Ashraf Ismail, formerly a top developer on Assassin’s Creed games for Ubisoft before being fired from the company in mid-2020, was hired last year to help lead the development of a game at Tencent, Axios has learned.
Why it’s important: The new role represents a second chance for a developer whose fall from Ubisoft amid allegations of abuse of his power was part of the MeToo reckoning in the games industry two years ago.
Details: Ismail serves as “an advisory creative director” with Tencent’s TiMi studio group, according to a company representative, after multiple sources told Axios that Ismail worked there.
- The Chinese gaming giant opened a studio in Montreal in July 2021. It is staffed by several former Ubisoft Montreal developers, some of whom worked on previous Assassin’s Creed games led by Ismail.
- A source tells Axios that Ismail had been involved with that studio since it opened.
Ismail disappeared from the public in the summer of 2020 when Ubisoft fired him following a misconduct investigation.
- It followed an allegation in June of that year that he had abused his power and lied about his marital status by courting female fans and possibly Ubisoft employees.
- Ubisoft never commented on the results of the investigation, nor the reason for his dismissal that August.
- Before his firing, Ismail announced a leave of absence. He avoided specifics but tweeted “I am deeply sorry for everyone who was hurt in this.”
What they say: “During our work with Ash, he has conducted himself in a professional manner and has consistently demonstrated an eagerness to learn and grow as both a team member and person,” TiMi’s representative told Axios.
- “We strive to provide a safe, respectful work environment for everyone and will continue to do so as our team grows and expands.”
- Ismail did not respond to a request for comment.
The big picture: Stories of the downfall of powerful men in the MeToo era often lead to reports of their attempts to return to public life and debates about whether a second chance is deserved (the toll on those who have come forward with their accounts is less often covered).
- Since mid-2020, several high-powered developers and executives accused of misconduct have left or been fired by Ubisoft, Activision, and other studios. The few who have returned have done so in lower profile roles.
- Many have not reappeared in the industry.
Between the lines: As for Tencent, it is doing very well in mobile gaming and has been trying to expand into console gaming, starting new studios, acquiring others and hiring many experienced developers.
- For the Montreal team, Tencent management said in July 2021 that they were looking for established industry talent with experience in creating massive open-world games.
- On paper, Ismail would seem qualified, having served as game director or creative director on hit games for Ubisoft, such as Assassin’s Creed Black Flag and Assassin’s Creed Valhalla, between 2012 and 2020.
- But Tencent never announced that he was coming on board. Ismail’s LinkedIn does not mention the TiMi work, although other former Ubisoft developers have joined the team and updated their profiles accordingly.
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