Ubisoft Employees Asked To Strike Over CEO’s Comments, Pay

Ubisoft hasn’t had the best couple of years. A string of flops and disappointments means the company isn’t in the best shape as it heads into 2023, so in an attempt to get everyone firing last week CEO Yves Guillemot sent an email to staff telling them “The ball is in your court”. It did not go down well.

It was, in fact, about as bad as one of these emails can get, doing everything from blaming workers for poor results to advocating for extra work. As a result, the union Solidaires Informatique—which has members at Ubisoft’s Paris offices—has called for a strike next week.

The union is calling the strike to not only protest Guillemot’s dismissive comments, but to also call for better pay and conditions at the company, in particular a 10% payrise to account for the inflation crisis and the implementation of a four-day working week.

Here’s their statement in full:

CALL FOR STRIKE UBISOFT PARIS

FRIDAY JANUARY 27-AFTERNOON

According to Guillemot:

THE BALL IS IN OUR COURT

(but the money stays in his pocket)

In his latest statement, Mr. Guillemot announces a worrying future for Ubisoft.

If the request to employees to be “especially careful and strategic with your spending” is ironic considering the company’s editorial strategy of the last few years, it is not funny. When Mr. Guillemot speaks of “attrition” and “organizational adjustments”, it means: staff reductions, discreet studio closures, salary cuts, disguised layoffs, etc.

On several occasions, Mr. Guillemot is trying to shift the blame (once again) onto the employees; he expects us to be mobilized, to “give it our all”, to be “as efficient and lean as possible”. These words mean something: overtime, managerial pressure, burnout, etc.

Mr. Guillemot asks a lot from his employees, but without any compensation. • Have salaries kept up with the high inflation of recent years?

• What about the implementation of the 4-day week?

• What has been put in place for the teams that come out of the productions exhausted (like those of Just Dance or Mario)?

We demand:

– an immediate 10% increase for all salaries, regardless of annual increases, to compensate for inflation. With the hundreds of millions of euros obtained from Tencent, there is money in the coffers of the employers.

– the improvement of working conditions, with in particular the implementation of the 4-day week.

– transparency on the evolution of the workforce, both locally and globally.

– a strong commitment against disguised dismissals and a condemnation of abusive managerial policies that push employees to resign.

And because Mr. Guillemot and his clique only understand the relationship of power, Solidaires Informatique is calling on the employees of Ubisoft Paris to go on strike on Friday 27 January in the afternoon, from 2 to 6 pm.

Next fiscal year, which runs through March 2024, Ubisoft said it plans to release at least one additional unannounced big game besides Skull and Bones, Avatar, and Assassin’s Creed Mirage. Guillemot calls it “the biggest pipeline in Ubisoft history” in his email to staff and said he’s excited to share more at this year’s E3 conference in June.

Update 1/20/2023 3:12 p.m. ET: Guillemot was set to meet staff at Ubisoft’s Paris studio in a face-to-face Q&A meeting on Thursday but cancelled, two sources familiar with the event told Kotaku. It would have come a day after the CEO apologized for his earlier “ball is in your court” comment in a companywide townhall.

The planned Paris studio visit was also the same day more than a million people flooded the city’s streets in a striker’s march protesting President Emmanuel Macron’s plan to raise France’s retirement age by two years to 64. A source said the march was the reason why the Q&A was cancelled. Ubisoft did not respond to a request for comment.

Blizzard’s ‘Workplace Ranking’ For Employees Sounds Like Hell [Update]

A story ran on Bloomberg earlier today with the headline “Blizzard Manager Departs In Protest of Employee Ranking System”. It sounds very businessy, maybe something that would land on the Linkedin news feed of a HR manager, but the stuff it’s describing is important because it sounds absolutely dystopian.

Here’s how that “employee ranking system” is described in the report:

In 2021, Blizzard, a unit of Activision Blizzard Inc., implemented a process called stack ranking, in which employees are ranked on a bell curve and managers must give low ratings to a certain percentage of staff, according to people familiar with the change who asked not to be named discussing a private matter. Managers were expected to give a poor “developing” status to roughly 5% of employees on their teams, which would lower their profit-sharing bonus money and could hamper them from receiving raises or promotions in the near future…

You’ll have to forgive me here, as despite my tenure in this job I still live and work in Australia and so aren’t fully up to speed on the specifics of American office conditions, but what the fuck? You’re telling me this company has implemented a system where 5% of its workforce, even if they’re doing just fine, even if they’re going a great job, will be targeted—and suffer financially—just to meet a quota?

No wonder people are pissed! One of those people, Brian Birmingham, a co-lead developer on World of Warcraft Classic, got so mad that according to Bloomberg’s report he emailed staff last week to “to express his frustration with this system”.

