Multiple news sources and tweets earlier today suggested that dozens of people were taken hostage at Ubisoft's office in Montréal, Quebec. The France-based game developer has several offices across Canada, with the Montréal location being the principal developer for games in the Assassin's Creed and Watch Dogs series, among others.
Following a 911 call, heavily armed officers cordoned off the corner of St-Laurent Blvd. and St-Viateur Street near Ubisoft's office. Police now say no injuries or threats were detected, and people are being evacuated from the building.
Ubisoft in a statement to Input said, "Following the reports of an incident in the studio earlier today, November 13, we are relieved to confirm that all of our team members in Ubisoft Montreal are safe and have been evacuated from the premises. We commend the strength and solidarity of all of our team members in this complex and stressful situation. We are grateful for the prompt response of the police and local authorities. We will continue to provide our teams with all the necessary support to cope with this traumatic event."
Swatting — News outlets in Montréal are reporting that the call may have been a hoax and a possible "swatting" situation. Swatting, as it's called, is an increasingly common way to harass people by placing emergency calls claiming a violent situation is underway, which results in these sorts of heavily armed responses by police. Back in 2017, California man Tyler Barriss was sentenced to 20 years in prison for more than 50 instances of playing false calls to emergency services, one of which resulted in the death of 28-year-old Andrew Finch.
Eric Pope, a senior developer at Ubisoft who was working remotely, reported in a tweet that he was on a call with others in the office when they had to leave abruptly. Video from a news helicopter showed that some of the team gathered on the roof of the company's building. Ubisoft management reportedly urged employees to go into hiding once it received word of the emergency call.
On the roof it could be seen that people barricaded the door from the outside with what appears to be a table, according to pictures captured by CBC.
It's unclear what the motive behind a hostage situation would have been. If the call really was a hoax, it could have been over something as small as a gamer frustrated about Assassin's Creed Valhalla's poor optimization. Swatting calls are often placed by teens as retaliation over minor beefs with other gamers. Police struggle to identify the source of such calls thanks to VoIP software that can mask phone numbers, but reports indicate the call in this incident was placed from inside Ubisoft's office.
Ubisoft's bad year — The situation adds to an already bad year for Ubisoft. In recent months, the company has been the subject of a wave of sexual misconduct accusations as part of the ongoing #MeToo movement. Ashraf Ismail, creative director for Assassin's Creed Valhalla, resigned back in July and was terminated following an internal investigation. Other executives followed suit, including chief creative office Serge Hascoët, Yannis Mallat, managing director of Ubisoft's Canadian studios, and Cécile Cornet, the company's global head of human resources.
An investigation by the newspaper Libération described Ubisoft as having a "toxic" workplace culture, primarily stemming from Cornet ignoring repeated sexual misconduct claims lobbed against Hascoët, who would reportedly use sexual harassment to intimidate those who criticized him.
Ubisoft was also the victim of a recent ransomware attack in which internal company data was leaked online. It's believed some of the compromised information was published online after negotiations broke down and Ubisoft was unwilling to pay the hackers.
CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story suggested that Shane Gaskill was the victim of a prank call placed to emergency services by Tyler Barriss. The deceased was, in fact, Andrew Finch. Shane Gaskill had previously lived at Finch's address, and was charged as a co-conspirator after Finch's death because he knowingly supplied the address to the instigator of the prank call, Casey Viner. We apologize for the error.