Corrupting journalists. Misrepresenting women. Misleading gamers... even a bizarre accusation of racism. Ubisoft has been criticised quite a bit lately.
Some of the complaints have been fair, others have been absolute nonsense but regardless, the organisation behind Assassin's Creed and Just Dance has found itself under intense scrutiny over the last few months.
And for good reason. Ubisoft is no longer that charming European business that likes to experiment with odd games, but a publishing powerhouse with a line-up that comfortably rivals anyone.
Suddenly CEO Yves Guillemot's 2011 comment – where he said Ubisoft could topple EA as the world's biggest games company – doesn't seem so ludicrous.
What matters for us is bringing in new creativity, innovation and trying to find ways to bring more fun and emotions to our players,” says the company's European boss Alain Corre, playing down the firm's previous bullish assertion.
All of our creators really have that in mind. It also helps that within our creation process we challenge each other to be better – it's a very virtuous circle. The motto for us is to bring something fresh, new and surprising. It works particularly well.”
Corre may have been dodging the question about taking on EA, but you can't blame him for pointing at its games. Ubisoft's 2014 line-up includes new titles in its biggest franchises – Assassin's Creed, Just Dance and Far Cry – experimental new concepts such as Just Dance Now and Rabbids Invasion, plus an entirely new racing game called The Crew, which is co-developed in the UK at Ubisoft Reflections.
Watch Dogs did a lot better than we expected sales
wise. We are still tweaking some aspects of the
gameplay. We've built some tools and processes
that could make it a huge brand for the company.
We are already doing some extra content and you
will see more and more of the franchise's
possibilities quite soon.”
Yves Guillemot, Ubisoft
And of course the firm has already launched the biggest game of the year so far in Watch Dogs. The hacking title was generally well received (though it had little hope of living up to its astronomical expectations) and its sales have been enormous. In just over a week the game sold over half a million units in the UK. It's the fastest selling new IP in history.
Watch Dogs did a lot better than we expected sales wise,” says CEO Guillemot. We are still tweaking some aspects of the gameplay. We've built some tools and processes that could make it a huge brand for the company.We are already doing some extra content and you will see more and more of the franchise's possibilities quite soon.”
Watch Dogs is a decent game filled with experimental new features. It wasn't perfect – few new IPs are – but it laid the groundwork for what will surely be a major franchise. Comparisons are already being made between this game and the firm's other smash hit open world series Assassin's Creed. So can we expect Watch Dogs to also become an annual event?
To start with we will take time on Watch Dogs, to make sure – like with Assassin's Creed II – we can come back with something that takes full advantage of everything we created in the first game,” says Guillemot. After that, we will see. I can't say now if it will be an annual release, we will see in time how it works out depending on the overall ability of the very talented teams that look after the brand.”
Says Corre: Each creative team that we have has different talents and a different way of working.With Assassin's Creed we have several teams working on it on and off, and so far we have been able to go to the next level with each game. But the quality is at the centre; if we feel that we can bring enough innovation and quality every year then we go for it, otherwise we allow more time so that we can deliver something outstanding.”
Watch Dogs was part of a triumvirate of new IP Ubisoft has been readying for the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One – the other two being The Crew and new open world shooter The Division. And all three games have something else in common: they have all suffered significant delays.
Did the complexities of the new consoles take Ubisoft by surprise?
It has been harder. There are so many things you can do, so many possibilities,” explains Guillemot.With Watch Dogs, we had to make sure your mobile works with seamless multiplayer for instance, and with all these things going into our games, it is more complex. But it is just the beginning of these consoles, so with time – starting next year – things will be easier.
And it's not as difficult, say, as PlayStation 3 was.Going forward we should reuse more things. Today, we will create a car in one studio, and we don't reuse that car in any other games. We need to make sure we can reuse items that people won't care about. That is one direction we can take to optimise the investment.
Another thing is to have a budget – like in the movie industry – that has lots of elements in it, before we greenlight a game. So we make choices early on in terms of where we put the money. We will improve the efficiency.”
What we see more and more is that we need
time to do even more polish than what we do
today. We were tweaking Watch Dogs right
until the last minute, we changed some things
right at the end. So what we have decided to
do is finish the game earlier so that we can
test things more and more and change a
certain number of parameters.”
Indeed, Ubisoft has been discovering a few things about the movie industry since it launched its Motion Pictures Division, which is currently working on films based on its Rabbids, Assassin's Creed, Splinter Cell, Watch Dogs, Ghost Recon and Far Cry franchises.
And those learnings include the ability of the film industry to finish their movies months before they're due to hit cinemas.
What we see more and more is that we need time to do even more polish than what we do today,” continues Guillemot. We were tweaking Watch Dogs right until the last minute, we changed some things right at the end. So what we have decided to do is finish the game earlier so that we can test things more and more and change a certain number of parameters.”
Ubisoft's upcoming core games – The Crew, Watch Dogs, Assassin's Creed, The Division and Far Cry – all represent the firm's love of the open world. All of these titles invite fans to explore and are rammed with things to do outside of the main story.
We've been doing open worlds for a long time – we've released nine open-world games to date and w