Ubisoft has deleted and apologized for a Facebook post promoting Watch Dogs: Legion, a game about building an underground resistance in a near-future authoritarian London, because it was mistaken by some people for referencing the real, massive protests in Hong Kong that started earlier this month.
The incident perfectly highlights a common criticism of Ubisoft, which previously claimed that its games are apolitical despite using blatantly political language, settings, and themes.
On June 13, Ubisoft posted an image to its South-East Asia Facebook page to promote Watch Dogs: Legion, the third game in its game series about a hacker collective called DedSec. The image features five characters, each with their faces obscured by masks. They hold umbrellas—it looks to be raining, after all—in a sea of others with umbrellas, too.
“We might not know each other and we never met,” a screenshot of the post on shared on the games forum Resetera reads. “But we stand for the same goal and rise here.” The last line has a slightly different translation in English and Chinese, according to Resetera: one references London directly, and the other only mentions the city name in a hashtag later in the post.
Protests in Hong Kong over a controversial extradition bill have been ongoing this month; on June 12, protestors gathered at government buildings to delay meetings regarding the bill, according to VICE News. Hong Kong’s legal system is independent of China’s, but the bill could make it so citizens and others are extradited to mainland China for trial. On June 12, police used force—”tear gas, pepper spray, and high-pressure water hoses,” Al Jazeera reported—to disperse the crowd. Protestors donned goggles, hard hats, and carried umbrellas to protect themselves.
The Ubisoft post began circulating on Chinese social media site Weibo, according to Resetera user vinnykappa, with many users believing the imagery and wording used in the Watch Dogs: Legion post was a reference to the protests in Hong Kong. Namely, the umbrella imagery; umbrellas became a symbol of resistance—”the Umbrella Movement”—during protests in Hong Kong in 2014. Protestors used umbrellas to shield themselves against tear gas and pepper spray. During Hong Kong’s protests in the past week, people have used similar tactics to protect themselves, according to the Al Jazeera report.
On June 14, Ubisoft issued an apology for the post. “A post promoting Watch Dogs: Legion, our newest fictional video game based in London city and announced at E3, was shared recently and may have been misinterpreted due to our omission of the setting being in London,” it wrote. “This was never our intention and we apologize for the confusion.”
A Ubisoft representative confirmed to VICE via email that the apology is in reference to the post with the umbrella image, and offered another statement. “A post promoting Watch Dogs: Legion, a new game we announced at E3, may have been misinterpreted due to our omission of the setting being in a fictional, dystopian version of London,” the Ubisoft representative wrote. “This was never our intention and we apologize for any confusion.”
In early June, Ubisoft editorial vice president Tommy Francois walked back Ubisoft's position that the company's games aren’t political and said that the “goal is to give players all the information we can, and then let them choose which sides of our game worlds they want to explore.”