There are four playable characters in the upcoming, co-op-focused Assassin’s Creed: Unity, and all four of them are blokes. Glowering blokes most probably, but that remains to be seen. It’s a real shame not to have a glowering lady amongst that line-up. This is, unfortunately, not at all uncommon in the mainstream games industry, with its precious demographic targeting and fearfulness to depart from the proven profitable path, but in this instance Ubisoft has exacerbated the situation by arguing that the decision to go chaps-only is purely down to the additional work needed for the likes of animation and costumes.
It is worth observing here that that no less than nine studios (ten, according to some reports) are working on Assassin’s Creed: Unity. Every single employee at all those was apparently too busy already to create a female character model. Presumably they were all working on the game’s six different special editions instead.
Pressed on the issue by Videogamer at E3, Ubisoft technical director James Therien claimed that “It’s not a question of philosophy or choice in this case at all… it was a question of focus and a question of production. Yes, we have tonnes of resources, but we’re putting them into this game, and we have huge teams, nine studios working on this game and we need all of these people to make what we are doing here.”
Claiming that the situation was “unfortunate, but a reality of game development”, Therien argued that including a non-male character would mean adding “a lot of animation, a lot of costumes. It would have doubled the work on those things.”
Perhaps, right about now, there are people involved in the game who are desperately wishing they had doubled the work. Instead of, for just one example, making six different special editions of the game. Clearly I know that staff, workloads and disciplines aren’t transferable in that way, but it does speak to the troubling priorities here. Time will be found for what seems directly profitable, but will not for making a multi-protagonist game even slightly inclusive. That is the reality of game development.
I don’t doubt for one minute that significant additional person-hours and costs are indeed necessary to make this sort of thing happen. Blockbuster games in 2014 involve an unholy amount of resources, and even apparently small additions or changes can’t be undertaken lightly for fear of letting the whole side down. The problem is that someone, somewhere, ultimately refused to greenlight those hours and costs – no doubt despite appeals to do so from other staff – and it’s that kind of tunnel vision that so needlessly causes upset and bad PR.
Making the resources excuse all the more bewildering is that we’ve previously seen Vita game (later released for other platforms, including PC) Assassin’s Creed Liberation have a female star and, for example, a major female NPC assassin character in Assassin’s Creed IV. Perhaps none of the work required to achieve that is recyclable, or perhaps the effort involved in making and animating those characters was so overwhelming that they can’t face doing it again, but it’s hard not to feel doubtful on either point.
A shame, because as well as the clear social issue here it’s simply dispiriting to see a successful series not strive harder to try different things after all these years and all those glowering chaps. Let’s just hope it’s not too late to add a female protagonist to that quad of murderchums after all.