Is It Ethical To Buy ‘Scott Pilgrim vs The World: The Game’?

The Scott Pilgrim game is coming back and that’s fucking rad! After abruptly disappearing from digital storefronts at the end of 2014, likely due to licensing disputes, the game was unplayable to new audiences for half a decade. This especially sucked because the Scott Pilgrim movie was a notorious sleeper hit, and it took a while for people to discover and appreciate the world and story first crafted by Bryan Lee O’Malley in his graphic novels. 

Developed and published by Ubisoft in 2010, Scott Pilgrim vs The World: The Game is as good, if not better, than the comics and movie that inspired it. Which, for a licensed game released in the early 10s, was a nice change of pace. The art direction perfectly captured the style of the later comic volumes, the loose story of the game does just enough with the world and characters to be endearing, and Anamanaguchi’s score is an absolute bop, if not an outright banger. 

Although, the music isn’t quite as good as the movie’s fire soundtrack, mostly because the game doesn’t have any Beck and Brie Larson songs, but then again painfully few OSTs do. Getting back to the point, the game also helped revitalize the Beat ‘em Up genre at a time when it was starting to stagnate. In short, Scott Pilgrim vs The World: The Game is a pretty good video game, and an amazing one if you were a nerdy teenager between 2010 and 2014 like I was.   

This rerelease comes with some caveats, though. In the years since Ubisoft delisted the game, a lot of unsavory material has come out about the company; with 2020 revealing that it was a dangerous environment for the people working there. Furthermore, it’s come out that leadership at Ubisoft had extremely problematic political and social opinions, deliberately contributed to women being underrepresented in games, and conflated a civil rights movement to a terrorist organization. 

Between all of this and the fact that much of the original team behind the game isn’t involved in this rerelease, many gamers are left asking themselves, “Is it ethical for me to buy Scott Pilgrim vs The World: The Game – Complete Edition?” 

No, no it’s not. 

Okay, so obviously it’s a little more complicated than that — and this prompt is mostly just an excuse to create a master doc compiling all of the really shitty stuff Ubisoft’s done — so let’s get into why you shouldn’t give Ubisoft your money. 

Members of leadership at Ubisoft were scumbags, and performed a wide variety of misconduct while they were gainfully employed. Maxime Béland, one of Ubisoft’s co-founders, allegedly choked a female coworker at a company party. Employees have said that a lack of disciplinary action against Béland, and his overt sexist behavior, made them feel like there was a culture of sexism at the company. Which there was and still could very well be, even after Béland’s resignation, as many describe the company’s Toronto studio as having a “party culture” and generally using free booze and company events as an excuse to not pay their employees more. 

Serge Hascoët, the creative lead that had final say on a game’s content, also left Ubisoft in 2020. Hascoët actively prevented women from being the lead character in Ubisoft games, based on the assumption that games featuring prominent female characters wouldn’t sell well. Oh, and he also supposedly helped propagate Ubisoft’s culture of sexism by playing a sexually explicit song featuring the name of a female coworker when she left a meeting. 

Tommy Francois, the vice-president of editorial and creative services — which is to say Serge Hascoët’s lackey — was fired after an investigation into his alleged sexual misconduct. Yannis Mallat, the person leading Ubisoft’s Canadian studios, also left the company amid this controversy. Employees filed numerous complaints to Ubisoft’s HR department over the actions of these executives, all of which seemingly went ignored until recently. It’s no wonder then that Ubisoft’s global head of HR, Cécile Cornet, also left the company as, on paper, a company’s HR department is supposed to prevent any of this misconduct from happening. 

In fact, things were so bad at Ubisoft that an internal survey revealed that 1 in 4 employees witnessed some form of misconduct while doing their job. Imagine for a second working at a place where inappropriate behavior is so common, that 25% of your coworkers tell their bosses that they saw something inappropriate. In case you’ve never worked anywhere before, people generally don’t like to bring these issues up, even in an anonymous survey, meaning the number of witnesses was likely much higher and the behavior much more widespread than what we know now. 

