Between the likes of The Division and Far Cry 5, Ubisoft has released several games which feature political ideology in some way or other. However, according to Alf Condelius, COO of The Division developer Ubisoft Massive, Ubisoft "cannot be openly political" in games because it's "bad for business." Speaking at a recent Swedish conference (as reported by GamesIndustry), Condelius discussed the deliberately downplayed political climates in The Division and other Ubisoft games.
"It's a balance, because we cannot be openly political in our games," he said. "So for example, in The Division, it's a dystopian future and there's a lot of interpretations that it's something that we see the current society moving towards. But it's not - it's a fantasy. It's a universe and a world that we created for people to explore how to be a good person in a slowly decaying world. But people like to put politics into that - and we back away from those interpretations as much as we can, because we don't want to take a stance in current politics."
Condelius added that sharp political messages in games are also "bad for business." So instead of nailing down a firm message, he said, Ubisoft aims to construct a neutral political landscape which players can interpret in different ways. For example, regarding Ubisoft's upcoming game based on James Cameron's Avatar - an unabashedly environmentalist film which can also be said to skewer capitalism - Condelius said, "That is political, but we're not going out and saying you should vote for that person, or you should not do this. But it's a political statement of course, and we think that it's important, but we're not writing it on somebody's nose."
It's a surprise, to say the least, for the developer behind The Division 2, a shooter set in a futuristic United States ravaged by terrorism and civil war, to insist their games don't make political statements. But as our sister site PC Gamer reported earlier this year, Ubisoft has been campaigning for political neutrality for some time. Ubisoft CEO Yves Guillemott said as much following the release of Far Cry 5, a good game which some people criticized for its wishy-washy approach to political commentary and how that approach clashed with its more pointed premise and marketing material.
"Our goal in all the games we create is to make people think," Guillemot told The Guardian. "We want to put them in front of questions that they don’t always ask themselves automatically. We want players to listen to different opinions and to have their own opinions. Our goal is to give all the tools to the player in order for them to think about the subjects, to be able to see things from far enough away."
Guillemot added that the "long-term goal" of constructing games in this way is to "experiment with what will happen in the future." Of course, those experiments and the futures they depict will inevitably reflect some political ideology. Even if The Division 2 doesn't feature red-and-blue-clad freedom fighters brandishing picket signs emblazoned with arguments on topical issues, it will no-doubt leverage some of those issues in its narrative.
In April, our own Calum Marsh argued that Far Cry 5 will be remembered as a progressive game despite its controversial setting and story.