Who is surprised really? Yesterday was time for the annual earnings conference call by CEO of Ubisoft Yves Guillemot. It’s a typical thing for large corporations, mostly to inform the shareholders who are keeping such companies afloat to have their concerns addressed. The things we’ve learned, as gamers, are a bit less than optimistic.
The conference call begins by Guillemot touting the successes of Ubisoft in the last year, pointing out the very large sales figures from their AAA titles – Far Cry 4, Watch_Dogs, South Park: The Stick of Truth, and Assassin’s Creed Unity – as well as their smaller successes with Child of Light and Valiant Hearts. They go so far as to specifically cite an IGN article that discusses that Assassin’s Creed Unity wasn’t as bad as all the reviews said. It should also be mentioned that Assassin’s Creed Unity, despite constant patching, still struggles to achieve basic requirements without numerous glitches and severe framerate issues four months after launch. The problems are so severe that not only did some people in the industry simply not review it, they actively encouraged people not to play the game because it was so poorly made.
Things later get tense when the unscripted Q&A section of the conference call brings up Assassin’s Creeds Unity launch directly, asking about how Guillemot saw the reaction of the audience to Assassin’s Creed Unity‘s failure and how he felt about potentially repairing damaged trust from forlorn fans.
Each time there’s a new transition of consoles, we try to create engines that take full advantage of the capacity of those consoles. In the case of Unity, we had to redo 100% of the engine. When you do that, it’s painful for all the group. Everything has to be re-calibrated. With this game, a few things were not perfect when the game was launched. But the engine has been created, and it is going help that brand shine in the future. It’s steps that we have to take regularly so we can constantly innovate, and those steps are sometimes painful. But they allow us to improve the overall quality of the brand, so we think this will help the brand in the long-term.
“Things were not perfect” is the nicest way someone could say “completely broken.” Nevertheless, as mentioned in the conference call, Ubisoft still intends to release the next iteration of the Assassin’s Creed franchise in 2015, entitled Assassin’s Creed Victory, set to take place in the heart of London, England. This steadfast, bullheaded manner of game development seems mirrored to the all-smiles, shiny image that Ubisoft is trying to reflect to their investors in the conference call: everything is smooth sailing, no problems, stay the course.
Gamers know a different story, particularly with the Assassin’s Creed series, which has consistently gotten middling reviews except for the extreme departure of Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag due to its inclusion of a variety of new features and gameplay options. Many blame the annualizing of video game releases, which makes sense, as the series can somehow create massive open-world games every single time. Although these worlds are stunning, this is not an even trade for functionally broken games that just don’t work. This goes without mentioning that Ubisoft was openly duplicitous with the release of Assassin’s Creed Unity by refusing to give out review copies to journalists, meaning that there were no reviews of the game to warn players that it was a piece of stinking garbage, leading many to purchase the game on their own and being surprised with how appalling it was. Jim Sterling said it best on his web-series The Jimquisition in regards to Ubisoft putting Assassin’s Creed Unity‘s embargo date after the game’s launch window:
One can’t help but feel Ubisoft knows [their game was buggy] when it wants to stop reviews from going live after most of the pre-orders are cashed in and everybody has a chance to purchase the game sight-unseen. Because why else fucking do it? Nobody confident in their games would do it. Nobody who had something they were proud to show would do it…
It should also be noted that a similar obfuscation of review copies by Ubisoft was repeated in the release of The Crew, a game that was also notably glitchy.
Sterling goes on to skewer and comment on the state of Ubisoft’s neglect in their major franchises like Assassin’s Creed in a later video
Unity represents the shitty attitude of so called AAA games in 2014. The “release it now, patch it later,” launch day embarrassment we’re supposed to accept as normal… It’s a big fuck you to paying customers who, for $60, should at least expect a working game, not a broken, hot mess.
So where does that bring things back around to this conference call by Guillemot? The final say of the matter is that, at it’s heart, a corporation which is so desperate for profits such as Ubisoft – despite having some of the biggest budgets in the industry – is becoming far too dedicated to impressing its hordes of analysts and investors, and is quickly losing track of what their purpose as a company is: to make good games. Assassin’s Creed has taken the brunt of that neglect toward their own vision, and while Ubisoft certainly has several successes to note, this does little to inspire people to trust them.
Companies like this can’t convince gamers to touch a hot stove twice. It’s notable to say that other game publishers suffer the exact same difficulties, by over-hyping, over-promising, and under-delivering; although Ubisoft is the most egregious of these companies, EA with their constant failures and Square-Enix moving further away from what made their company so successful also rank highly on the list of publishers who need a reality check. With a new Assassin’s Creed on the horizon, how many long-time Assassin’s Creed fans have been burnt so many times that they won’t be picking this one up? While it may seem like a temporary concern that can be waved away by pushing pre-orders down our throats with literally spreadsheets worth of exclusive DLC, or by refusing to allow consumers to make an educated choice by providing critics with review copies in a timely fashion, this is an ongoing problem. The fact that Ubisoft felt the need to mention that their reputation could have been slightly damaged, a concern echoed by their own investors, proves it’s something they need to begin to take very seriously.
The future remains an unknown. Tom Clancy’s The Division has so far received a similar hype-train building as Watch_Dogs did when it was first announced, and with Assassin’s Creed Victory still on the annualized schedule, it is impossible to know how well Ubisoft will be able to improve upon its predecessor in such a short amount of time. What can be said is that Ubisoft should be concerned, and gamers who follow Ubisoft should be concerned as well, because as trends show, Ubisoft is more concerned with their quarterly profits than giving out games that people enjoy.