Workers allege crunch and intimidation at Ubisoft’s Just Dance studio
Things aren’t going well for Ubisoft’s developers. Barely a month after reports surfaced of staff pushed to breaking point (opens in new tab) at the company’s Beyond Good and Evil 2 studio, devs at Ubisoft Paris are now speaking out about an epidemic of “morally and physically exhausting” work at the studio, where they’re regularly pressured to crunch and projects are subject to sweeping overhauls months before launch.
Speaking anonymously to NME (opens in new tab)—mostly through the Solidaires Informatique union—devs at Ubisoft Paris tell stories of 13-hour shifts to get Just Dance 2023 out the door, with some individuals having to work even longer. “During daily meetings, some employees were explicitly encouraged to work overtime… The message was clear: ‘Work overtime’,” an anonymous dev told NME.
Staff allege that they were promised the studio would hire more staff to alleviate the burden on devs, but that “this promise was not kept”. Meanwhile, an anonymous source who spoke directly to NME claimed that staff were pressured into overtime in “small meetings,” and that staff “identified as shy” were specifically targeted by “intimidating” figures at the company.
That situation wasn’t helped, claim devs, by dithering among Ubisoft’s upper echelons. Devs tell stories of high-level decision makers being unable to decide on a production engine for a project when only nine months of production remained. Likewise, staff on Just Dance 2023 say that they were instructed to completely change the game’s engine with only 11 months to go before release, and that ideas from bosses “had to be considered at all costs” even though the team was “underwater” with work and overtime.
Workers on Just Dance also say they had to contend with the outsized expectations of Ubisoft headquarters, which intended Just Dance 2023 to be a major live service entry in the Ubisoft catalogue, but shot down the devs’ “realistic roadmap” to achieve that. When staff tried to get Just Dance pushed back to 2024, they claim Ubisoft headquarters told them that “Just Dance must be under Christmas trees” in 2022.
I’ve reached out to Ubisoft Paris to ask for comment on these claims, and I’ll update this piece if I hear back.
We’ve gotten a pretty grim picture of life at Ubisoft in the last couple of months. In February, we heard about an “unprecedented” amount of burnout at Ubisoft Montpellier that reportedly put it square in the sights of an investigation by French authorities, and January saw Ubisoft Paris workers go on strike after a particularly tone-deaf email from CEO Yves Guillemot (opens in new tab) suggested that responsibility for turning the company around lied with on-the-ground workers and not high-level execs.
On the plus side, Ubisoft Paris staff tell NME that the appointment of new managing director Marie-Sophie de Waubert has been a good thing for the studio, so it may be that the company is able to turn things around as time goes on. It’ll want to do it sooner rather than later, though, before its staff decide they’ve had enough.