In 2011, around the time of Assassin’s Creed Brotherhood, Ubisoft was the third biggest video game publisher and it had 26 worldwide studios. From five brothers with entrepreneurial hearts, it has grown into one of the biggest third-party studios offering 100s of games across genres. The general public knows Ubisoft as the king of open-world games, influenced by iconic franchises like Assassin’s Creed and Far Cry. However, if you look at the news, the company seems to be on a downhill slope. With the unceremonious delay of several games, reports of a hostile work environment, stock prices at an all-time low, and general underperformance from its top games, the shiny gloss of Ubisoft is forever scarred.
To the general public, the common consensus is that Ubisoft regurgitates the same massive open-world games with a rote formula. Usually, they are overloaded with mundane collectibles and follow the same “climb the tower to reveal the map” mechanics. Assassin’s Creed, Far Cry and Just Dance are arguably its most popular games. Instead of making them better and innovating, they simply release a revised carbon copy in terms of mechanics every other year. (To be fair, there is some variation in Assassin’s Creed. We’ll get to that later).
This is an annoying trend. However, Ubisoft does release other games to varying success, such as last year’s Mario + Rabbids Spark of Hope. The game received critical acclaim but still underperformed in sales, according to a financial update. The studio equated this to serious competition from God of War Ragnarok, Pokemon Scarlet and Violet, and Call of Duty Modern Warfare 2. The same report illustrated a similar case for Just Dance 2023, and reported overall that Holiday Season sales were “surprisingly slower than expected.”
Ubisoft’s 2022 in general didn’t look too stellar. Roller Champions, a 3v3 multiplayer skating game where you roll around a track and score goals, was poorly reviewed and never reached a wide audience. Rainbow Six Extraction, a co-op take on the strategic shooter franchise, received better reviews, but it was largely forgettable, with only 20 people on Twitch viewing the game (compare that to the 9.4k viewers for Rainbow Six Siege). On top of these underperforming games, Ubisoft has canceled, delayed, and seemingly forgotten several games in development.
Skull and Bones, an online ship combat game, was first announced in 2017 and originally set to release in 2018. After several delays, we finally got a decent-sized gameplay video. We thought the release was finally upon us, but the game was pushed back to early 2023-24. Along with Skull and Bones, three unannounced games were also delayed. As for cancellations, Ghost Recon Frontline, Sprinter Cell VR, and three unannounced games won’t see the light of day. The cancellations and the Skull and Bones delay were desperate attempts to recover from the 2022 shortfall. Not to mention Beyond Good and Evil 2 has been in limbo ever since it was first announced fifteen years ago. In spite of not seeing any information about the game, it is reportedly still in development.
Therefore, it’s not too surprising that the studio is projected to lose $537 million by March 2023. Reports from Giant Bomb’s Jeff Grubb that Ubisoft is looking for a company to acquire them don’t seem so far-fetched.
The leadership at Ubisoft may not support their employees or understand what fans actually want in a game. This pushes the company in weird directions, such as live service and NFT support. However, I do not want to see the company as a whole shut down, harming thousands of hardworking developers. While the situation is dire, there are some favourable things on the horizon. Part of the failure of Ubisoft is an overindulgence in a lackluster and greedy live service model. 2020’s HyperScape was a futuristic take on a first-person battle royale. It followed the free-to-play model but never found an audience, eventually shutting down in 2022. Ghost Recon Frontlines, a 100-player Battle Royale, is another free-to-play game that got canceled.
Now, Ubisoft is transforming Skull & Bones into a full-on multiplayer game with likely microtransactions galore. As mentioned previously, the game has been delayed several times and my theory is that the revised approach has strained developers and prolonged the development cycle. If you ask me, Skull and Bones will fail like Ubisoft’s other multiplayer-only games. This may finally convince leadership that something is not working with Ubisoft’s current multiplayer approach. I’m not against live service games in general but they have to be developed with love. That sounds cliché. To put it another way, they have to be made in a way that undermines the greedy nature of the company. You should be able to feel the developers’ joy and heart in the gameplay. Maybe Ubisoft will make a successful live service game that can offset the cost of development and dig them out of their financial hole.
Of course, live service games don’t have to be the answer. The single-player-centric games always seem to perform better critically than Ubisoft’s multiplayer offerings. Assassin’s Creed Valhalla, even if it has ongoing yearly events, is primarily a single-player game and was one of the better entries in the franchise. Mario + Rabbids Spark of Hope is also a single-player game and we already established it was one of Ubisoft’s finest games of 2022. However, here lies a problem. It was a competent game, but it still underperformed. I understand the dilemma Ubisoft is in. Live service games seem to be a boon for finances (Call of Duty: Warzone, Fortnite, etc…) but single-player focused games are generally better received. The company tried both in 2022 and both failed.
The issue is that none of Ubisoft’s big hitters released in 2022, namely Assassin’s Creed and Far Cry. It’s unfortunate that Ubisoft has to milk Assassin’s Creed to stay afloat, but I believe when Assassin’s Creed Mirage comes out this year, despite being a single-player game, it will succeed. Fans of the series have asked for a return to form for a long time and Mirage does, indeed, take the series back to its roots. It’s supposedly a smaller, story-focused game that nullifies the indulgent RPG mechanics of the last few entries. Additionally, Assassin’s Creed has a bright future ahead with Codename Red, a game set in feudal Japan, and Codename Hexe, a survival horror take on the franchise. In reality, Ubisoft’s success is dependent on Assassin’s Creed. Assassin’s Creed Valhalla was the company’s second best-selling game in history, and the upcoming games will likely equal if not surpass that success.
Ubisoft has a rocky road ahead and I’m not sure it will make it. However, if they can survive until Assassin’s Creed, the company will get some respite. Maybe that will be the boost it needs to be considered for acquisition. Someone might swoop up Ubisoft, Assassin’s Creed might put them in the clear, or they might finally make that successful live service game. I’m not sure what will happen to the company but I hope they can get back on their feet.