The developers at Ubisoft have made it clear for some time now just how high the expectations are for Assassin’s Creed 3. Not just in terms of sales, but in their belief that it will set a new high watermark for the series and studio as a whole. The Assassin’s Creed series has only gained momentum since its first release, and all signs point to the third numbered release continuing the trend.
With a massive studio working on a single, triple-A, story-driven adventure that is likely to be the most played game in the series to date, the Creative Director doesn’t just see Assassin’s Creed 3 as rare for Ubisoft, but for the modern video game industry as a whole.
Anyone familiar with gaming doesn’t need to be told why Ubisoft has it so good, or that if trends continue, the developers of the Assassin’s Creed brand have a long and healthy future to look forward to – as do their fans. Interesting stories, strong writing, and gameplay that will be receiving some serious upgrades in the coming months have made the series one of the biggest multi-platform franchises around today.
Obviously that’s a title held by many, despite falling sales across the industry. Anyone who has stayed current over last year – or looked ahead to this November – knows that triple-A franchises aren’t exactly hard to come by. But in the eyes of AC3‘s Creative Director Alex Hutchinson, the amount of time and energy being put into this release is something that developers and fans just don’t see that often – and may not see again for some time. Hutchinson explained his reasoning to Edge:
“We’re the last of the dinosaurs. We’re still the monster triple-A game with very large teams [and] multiple studios helping out on different bits. There are fewer and fewer of these games being made, especially as the middle has fallen out [...] We really felt like this was a rare opportunity. We had an experienced team, who had worked on the franchise for a while; we had the full backing of Ubisoft to make something huge; we had almost three years to do it, which is a rarity these days; the tech and the hardware platforms were both mature, which allowed us to start running instead of building base features; and the installed user base for all platforms is massive.
“Many of these factors are about to change, by choice of circumstance, so a lot of us truly believed this was a once in a career opportunity.”
It’s easy to get ahead of ourselves in the clamor for new consoles, but Hutchinson’s comments highlight an interesting perspective: given our current placement in the console life cycle, there are more people able to play a given game at this moment than in almost any previous. That type of setting can either deliver a painful blow to a triple-A property if the product is found lacking, or launch a series into a new generation of success. Ubisoft is clearly hoping for the latter, and have let people see behind-the-scenes to grasp how much is being done to make that a reality.
Hutchinson’s words are certainly filled with optimism and a hint of privilege, but his claims do ring true. Having a large team working for years on a single release is something that only Blizzard or Valve tend to get away with, thanks to their self-imposed withdrawal from the month-to-month updates so common among developers and publishers struggling to build brand recognition. Even the studios behind the most successful video game franchise ever, Call of Duty, only get two years to finish a title, and in recent years, within the same existing game engine.
Ubisoft Montreal has enjoyed three years to develop Assassin’s Creed 3 thanks to the stop-gap Brotherhood and Revelations, each introducing new features and mechanics, yet designed largely by other Ubisoft studios. What that means is a brand new engine driving gameplay for AC3, a story that might be the most politically-charged of the series to date. The opportunity to spend that amount of time, with that amount of resources on a project that millions will be excited for based on name alone, truly is a unique opportunity.
It’s an opportunity made all the more unique by the “middle” Hutchinson refers to being less and less financially viable. With games that fail to achieve either ‘Indie’ status or be built by massive teams with all the money and pressure that large publishers bring being largely avoided or panned by critics and players, the market is changing. The result is an industry where only small teams willing to spend years building a single independent game, or massive studios pumping out blockbuster can find success, or a place in the conversation. Hutchinson refers to AC3‘s unique circumstance as likely to change, which in all likelihood means faster development cycles, and fewer redesigned elements.
If Ubisoft turns out to be just as eager to capitalize on AC3‘s success as any other major publisher, some will, of course, be disappointed. But rather than fear for the future, for now we’ll just look forward to letting the next game’s story and scope surprise us.
Assassin’s Creed 3 will be released for the PS3 and Xbox 360 on October 30, 2012. A PC release is scheduled for November 20, with a Wii U version also planned.
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