I don’t know a lot about video games nowadays, but I do know one thing: I love the Assassin’s Creed franchise. This may lie entirely in my simple love for stabbing and vaguely historically accurate settings, but I’m down with what they’ve got going on. In fact, I got thoroughly hyped for whatever game developer Ubisoft’s announcement was going to be at this year’s E3 without knowing almost anything about it.
Here’s the trailer they released:
The following tumblr post more or less sums up my reaction [after I finished gawking at the assassinations, of course]:
To cut any of you off before your inevitable comments about why exactly this is, let’s be real here. These really are four white men with stubble. There’s so little differentiation in body type that, given their different-coloured hoods, they might as well be high-def Links from The Legend of Zelda: Four Swords.
Having gotten that jab out of the way, you’re right, reps at the studio have actually responded to what has amounted to a fair bit of backlash, specifically that any one of the characters could have been female. Creative director Alex Amancio said in an interview with Polygon that female assassins were originally planned, but that:
“It’s double the animations, it’s double the voices, all that stuff and double the visual assets, especially because we have customizable assassins. It was really a lot of extra production work.”
Technical director James Therien dubbed this “the reality of production”, and reasserted that it was something they had intended from the beginning:
“Again, it’s not a question of philosophy or choice in this case at all I don’t really [inaudible] 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.”
These explanations were not . . . graciously accepted by everyone, with Anita Sarkeesian [whose YouTube series on feminism in video games is just the greatest] in particular speaking out against it.
Cue the illogical complaints that gosh darn it, if this matters so much then Sarkeesian should just make her own games! I mean, here at Culture War Reporters we never critique anything when we aren’t experts or have hands-on experience with the subject. For the sake of the argument, let’s side with these blorks and say that she isn’t at all qualified to even comment about this game.
Oh my, what’s this?
Now who’s this blork, some of you may ask, co-opting the term I used earlier against you. That just so happens to be Jonathan Cooper, who was the animation director on Assassin’s Creed III. He further explains his estimate of how long it would take in a blog post, as well as essentially accusing the developer of lying to us-
“In deflecting to a technobabble excuse Ubisoft attempted to dodge the real issue, that it was a design decision from the start.”
Here’s a tweet from Dan Lowe [tweet since deleted, so a screenshot is the best you’re gonna get], the senior technical animator on Watch Dogs and employee at Ubisoft Montreal:
Lastly, here’s a dude who is not affiliated with any of the Assassin’s Creed games, just to present more of an ubiased opinion. Manveer Heir is a gameplay designer over at fellow studio BioWare Montreal, and is currently working on the next Mass Effect.
What’s absolutely hilarious is that the very day after all of this uproar Ubisoft faced it yet again with Far Cry 4. Game director Alex Hutchinson said that they were “inches away from having you be able to select a girl or a guy as your co-op buddy when you invite someone in.” He ended up stating that “it was purely a workload issue because we don’t have a female reading for the character, we don’t have all the animations.”
Look, I don’t know about you, but I think it’s pretty clear that the main issue here is female characters not being a priority. If you want to put the time and effort into beautifully rendering late 1700s Paris . . .
. . . then you can put the design and animation work into creating avatars with the same two chromosomes. I suppose the question we should really be asking ourselves is why this wasn’t closer to the top of their to-do list. The answer is, as it often tends to be, money.
If you check out the numbers it becomes starkly apparent that female-led games don’t sell as much as male-led ones. Heck, games that give you the option of choosing your sex still don’t sell as well as male-led ones. Penny Arcade shines a whole ton of light on this, though, by revealing that [emphasis theirs] “Games with only female heroes are given half the marketing budget as games with male heroes.”
Last year Ubisoft had roughly €1 billion in revenue. They are the fourth independent publisher of video games worldwide and Assassin’s Creed is their best-selling franchise. Heck, a lot of the views this blog gets is over Assassin’s Creed III: Liberation, a game that featured a Black female protagonist, so clearly this sort of thing practically markets itself! I honestly can’t think of a reason why they couldn’t do what was needed to give their fanbase the option to play as a woman, except for this: they just didn’t want to.