In the face of all of these allegations, and the stellar reporting about them, it’s very hard to believe that Ubisoft’s co-founder and CEO, Yves Guillemot, wasn’t aware of this culture in his company. In fact, it seems more likely that Guillemot elevated these individuals into positions of power in spite of, or perhaps even because of, their problematic behavior and beliefs. While the immediate bad actors may be gone from the company, Guillemot is not, and any money spent on Scott Pilgrim vs The World: The Game – Complete Edition is to the direct benefit of the person who enabled this detestable situation.  

Ubisoft also put the Black Lives Matter fist in a Tom Clancy mobile game and said that it was a logo for a terrorist organization! How does that even happen!? How does a company at the forefront of a billion dollar industry make such a callous and avoidable fuck up?

Oh, the manager of the studio that made it, Owlient, as well as the director of this game is Charlie Guillemot, Yves Guillemot’s son. And now everyone who’s ever worked for a family owned business knows exactly how Ubisoft got to where it is today. 

To top it all off, the remaining Ubisoft leadership is composed of cowards and they refused to address this situation during their Ubisoft Forward showcase event. 

Where does this leave an ethically conscious Scott Pilgrim fan wanting to play this game? Probably trying to rationalize how they can give money to an inarguably problematic company in exchange for a toy they want. 

“Even if the bosses are bad, that doesn’t mean the people who made the game are,” a gamer might argue while clutching their Scott Pilgrim Color Collection Box Set. “Their work deserves to be purchased and praised so that they can more easily get a job at a better company.” 

That’s a popular, if flawed, argument in circumstances similar to this one, but isn’t really applicable here as Bryan Lee O’Malley doesn’t profit off of the sale of the game. He also said that the original team behind it isn’t involved in this rerelease. To be fair, though, O’Malley does seem pretty jazzed about the game returning, if for no other reason than it being a cool piece of media that was seemingly lost to time.  

[Note: A limited edition physical version of the game was announced while composing this essay. While O’Malley and other original artists did contribute to this edition, this physical release is through a specialty publisher and the original team’s connection to the rerelease is still tenuous. As such, the previous point stands.] 

The fact of the matter is, the people most responsible for this game existing aren’t going to profit from the sales of this rerelease. Buying a copy now only pads the coffers of those at the top of Ubisoft, who have proven themselves to be pretty scummy. Also, if you wanted to support Bryan Lee O’Malley, you could just buy the Scott Pilgrim comics. They’re pretty good, if dated in the way that a lot of media from the aughts are. Seconds is pretty good too, and I really need to make time to read Snotgirl, but hear good things. 

From here, the last desperate argument made by somebody who really wants to buy the Scott Pilgrim game might be something like, “Well not buying a game from a bad company isn’t going to hurt the abusers within it, it’ll only lead to the most expendable employees being fired or paid less.”

Again, that’s fair and the gaming industry as a whole needs to get out of the practice of tying bonuses to sales figures and Metacritic scores. Or, in the case of CD Projekt Red, giving out tokens to employees who “deserved honors,” which almost certainly means that they were crunching really hard and didn’t complain about it. All that nonsense definitely deserves it’s own essay. Which I might get to by 2023 if my pace of one self-published piece every two years keeps up! 

The thing is, this argument also doesn’t really apply to this situation. The Scott Pilgrim rerelease is a cash grab by Ubisoft, even if fans really want it. It would be a shock if any more work went into the Complete Edition beyond getting it running on modern systems and having the DLC available from the start. This is a profit generator slipped into Ubisoft’s Q1 2021 lineup as they don’t have any major releases coming up, other than the Prince of Persia: Sands of Time remake in March. Meaning that Ubisoft doesn’t have any major releases this quarter. 

It’s hard to envision anyone at Ubisoft getting axed if this game underperforms. Hell, it’s hard to see anything changing at all at Ubisoft if this game only manages to break even after licensing costs and the minimal development expenditure. If it does well, it’ll be a nice windfall for them, and, if it doesn’t, then at least they earned some desperately needed goodwill from gamers. 

