I’ve spent a lot of time this past month thinking about Ubisoft. The company has dominated headlines the past few weeks, from the Far Cry 5 debut to the bizarre Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle, and even a new logo. Each new Ubisoft game, despite eventually succumbing to critical and/or intellectual debate, has no trouble finding a huge audience on release day. It seems like first-party console publishers bend over backwards to secure Ubisoft content, and the only other thing I can think of that garners more marketing fervor are behemoth properties like Call of Duty. In 2017, there really is nothing like Ubisoft, and I think they’ve taken over companies like EA and Activision as the most important third-party corporate presence today.
Let’s use Nintendo as an example. When the Wii came out, it was a success and chock-full of third-party ports and other oddities. But no other western company produced as much original and successful content for that platform than Ubisoft. Ubisoft saw the dollar signs and acted accordingly making several games in the then-popular Rabbids line and making ports of games like Just Dance more visible on the Nintendo platform. Eventually the Wii would falter in software sales and Ubisoft would jump ship, along with other publishers. But Ubisoft always came back.
The DS, Wii U, and 3DS all launched with more Ubisoft games than any other non-Nintendo presence. Nintendo never seemed to fight for publishers like EA, and Activision sort of hovered around for things like Skylanders and other kid-friendly properties, but never in a major way. Ubisoft eventually abandons the platform after poor sales, but always makes an initial effort, and there’s no doubt that Nintendo dollars are behind those efforts. Games like ZombiU, Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon: Shadow Wars and Rayman: Raving Rabbids were all launch day, original games that made a difference at the time.
As arguable as it is that Ubisoft gets money tossed at it for console launches, it’s just as arguable that one of the Wii U’s biggest failings was the lack of support for the bigger Ubisoft games. Once Assassin’s Creed made the generational leap, it was no longer feasible to port those huge titles to the underpowered Wii U. That hurt. Other games, like The Division, For Honor and Ghost Recon: Wildlands made no appearances. Watch_Dogs showed up eventually, but well after its reputation caught up to it and nobody cared. Far Cry has never appeared on a Nintendo console. Ubisoft not only generates popular content, but popular content at a high rate of frequency. That matters.
But now, the Switch is actually a success. Huge Ubisoft AAA games like Assassin’s Creed Origins won’t be able to make an appearance, but something else is happening. The usual port jobs like Rayman Legends are happening, but Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle is a sign of something different. It’s not just a weird, new property like ZombiU that’s doomed to fail, it’s a Nintendo crossover. This is a game that’s going to get an actual push, it’s an effort by Ubisoft to relaunch a brand that fell just short of being A Thing. But now, Mario is involved. It’s a sign that Ubisoft is more than interested in the Switch as a platform.
Now, remember I’m using Nintendo as an example for a more broad observation. I’m not just saying, “Ubisoft is important because Nintendo.” I’m saying, “Ubisoft is important, and Nintendo treating its partnership as a huge-ass deal is cold, hard proof of that.” Think about EA’s presence on the Switch. It’s a throwaway FIFA game nobody cares about. Nintendo barely cared to mention it after the original Switch debut presentation. Other third parties like Activision have been quiet and/or waiting to see what happens. But Ubisoft is going all-in with a project that has millions of dollars in valuable IP involved. This, combined with the ludicrous pre-E3 mindshare the Ubisoft family has (seriously, the Internet lost its mind over an Assassin’s Creed Origins T-Shirt), is proof that this company probably has more power in the industry than you may realize. It’s interesting how far Ubisoft has come in such a relatively short time.