Rayman creator, Beyond Good and Evil 2 director, and longtime Ubisoft veteran Michel Ancel retired from the video game publisher earlier this month while being investigated for toxic behavior, according to a new report by the French newspaper Libération.
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Ancel, who had been at the company for over 30 years, announced last Friday that he was finally leaving it to go work at a wildlife sanctuary. Libération now reports, and Ancel has confirmed in an interview with the newspaper, that he was in the midst of an investigation by Ubisoft into complaints that he had a toxic management style during the ongoing development of Beyond Good and Evil 2.
Ubisoft confirmed the matter in a statement to Kotaku:
[Ubisoft CEO] Yves Guillemot committed back in July that any allegation will be investigated and no one will be outside of that process–and this would include Michel Ancel. And as Michel confirmed to the journalist at “Liberation,” he is under investigation. The investigation is still ongoing and we have nothing further to share as we respect the confidentiality of this investigation.
The Libération report, which details the development hell the game has been in for seven years, shares accounts by Ubisoft employees who accuse Ancel of being so difficult to work with that other managers were eventually brought in to limit the number of people who had to interact with him. They also blame Ancel’s management of the project, which reportedly included constant changes in scope and re-works, for an unusual amount of exhaustion, depression, and burnout experienced by members of his team.
“He is capable of explaining to you that you are a genius, that your idea is wonderful, then to dismantle you in a meeting, saying that you are nothing but shit, that your work is worth nothing, and not speak to you for a month,” one source told the newspaper.
In an interview with Libération, Ancel said he was unaware that people felt this way, and only seemed to acknowledge that the general difficulties associated with making an ambitious big-budget game had taken its toll on Ubisoft Montpellier where Beyond Good and Evil 2 is being developed. “The suffering is from both sides. Yes, it’s hard and there are people who are sad,” Ancel told Libération, based on a translation by Kotaku. He went on:
If you want we can work the terms. For me, the sadness is maybe more profound. Of course, when someone is in burnout, it’s terrible. Of course, when someone stops a project after many years it’s a part of their life that goes away. I don’t devalue that but you have to consider the context of such a creation, its ambition, its complexity.
Ancel says he was informed of the investigation into his behavior directly by Ubisoft CEO Yves Guillemot in early August, who Libération describes as being close friends with Ancel. That was approximately a month after Ubisoft had responded to widespread reports of sexual harassment, misconduct, and abusive behavior by certain employees at the company by recruiting outside firms to investigate the allegations. Chief creative officer Serge Hascoet was one of those accused of misconduct and resigned shortly afterwards, while many others were terminated or otherwise parted ways with the company.
One employee told Libération that they thought this broader reckoning within Ubisoft would force the issues with Ancel to finally be resolved. Instead, the paper reports that Guillemont reaffirmed by late August that Ancel’s presence was “non-negotiable.”
(After its original statement regarding today’s Libération story, a spokesperson for Ubisoft sent Kotaku the following additional statement: “Since informing Michel he was under investigation early August, Yves has not been in contact with him nor discussed him with the BG&E2 team until the announcement of his departure.”)
Non-negotiable or not, by the morning of September 18, Ancel announced his departure from gaming in an Instagram post.
According to Libération, that post went live the same day he had taken part in a multi-hour session to answer questions in the investigation into his behavior. It was also the same day Ubisoft put out a press release announcing the veteran’s departure without mentioning he was being investigated.
In his interview, Ancel told Libération he parted ways with the company of his own accord and that his only regret is he didn’t finish Beyond Good and Evil 2 sooner.
Update - 7:04 p.m. ET, 9/25/2020: Michel Ancel responded to today’s report by Libération on Instagram this evening calling it “fake news.”
Ancel went on:
Take 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 Ubi soft. 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 every of my projects and always had respect for the teams. The accusations are wrong.