When team leads asked why we had to do this, World of Warcraft directors explained that while they did not agree, the reasons given by executive leadership were that it was important to squeeze the bottom-most performers as a way to make sure everybody continues to grow. This sort of policy encourages competition between employees, sabotage of one another’s work, a desire for people to find low-performing teams that they can be the best-performing worker on, and ultimately erodes trust and destroys creativity.

Birmingham goes on to say he can’t work under a system like this, which he and other managers (who were asked to keep it a secret!) had managed to “circumvent or skip” for the last few years but which had recently begun to be enforced. He reportedly told staff he would be leaving the company if the policy was not reversed, but shortly after the email was sent he was called into HR and “terminated”.

If you work at Blizzard and have been impacted by this policy, and would like to share your experiences, you can contact us here.

UPDATE 8:48pm ETBirmingham has released a lengthy statement on Twitter expanding on his thoughts about the policy and about the corporate leadership situation in general. It begins here:

MrBeast Bought A Whole Neighborhood For Employees To Live In

Mega YouTuber MrBeast, aka 25-year-old Jimmy Donaldson, has been casually buying extensive property in a North Carolina neighborhood for him, his family, and his employees to live in, the New York Post reports. In the last five years, Donaldson has already purchased five homes on the same Greenville street, most of them off-market, for an approximate total of $2 million.

Read More: MrBeast Is Selling Chocolate Now, But His Fans Keep Having To Clean Up Messes

“Donaldson purchased his own home when it went up for sale—and what would be his first on the street—in 2018 for about $320,000,” The Post reports. He purchased his second property for $263,000 in 2020, then the remaining three for $1.45 million.

“There remains just one hold out house, which Donaldson’s former neighbor attributed to the family likely wanting their kids to finish school,” says The Post.

Like billionaire baby Elon Musk, who bought a hunk of a Texas town a few years ago and now keeps it covered in rocket launch metal and dirt, Donaldson is able to buy all this property because he has an offensive amount of money. His accumulated net worth is $54 million, The Post reports, and he’s made it that far, in part, thanks to a 23-hour-long video of him counting to 100,000 that went viral in 2017, receiving over 28 million views to date.

As Donaldson continues to receive hundreds of millions of views on his expensive stunt videos where he does things like gift YouTubers a private jet, or pays for life-changing surgeries while sticking a camera in recipients’ faces, spending $2 million on a North Carolina block is nothing.

And, anyway, Donaldson, like Musk, seems set on bringing back the company town, isolated neighborhoods in the late 19th century dedicated to industry where people probably cried and got addicted to opium. In 2023, hostility for workers is still obvious and open, but U.S. home ownership is steadily declining. At least, like they did 200 years ago, some people can rely on an unshaved 25-year-old to pay their medical bills and stuff them into a cul-de-sac. Capitalism is really epic for society.

 

Pokémon Go Developer Lays Off 230 Employees, Closes LA Studio

Image for article titled Pokémon Go Dev Lays Off 230 Employees, Cancels Upcoming Marvel Game

Image: The Pokémon Company

Niantic is shuttering its Los Angeles studio and is moving away from in-house game development. As such, the Pokémon Go studio is laying off 230 employees, shuttering NBA All-World and cancelling its upcoming Marvel: World of Heroes.

In an internal email sent to employees today and acquired by Kotaku, company founder John Hanke explained that this decision came because the studio’s “expenses [grew] faster than revenue.” Hanke’s email says while the studio saw revenue surges during the covid-19 pandemic, as years have gone on, it’s seen a decline in revenue. Alongside this, he also says the AR game market has become much more crowded since Pokémon Go’s launch in 2016. Alongside the growing market, Hanke cites a broader lack of long-term engagement for its multiple projects, meaning it hasn’t been meeting internal goals.

“We also bear responsibility for our own performance,” Hanke’s emails said. “Today’s highly competitive mobile gaming market requires dazzling quality and innovation. It also requires strong monetization and a social core which can drive viral growth and long term engagement. Teams need platform tools that are force multipliers, enabling them to build at the highest quality with powerful engagement features quickly and efficiently. Our AR map and platform must deliver the features that developers want in a robust and reliable way. We have not met our goals in all of these areas.”

Pokémon Go isn’t going anywhere

In the meantime, Pokémon Go will remain a top priority for the company, with the long-term goal to keep it “healthy and growing as a forever game.”

Read more: The Real Impact Of Pokémon Go’s Changes That Niantic Won’t Face

Other recently-launched games like Pikmin Bloom, Peridot, and Monster Hunter Now will continue development, but Hanke claims the team has “a lot of work to do” to maintain retention, revenue, and profitability. The company also plans to continue investing in AR maps and platforms for developers to build and monetize their own AR experiences while minimizing its own internal projects.

Kotaku has reached out to Niantic for comment on the situation and will update this story if we hear back.

Update: 6/29/2023, 12:32 p.m. ET: Niantic has posted Hanke’s full email publicly on its website.

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