When the original Watch Dogs hit shelves in May 2014, the reception was something of a mixed bag.
On the one hand, it was a big seller, becoming the fastest-selling new IP at the time, going on to sell well over a million units in the UK alone. But many gamers felt let down by the title. In short – they felt it didn't live up to what was promoted ahead of launch and that there had been a downscaling of graphical fidelity.
For Watch Dogs 2, the team at Ubisoft Montreal has looked at the reception the original title received.
The team were really proud of what the first game accomplished and we learned a lot from that experience,” marketing director Mark Slaughter (pictured, far right) says.
The development team listened to players and have worked very hard to implement changes based on that feedback into the next instalment. There will be a more relevant narrative with deeper characterisation; a fresh, lighter tone, more creative hacking options, better driving and a seamless online experience. Add to this more choice on how to approach challenges and a great sense of dynamism and variety in the game world and the team have worked very hard to produce a strong offering that the players will love.”
UK MD Rob Cooper (pictured, above middle) adds: There's been a huge amount of feedback from Watch Dogs; the studios have listened and have added everything possible to the new game to ensure that the experience is a significantly better one.The previews so far have shown this is the case.”
This is certainly evident in the more upbeat tone of Watch Dogs 2. Whereas the original starred gruff and serious protagonist Aiden Pearce and was set in a gritty depiction of Chicago, Watch Dogs 2 stars a more laid back and immediately likeable cast of hackers, led by new protagonist Marcus Holloway. The setting too is a contrast, with the game heading to a rather sunny-looking depiction of San Francisco.
The sentiment from previews so far has been overwhelmingly positive with many claiming that the game delivers an intelligent, funny and brilliant open world game that could easily be up there as a Game of the Year contender,” Slaughter says. With all our launch activity we're seeing there's a lot of strong buzz coming to the game quite late in the campaign so we've got high expectations.”
The setting and tone aren't the only things that have changed between games. Before the launch of the original Watch Dogs, the mood around the game was one of extreme excitement. This was, after all, a brand new IP from Ubisoft and one of our first glimpses at what the next generation of consoles would be capable of.
This time around, Ubisoft CEO Yves Guillemot has said in an interview that pre-orders have – so far – fallen short of expectations. Yet the firm insists that this is not an indication of how Watch Dogs 2 will perform.
Pre-orders are still a good gauge for the business to demonstrate consumer appetite for a game, but they're not the only indication of a game's potential success,” sales director Darren Bowen (pictured, top left) explains.
Watch Dogs was a unique proposition as a launch title for a new generation of hardware and it wouldn't be realistic to compare this to current games.After talking to some of our retail partners it is clear that consumers are now waiting longer before they decide what games to buy. Consumers have a lot of great titles to choose from this Christmas.We're confident that gamers will be surprised and delighted when they play the game to see how improved this sequel is.”
Cooper adds: Ubisoft as a business does listen to its consumers and has focused on making this a great consumer experience.For Far Cry 3, pre-orders weren't where they needed to be before launch, but when it came out it proved itself as a significant improvement over the previous game.”
At the moment, hacker culture and online data are at the forefront of popular culture. Thanks to television shows like Amazon's Mr Robot, and headlines from the media about the likes of Anonymous, Wikileaks and Edward Snowden, issues of technology and personal information have never been more of a concern to the general public.
And Slaughter argues that the Watch Dogs franchise is very much part of this movement.
The Watch Dogs brand has been exploring data security and privacy as well as and hacking ever since the release of the first opus in 2014,” he explains.
We are in a time where hackers are now at the forefront of driving consumer awareness of this super complicated and technology-driven world that we live in. It's a mainstream topic now with high profile stories appearing regularly.Even our owngovernment have recently outlined a new cyber security strategy to combat hacking and yes, shows like Mr Robot all help to position the game squarely put in the middle of a very relevant cultural reality.”
As well as being the follow-up to a massive new IP, Watch Dogs 2 has an even bigger job this year – it has to fill the shoes of Assassin's Creed. Earlier this year, Ubisoft opted to give its annual Assassin's Creed series a break in order to ‘re-examine' the franchise.
Assassin's Creed has been a fantastic seller for Ubisoft and really important to the market every year, but make no mistake, Watch Dogs 2 will certainly fill the gap this year,” Bowen insists.
We are very fortunate to have such a strong and varied line-up so we don't have to rely just one franchise. Following Watch Dogs 2, we also have Steep launching at the start of December along with strong back catalogue sales on The Division and Far Cry Primal which have been two of the biggest launches so far this year. Let's not forget live games like The Crew and Rainbow Six Siege - which is really being embraced by the community with 10m players worldwide.If that wasn't enough we also have the Ezio Trilogy so for those consumers who need a taste of Assassin's Creed every year – and we know there are a huge number of people – they will still be able to purchase a great triple pack which covers the most loved period of Assassin's Creed.”
Given the huge sales reception Watch Dogs received back in 2014, coupled with the wealth of improvements the developers have made, Ubisoft is perhaps justified in having sky high expectations of its second installment in the series.
[Our expectations] don't come much bigger,” Cooper says. We are expecting strong sales to help the overall UK market and a title in the top five new releases for 2016.”