It’s clear that Ubisoft is a company that you really shouldn’t support through purchasing their products, and that justifications for this transaction don’t hold up under scrutiny. So what are socially conscious gamers to do then? Not buy the game? If you’re so inclined, kudos! Organize a boycott of the Scott Pilgrim game? Maybe, but those don’t really work in the gaming industry. 

The sad truth is that not buying a game has never been an effective strategy for creating direct and intended change in the world of gaming. Jim Sterling has a great video covering the history of video game boycotts and, spoiler alert, they usually fail because people buy the game! Whether it be Modern Warfare 2 or Pokémon Sword and Shield, people will buy a favorably reviewed video game even if there’s a part of it they don’t like.  

Gamers are a too large and varied group for a boycott to work in a meaningful capacity. Even when the issues surrounding a game are as significant as serial harassers profiting from it, and not just some people disliking a tree. 

Yeah, the hullabaloo around Pokémon Sword and Shield really was the moment that boycotts became untenable in the gaming sphere. 

Don’t worry, you’re not a monster for buying Scott Pilgrim vs The World: The Game – Complete Edition. People have defended supporting worse pieces of media from even shittier people, and unfortunately a lot of games today are made under some kind of duress. There are some things that you can do to help make the gaming industry more sustainable and less skeezy, though. 

The first is supporting games from smaller studios that developed their titles in healthy working conditions. Hades from Supergiant Games is a brilliant example of how an indie game can be successful while still valuing the health and safety of the people who made it. In supporting games like this, not only are you keeping the gaming landscape from being a purgatory of AAA saminess, you’re helping prove that other models of video game production are possible. Things don’t have to be as bad as they were, and maybe still are, at Ubisoft, and by elevating better companies we can make Ubisoft the exception and not the rule. 

A second option is directly supporting labor organization in the video game industry. Ubisoft isn’t alone in its culture and how it treats employees, and the gaming industry is in need of systemic level reform. If consumers can’t pressure companies into changing, then the only ethical thing to do is support those within them taking action. 

This can be as simple as promoting the efforts of game industry workers trying to organize, or donating to a legal fund so that those affected can fight the circumstances found in Ubisoft. As a rule of thumb, it’s generally just a good idea to give money to good causes that need them, especially when power dynamics are as lopsided as they are between CEOs and employees in the gaming industry. 

These suggestions aren’t groundbreaking, and hopefully aren’t new to you, but they’re the most the average consumer can do to help make things better for the most vulnerable people in the games industry. Which really sucks!

Of all the industries that exist under the miasma of late stage capitalism, gaming gets some of the worst of it. People enthused to work in the industry are undervalued, subject to harassment in their workplace and too often online, and are either underpaid or forced to work so much that their hourly rate isn’t all that great. Many of these problems also exist outside of gaming, but they’re more apparent here thanks to the increased public scrutiny most media companies receive. 

Workers in almost every industry aren’t treated as well or paid as much as they should be. It’s also a struggle to purchase only things made under wholly ethical circumstances. That’s just how the world is today and, while I firmly believe that we can change it if those outside of the billionaire class come together and demand that we do, it’s not going to happen overnight. There’s also no point in depriving yourself of something that brings you joy, if there’s no benefit from the deprivation. 

 So, if you really want to, go ahead and buy Scott Pilgrim vs The World: The Game – Complete Edition. I hope you enjoy it and that it provides some kind of respite from the weight of having to participate in the many unethical systems that make up our society. Just remember who’s profiting from your purchase and do what you can to help the people who actually make the media you enjoy when the opportunity arises. 

Thank you so much for checking this out. This essay was originally a pitch I floated around that a few outlets rejected, so I decided to make it on my own. If you want me to make something like this for you, I’m @LucasDeRuyter on Twitter and you can find my email without too much trouble if you’d like to reach out more formally. 

I don’t know if I’ll personally pick up the Scott Pilgrim game again but, if I do, you can hear my impressions on the Voluntary Viewing Podcast. Thanks again for watching/reading this, and good luck out there.

Is It Ethical To Buy ‘Scott Pilgrim vs The World: The Game’?

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