As the old saying goes: ‘make hay while the sun shines.’ And if any video game publisher is taking that motto to heart, it is Ubisoft, eager to make the most of their Assassin’s Creed brand while it’s captured the attention of third-person action fans. While that thinking is easy to understand from a financial standpoint, it has certainly brought some criticism.
According to the publisher, the decision to produce an annual Creed title every calendar year – while drawing some accusations of watering down the franchise’s potency – is one the publisher has no choice in making. And in the case of the two entries rumored to release this year, that method of thinking means support for previous-gen owners for years to come.
As games industry spectators have noticed, yearly installments of a video game franchise always invite skeptics to make their doubts heard, and Ubisoft’s Assassin-led series is no exception. Creative leads have spoken against the notion in the past, with AC3‘s director explaining that sequels are needed to make risky IPs worthwhile, with the director of AC4: Black Flag claiming the franchise has proven its relevance, even on a year-to-year basis. But if 2014 does see not one, but two games released, further scrutiny is guaranteed.
While some might view Ubisoft’s annualization of the franchise as exploitative, or ‘greedy,’ the publisher’s Vice President of Creative Lionel Raynaud explained to Edge that they’ll keep making games as long as people keep lining up to buy them:
“We are able to offer people a new Assassin’s Creed every year because they want Assassin’s Creed every year… As long as this is true we would be very stupid to not satisfy this need, but it puts a lot of pressure on us to create something that will never disappoint.
“It needs to keep the series core values and we need to really make sure that we have a good, high level understanding of what it is to be an Assassin. We have to make sure we always deliver a better feel and overall experience every time while still bringing something that they haven’t seen before that’s consistent with being an Assassin in the world we’ve created.”
Raynaud’s comments point out a simple fact that often gets overlooked when discussing the integrity or ethics of annual development cycles: publishers try not to make games faster than people wish to pay for them. Of course, Raynaud is wise to point out that support comes with responsibility; in this case, a mandate to give the fans something new with each release. Black Flag accomplished that task swimmingly (forgive the pun), but keeping up the habit is easier said than done.
The publisher’s next setting and time period was leaked earlier this month (and later confirmed by Ubisoft), showing that a trip to the French Revolution would be coming in the form of the next-gen exclusive Assassin’s Creed: Unity. The first rumors have also begun to surface regarding Assassin’s Creed: Comet, the series entry destined for previous-gen consoles. Again, two games may be uncommon, but Raynaud claims the dual release shows Ubisoft’s commitment to keeping Xbox 360 and PS3 owners happy as well:
“We will have games for PS3 and 360 for this year and probably the years after… We want to be able to provide games to people who are playing on these consoles. Black Flag was the first Assassin’s Creed game of this new generation but it was designed with that in mind, but I wouldn’t say it was a cross-generation game, as it has features that could only be for this generation.
“It’s a choice — even when you do a game that has old-gen and new-gen versions, we decide which one is lead… So if you decide that new gen is lead for all of your games, then you have no restrictions at all — you’re just saying that the other generation will maybe not be able to have everything but still be a better game than we’re used to having on this generation. We never made choices on Assassin’s Creed or Watch Dogs where because we have this other generation we couldn’t put something in the game. It would be a very bad call from a company and brand perspective.”
It’s far too early to tell what kind of discrepancies gamers can expect between next-gen incarnations and those released on the previous consoles, but even if Raynaud’s words are unconvincing to some, they address concerns that most developers and publishers are likely to face. But with the impressive sales numbers for both the Xbox One and PS4, more games will likely be developed for the next-gen first.
What is most interesting is the chance to see how gamers react to the idea of publishers selling to both audiences at once. Is the desire to sell to all gamers admirable, or despicable? It’s worth pointing out that Ubisoft will – and has – used their overlapping development cycles to keep employees working from one project to the next. Will consumers who decry the industry with every round of developer layoffs applaud Ubisoft’s ability to avoid the issue?
The jury is still out on whether or not annualizing a brand must lower the overall quality, even if there is evidence to support the idea. This year’s sales numbers will certainly be ones to watch, so which of the games are you likely to pick up? Will you be eager to see if both are worth playing, or is one Assassin’s Creed enough? Sound off in the comments.
Assassin’s Creed: Unity will be released for the PC, PS4 and Xbox One come Holiday 2014.
Follow Andrew on Twitter @andrew_dyce.