take different forms, from high-level internal design discussions to interviewing outside consultants to analyzing player feedback and data.

What happens, I ask, when there’s a conflict between what the editors are proposing and what the development team wants?

Difficult for five or six people to agree on where to have lunch. Imagine hundreds of people working on a creative endeavor for years.

“We give the team the player feedback, and then the team owns their creative vision, and then they make the decision on how to proceed with their game based on the feedback,” Mesmar replies. “It’s difficult for five or six people to agree on where to have lunch. Imagine it were hundreds of people working for years on a very creative and personal endeavor. Of course there will be disagreements and I think that’s an inevitable part of the creative process. But that’s why the assignment of ownership, i.e. creative ownership, is always with the team.”

Sikka adds that conversations like this are also rarely binary and usually very nuanced. But the value is in being able to talk about it with a group of people who aren’t deeply ingrained, experts and consultants on the ground, and a lot of data.

“When we do a review in the later stages of a game, we typically give the team back a high, low, and medium risk of what we see and what we think needs to change,” she says. “When something is marked as high [risk] that we feel this is really not in line with our values, we are trying to make sure it goes beyond a conversation and that we are taking action.”

At the moment, neither can go into many details about how this has impacted Ubisoft’s games – they’ve only been at it for about a year so far, so much of their work is still in development and unannounced.

However, Sikka wanted to highlight a specific win the team already had: the Content Review group.

“This arose out of a need we heard from our development teams; [they wanted] To have different soundboards, get feedback from different team members not directly working on the project to ensure this [they’re] to be inclusive, respectful and celebrate the diversity of [their] Game. So we started this group of volunteers, we have about a hundred people who bring their voice and their perspectives to these different projects and we started it as a pilot. It turned out to be really successful. We have a team of about two full-time employees dedicated to running the process, managing hundreds of volunteers, and interacting with development teams around the world.”

She adds that specifically for Roller Champions, the Content Review Group was instrumental in creating the diverse characters and providing feedback on the various outfits and hairstyles. And for more fruits of her labor, she urges people to look forward to the upcoming Assassin’s Creed: Mirage.

“Outside of content review, the inclusive games and content team was instrumental in helping outside experts with the calligraphy [Arab] Names, Arabic culture. So it’s very exciting to see where that and how our players get that in the future.”

She then throws Mesmar out and says she knows he’s particularly excited for Mirage.

“When the first Assassin’s Creed had the guy ride a horse to Damascus, it was one of the first times in gaming for me that I saw my culture represented,” he says. “And now that Mirage is coming to Baghdad in this historic era, I can’t wait for our players to experience that.”

Rebekah Valentine is a news reporter for IGN. You can find her on Twitter @duckvalentine.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *