November 16th, 2007: Ubisoft releases risky but ambitious new IP Assassin’s Creed. It debuts at No.1 in the UK charts, dethroning little-known shooter Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare.
In week two, Assassin’s Creed prevents the latest Need for Speed from topping the charts – the first time in three years the racer did not make No.1. That was a pretty clear sign Ubi had something special on its hands.
October 31st, 2012: Assassin’s Creed III shatters the publisher’s previous day one and week one sales records. It shifts 3.5m copies worldwide in its first week.
It has become one of the defining series of this generation, but why has Assassin’s Creed not hit its limit yet?
For Ubisoft’s EMEA marketing and sales director Geoffroy Sardin, it’s about keeping the fans informed.
Most Creed titles were announced at E3 and released the following Christmas, but barely four months after last year’s AC: Revelations, Ubisoft unveiled the next chapter in the series.
“We have to involve fans very early in the setting and the new experience,” Sardin told MCV. “We announced Assassin’s Creed III much earlier than the previous games, releasing the first details in March instead of taking advantage of E3 as we did with the others.
“Anitcipation is key to involving gamers in a title’s release. It gives us time to be sure fans are interested in what we’re creating.”
Social media has become integral to this, and Ubisoft experimented this year with how it can engage gamers. The first gameplay trailer wasn’t released at E3 or a Ubisoft press event – it went live on Facebook once the game’s page reached a certain number of Likes.
“Nowadays, 93 per cent of 15 to 35-year-olds in Western countries are on Facebook, so it is makes sense for us to communicate with them that way,” said Sardin. “All forms of social media are important to us because they give us direct feedback from the community.
“We’re planning to develop direct contact between the development team and the consumers through social media, to gather feedback. It’s super important for us to have this kind of relationship now.”
THE NEXT KILL
Now that the game is out, Ubisoft is intent on catering to attracting even more gamers with fresh content.
The publishing giant has plenty of experience in this manner, having delivered several DLC add-ons for the past three releases. And with AC III, Ubisoft wants to push this further.
“We want to increase the lifecycle of this current game through DLC,” Sardin explained. “We’ve already announced that we’re doing a Season Pass for the first time, and we gave details of our first DLC with George Washington.”
And that’s just the plans tied in directly to the console game. Ubisoft has invested heavily in the creation of new assassin Connor and the fiction of his era, and is keen to make the most of this on other formats.
AC III launched alongside a Vita tie-in, Liberation, and Ubisoft is still collaborating with mobile market leader GREE on Assassin’s Creed: Utopia, a tablet and smartphone game that tells the backstory of the assassins from Connor’s time.
Then there’s the possibility of annual follow-ups, which Ubisoft used to expand the world of Ezio and Assassin’s Creed II.
While Sardin wouldn’t comment on new console adventures for Connor, he did say that the release of Brotherhood and Revelations show the level of resources Ubisoft has dedicated to evolving the AC brand.
“What we understand and what we know by heart now is launching yearly triple-A products is the result of huge expertise,” he said. “Very few companies in the industry are able to deliver this level of execution and on such a regular basis. It’s the combination of expertise from a lot of studios in the company.
“We have six studios around the world involved in Assassin’s Creed, taking the best expertise everywhere.
“For example, to do the naval battle in Assassin’s Creed III, we involved the Singapore studio because they are experts on this type of gaming experience. We also involved the Annecy studio from the south of France for the multiplayer mode, as well as a lot of other studios.
“To create this kind of experience, we have to involve all the expertise from around the world. This is key. You couldn’t do this with one team from one studio.”
THE NEW WORLD
Ubisoft has already started harnessing the next generation of gaming, with a Wii U version of Assassin’s Creed III due by the end of the year. With whispers of the next Xbox and PlayStation growing louder, you can be sure Ubi won’t miss the chance to see where new technology can take the series.
Said Sardin: “We will explore the opportunities of future formats we could develop on – tablet, console, PC, – to develop our best brand, Assassin’s Creed.”
As proud as Ubisoft is of Assassin’s Creed III’s success at retail, the publisher’s ambitions lie beyond the next game release. Instead, it wants more. A lot more.
Already the publisher has produced million-selling novels, graphic novels, short films made for broadcast online, collectible figurines and other merchandise – that risky game IP from 2007 has gone far beyond what even Ubisoft could have hoped for.
“It’s not all about games, it’s about brand,” said Sardin. “We announced two weeks ago that we’re going to produce a movie with Michael Fassbender as the star and co-producer. And these plans are becoming more concrete as we work with New Regency.
“And it’s not just the movie. We are constantly expanding the brand with figurines, comics and so on – basically, in every cultural format you could have interest to go deeper into detail on our brand.
“We want to do everything. We even want to get into clothes. We’ve got a lot of ideas, but we still need to focus on quality. That’s why we will go little by little into each new field. The comics, the novels and so forth are very important for us, because they create more detail for the player, and give them a better way to understand the games. We want to create a global experience.”
Like Connor trying to carve his way through the New World, Ubisoft is investing in its future.
This year’s success won’t just fund the next Assassin’s Creed game, but the ongoing expansion of a franchise that has captured imaginations in a way few gaming properties have.
And for Sardin it comes back to those all-important fans: “It’s all about entertainment, and it’s what consumers want. It’s something that’s very important to Ubisoft – we want to involve the consumers in everything we create.”
There is one last feather in Assassin’s Creed’s multi-million selling cap: the nature of the franchise itself. The series lends itself to as wide a range of possibilities as other best-sellers such as FIFA?or Call of Duty do. As Ubisoft has already proved, Creed can use new heroes, new eras, new settings to constantly keep things fresh for its growing fanbase.
“It’s a huge challenge for us – to reinvent ourselves within the same brand,” said Sardin. “But for Assassin’s Creed, there is no limit because there’s no set timeline. We can go to the past, the future, wherever we want. That’s why we want to improve and develop this brand everywhere.”