Putting in just one playable female character would "double the work" on Assassin's Creed: Unity, says Ubisoft, apparently believing this is a genuine excuse a rational human being would accept in the face of its stubborn lack of representation of almost half the world's population.
Assassin's Creed: Unity has a new thing, and that thing is co-operative play. Get together with a handful of your buddies and solve the French Revolution, or whatever. One caveat though: all those buddies have to be represented by male avatars.
Yes, that's right: despite putting out a great game with a female assassin protagonist (Assassin's Creed 3: Liberation) and stuffing the multiplayer component of last few core releases with playable females, Ubisoft has now somehow forgotten how to do that and elected not to try to remember.
Speaking to VideoGamer, technical director James Therien said making female characters is just too much work.
"It was on our feature list until not too long ago, but it's a question of focus and production. So we wanted to make sure we had the best experience for the character. A female character means that you have to redo a lot of animation, a lot of costumes. It would have doubled the work on those things," he said, and I hope he was wiping sweat off his brow as he did it.
"And I mean it's something the team really wanted, but we had to make a decision. It's unfortunate, but it's a reality of game development."
At this point VideoGamer quite rightly pressed the issue, mentioning the resources at Ubisoft's disposal. Assassin's Creed: Unity, let me remind you, is being worked on by nine development teams and has been in the works for a couple of years.
Therien's response to this perfectly reasonable query was slightly garbled by the incessant roaring assault of noise that is the setting for nearly any E3 interview, and this is probably the only reason why I'm calmly typing away at my keyboard and not actually snapping it over my knee. Here's what VideoGamer heard:
"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," he said.
"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."
Ah, yes - writing off the addition of female characters to your game as "too expensive" absolutely doesn't reveal an underlying "philosophy" or "choice" of any sort. (Ubisoft, look, I have always loved you, but since you seem to have become incapable of basic understanding let me just make it clear that the entire preceding sentence was sarcasm.)
In short, Ubisoft has here trotted out a tired, stupid, constantly refuted excuse for why it has perpetuated the cycle of sexism and under-representation in the games industry; we're going to get a bunch of bottom-dwellers telling us how "social justice warrior" we've become as if fighting for a better world were a negative thing; I have cancelled my Unity pre-order; and the universe goes on, uncaring, as my heart breaks just a little bit more with every dragging day. Put that in your box quotes.
Assassin's Creed: Unity is due on PC, PS4 and Xbox One in October. It will make millions and millions of dollars.