Ubisoft’s The Division is the biggest Q1 game ever.
MCV estimates that over 300,000 copies of the game were sold in a week (digital and physical), making it a massive new IP launch, up there with Watch Dogs and Destiny.
We’ve written countless articles about games that got their launches wrong, but what about those that did it right? Here are five things Ubisoft did that made sure The Division broke sales records (outside of, you know, making a good game).
1. It was unafraid to put a new IP on a big stage
In many ways, The Division has a lot to thank Watch Dogs for.
There was a time – and it still exists today – where publishers were afraid to take a new games brand to E3. That is the show where Call of Duty gets a massive trailer, and FIFA gets a full reveal, and all those other blockbusters get announced. What hope does an unknown new IP have?
Well, as it transpires, quite a lot. At E3 2012, Ubisoft unveiled Watch Dogs and it was a show-stopper. That initial reveal saw a huge spike in pre-orders and hype that carried straight through to launch.
Ubisoft learnt that day that if you’ve got a great game that looks wonderful, gamers will take notice. So the following year it tried to repeat the trick with The Division, and it worked.
2. It delayed it. And then it delayed it again.
Another game that might have to take a bit of credit for The Division’s success was Assassin’s Creed Unity.
Yep, you read that right.
The reaction to that game’s rushed release, and bug-riddled content, meant that Ubisoft wouldn’t dream of putting another game out that wasn’t ready.
The Division suffered two delays. Originally due in 2014, it was pushed back to late 2015 before arriving in March 2016. This is a big, complex, open-world game and it needs time to get right (although it was never going to be perfect).
Release a game that isn’t quite right and you might as well close the servers now.
3. It did a Beta and did it well
What some developers and publishers seem to think when they hear the word ‘Beta’ is ‘cheap QA.’ What gamers think when they hear the word ‘Beta’ is ‘glorified demo’.
A bad Beta can be crippling to a game’s potential (Street Fighter V is the recent victim of gamers holding off after a disappointing pre-release test). But, get it right, and you’ve potentially got a massive hit on your hands. Destiny did the same thing just before its launch in 2016; gamers the world over managed to get hands-on with it well in advance of launch, realised it was going to be decent, and had no quibbles about putting down money for a pre-order.
When you’ve got 6.4m people playing a Beta and telling their mates that ‘actually, it’s pretty good’… well then, its success was inevitable.
A Beta can be a cheap way to get your games tested. But if fans are playing a bug-addled mess, it can have a serious adverse affect on sales. Treat a Beta like marketing, and it’ll make the world of difference.
4. Someone at Ubisoft said: ‘Is there any reason we don’t release triple-A games in Q1?’
Imagine the situation. There’s a gamer in a shop. He or she sees this game that they like the look of. It seems right up their street. But instead of buying it, they walk right on out muttering: Well I couldn’t possibly buy a game in February”.
This doesn’t happen. Gamers buy good titles whenever they’re available. And in the case of The Division, that was early March.
There is a bit of science behind it, of course. You wouldn’t want to release your post-apocalyptic open-world survival game a week after Fallout (although, try telling that to the people that released Halo 5, Call of Duty: Black Ops III and Battlefront within four weeks of each other). But generally, there’s no reason we shouldn’t see more games in March or April or May… or hell, even July.
Ubisoft ended up launching a major new IP against no competition (the closest rival being its own Far Cry Primal). It doesn’t have to worry about whether it should cut the price to 20 for Black Friday, and unlike during Christmas, gamers actually have the time to play it.
More Q1 games please.
And 5. Ubisoft promoted it. A lot.
This is actually connected to the first point. Advertising costs during Q1 are significantly more affordable than they are during the Christmas run-in. Ubisoft would have been able to spend half the amount it did on Assassin’s Creed Syndicate and still get more for its money.
The Division was everywhere. Its TV ad looked like a movie, it painted murals across London buildings, it dominated all the websites. There is already merchandise for The Division with hats and keyring and bags and clothes.
Everyone knew it was coming and when.
It would have been easy for Ubisoft to rely on the popularity of the Beta, or the hype generated from that E3 reveal, or from social word-of-mouth. And we’re sure the game would still have been successful.
But it was by making The Division an ‘event’, and including all forms of media in the build-up to its launch, that made the difference between the game being a ‘hit’ and ‘the biggest Q1 launch of all time’.
It’s not over for The Division, of course. Online games are tricky and require careful looking after well beyond the launch period.
But a week in, and there are a lot of positives that Ubisoft’s rivals can look to when launching their next major game.