This morning Ubisoft responded to questions regarding female characters in Assassin’s Creed Unity with an answer that boggles the mind. The game features four characters, and none are female. That would have been alright. But then they had to open their mouths and give an explanation that said it came down to “focus” and “production”, or costs or “double the animations and voices” or whatever they were spewing. Before going any further, I would like to make one thing clear. I am not a feminist. While I understand the problems of female representation in gaming, I don’t jump at every opportunity to be a white knight when I am not one. I haven’t made any campaigns or rallying cries, and the best I’ve done is offer some support or words for thought when issues arise. My problem rests solely with Ubisoft’s pathetic explanation, which they aren’t strangers to giving based on past experiences.
With that said, can we get past the anti-feminist rubbish please? Great. I’d like to start my counter argument by tackling Ubisoft’s logic, or lack thereof, itself. I get that they like their generic white men protagonists. I really do. But if they’re saying that designing animations for female characters is hard, or will take effort, or the setting is a hindrance to pulling off female characters, I’d like to say in three words: Assassin’s Creed Liberation. Firstly, you were lazy to make custom animations there so you simply copy and pasted most of Connor’s from Assassin’s Creed III. That’s forgivable. The character was still unique, even if the animations were old. But tell me, if you could do that back then, why can’t you simply copy the Assassin’s Creed Unity animations and just change the “skin” to be a female character? And do the voice work? How is the French Revolution not a suitable setting for a female character? You managed to pull one off in Liberations, despite claims that it would be a “pain” to do so.
I would like to clarify something here. I believe in an artist’s freedom to express whatever they feel like in whatever form they back. You don’t have to put female characters in your game, and you don’t have to be pro-feminist in your game. But as an artist you know that your work will be put out there to be interpreted by the masses, and as such you have a responsibility to conduct yourself well. You know that two worded thing we often look down on? Something called “public relations” that is so important to your business? You need a good serving of that. Your explanation is poor. I would get behind you (in a non-sexual manner) if you had simply said you don’t feel you can represent female characters well, or you didn’t have good ideas for a female character or there’s a story-related reason as to why there are no female characters. I would be fine with that. It’s your art and your story and your game. No one can tell you what you have to do with it. But, it comes down to responsibility.
Ubisoft, I implore you to cut the bullshit. Your explanation that it has to do with “focus” and “production” and “costs” is transparent of what you actually mean. The reality was summed up very nicely by an indie developer I follow on Twitter, Gareth Fouche:
What the AC Unity story really tells us is that the producers don’t see adding female avatars as having a tangible monetary value.
— Gareth Fouche (@GarethNN) June 11, 2014
It’s not about production costs. The game has ten studios behind it, and it’s creating a Paris that is bigger than all the land in Assassin’s Creed IV, which is crazy (in the good way) in itself already. I believe the issue resides solely in the fact that the publishing powers at Ubisoft just don’t believe having female characters will bring in more revenue. This thinking itself baffles my mind, because sure Assassin’s Creed sells buckets and buckets and is one of the most renowned franchises in the world, but surely by now you’re aware that there is a massive population of female gamers out there? Isn’t it around half of gamers? If you’re still surprised that many women play games, then you’re living in the stone age and I’d advise you please return to reality. We’re actually in 2014 now.
Ubisoft, where is your proof that including female characters won’t help your sales? Where is your proof that it will hinder your sales? I’ll tell you where it is. It doesn’t even get the courtesy of being thrown in the garbage bin with the “female character idea document”, because it never existed in the first place. I’ll tell you what, Ubisoft. I’m an adult. I can handle the truth if you give me a good reason why you don’t wish to include female characters, despite Liberation and your multiplayer modes having them in. And keep in mind, I’m making it easy for you. The words “we don’t want to” is a good enough reason. It really is. It’s your game. You can do what you like. I’m not going to pick on you for standing by your art.
You not only have a responsibility to conduct yourself well as a company, but you have the added responsibility in the fact that Assassin’s Creed is one of the biggest franchises in gaming and as such will be looked up to by the masses of gamers and game developers in mainstream. With Assassin’s Creed Unity that responsibility will only grow, and the least you can do if you don’t wish to include female characters in your core game experience is just to be honest and forthright about it. This isn’t some whine-fest about you not including female characters. This isn’t some white knight stance on feminism from a male gamer. This isn’t a complaint about your decision to not include female leads in your franchise. Again, that’s your freedom to do what you like in your game.
I only ask that you don’t bullshit me.
Although perhaps this is all clear insight into why we’re not getting Beyond Good & Evil 2.