There’s no denying that Assassin’s Creed 3 was one of the best games of last year, but fans hoping to see a satisfying conclusion to the Assassin/Templar war were unhappy to find yet another cliffhanger ending. Expectations that the next game in the series would dig deeper into the conflict were justified, but it’s becoming more and more evident that with Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag, piracy will be taking precedence.

With Black Flag trading the iconic setting of the American Revolution for some high-seas swashbuckling, Ubisoft seems to know that the game may not attract the same anticipation as its predecessor. While the publisher remains optimistic, CEO Yves Guillemot confirmed that sales are expected to drop from last year.

Guillemot outlined the publisher’s projection in an investor conference call today, doing his best to maintain that while Black Flag may not match the sales numbers of last year’s AC3, the company isn’t ruling out the possibility that the game will be more of a hit with consumers than they expect.

“To come back to Assassin’s Creed IV, in our numbers we have…we expect less than last year.

“We are actually pushing to achieve more than last year because we think the pirate segment is a great segment that can generate a lot more on a worldwide basis than what was achieved last year. But we wanted to be prudent on our expectations so that it can probably be a bonus if it comes.”

Assassins Creed 4 Black Flag Artwork

Now, a casual observer may read those comments from Guillemot as a claim that Ubisoft is “pushing to achieve more sales…but expects not to,” which wouldn’t be too far from the truth. That might seem like a CEO trying to sugarcoat the fact that this year’s installment of one of gaming’s top franchises may drop year-to-year (*GASP!*). Frankly, we’re willing to give Guillemot and Ubisoft the benefit of the doubt.

It may be hard to match the incredibly lengthy (and expensive) marketing given to AC3, but Black Flag will also be facing competition from factors beyond their control. A new setting and main character – who once again isn’t named Ezio – is always going to be a risk with fans, but factor in the jilted fans (few as they may be), the lack of a historical period so strongly tied to North America audiences, and the end of a console cycle, and it’s hard to know what to expect from any of the upcoming yearly series.

All in all, it’s nice to hear Ubisoft playing on the safe side, and pre-emptively lowering expectations for this year’s game; for starters, adding a ‘4’ to the name ahead of the subtitle doesn’t hide the fact that Black Flag, like Revelations will be more of a side-entry than direct sequel. And as we’ve seen from Square Enix, overly ambitious projections don’t help anyone.

Assassins Creed 4 Black Flag Naval Combat

Does this mean that Ubisoft may actually keep to its word, and utilize an annual release cycle for Assassin’s Creed to surprise its fans and tell relevant stories, instead of merely cashing in on a popular brand as frequently as possible? We’d certainly like to hope so. As fans of AC3‘s naval gameplay and pirates in general, Black Flag is already on our list of most anticipated titles regardless of whether it can match the ‘spectacle’ of a numbered sequel.

For fans who continue to hope for a chance to play an Assassin’s Creed title in the French Revolution, Victorian England or elsewhere, the fact that Ubisoft’s highest executives are willing to accept lower sales in exchange for tapping into potential markets is promising. Of course, that’s assuming Guillemot’s comments aren’t false modesty, and a drop in sales leads Ubisoft to take drastic action and avoid further risk.

We’ll have to wait and see before get excited or disappointed, but what do you think? Should Ubisoft continue to branch out and settle for possessing one of the industry’s best-selling franchises, not the best-selling franchise? We know that’s blasphemy to some, but appealing to several niches makes as much sense as ‘mainstreaming’ a product to attract the biggest audience.

Assassins Creed 4: Black Flag will be released October 29, 2013 for the PC, PS3, Wii U and Xbox 360. Next-gen releases are also expected.

Follow Andrew on Twitter @andrew_dyce.

Source: Gamespot