Ubisoft announced last week that it’ll only pursue developing a game if it can be made into a franchise. The decision was undoubtedly made in an effort to counter the growing costs of developing games. As budgets skyrocket, Ubisoft wants to make sure it’s still making money. After all, Ubisoft is a business, and it desires to make a profit.
But there are also other repercussions to the announcement. First is the good news: The publisher will put everything it’s got behind each game it makes; if you’re being this selective about picking and choosing games you want to develop, then that means you will only put out the best of the best. If Ubisoft wants to turn a new IP (e.g., Watch Dogs) into a regular franchise, then it better damn well make sure Watch Dogs is an absolutely fantastic game that’s well deserving of a follow-up.
The days of looking at a single game and moving forward based on its performance are long gone. I’d be surprised if Ubisoft wasn’t already looking at what it can do in Watch Dogs 2 and Watch Dogs 3. When you’re consciously thinking about the future of the franchise before a game is even released, you absolutely must ensure that the first game is everything you want it to be and more. Anything less than stellar endangers that franchise’s future, and if you endanger that franchise’s future, then Ubisoft wouldn’t be following its new development philosophy.
But all of this comes at a price, which leads me to my second repercussion: the lack of original and unique ideas.
There is absolutely no way games like Pyshconauts, Beyond Good & Evil (we’re still waiting for this to become a franchise, by the way), or Mirror’s Edge would get developed under this franchise-only motto. While they’re all high-quality games, they’re not exactly the most mainstream games in the world. Their sales figures only further reinforce this fact. Despite the fact that each game has been discussed to have a sequel, the Mirror’s Edge 2 announcement was a bit of a shock, Beyond Good & Evil 2 is slowly becoming a joke, and it seems that nobody wants to publish Pyschonauts 2.
These quirky and unique games aren’t the only ones that would suffer. Do you think that South Park would become a franchise in gaming? If you consider the lengthy development cycle and amount of time and effort the South Park team has put into the game, never mind the fact that they also have a television show to work on, all signs point to a big no. It’s not just those niche games we’d be missing out on, but also titles that would be a one-and-done due to various schedules.
Is finding ways to make money worth the risk of missing out on potentially fantastic games? It’s a question many are facing as we move forward towards a new console generation. Budgets will continue to skyrocket, appetites for quality titles will continue to grow, and the indie scene will continue to steal the hearts of many. While Ubisoft is running the risk of creating burnout on its games (it’s already releasing Assassin’s Creed on an annual basis), its strategy is totally understandable.
Ubisoft is trying to ensure its future. Now we’ll just see if its decision pays off in the end, because no matter what a publisher does to try to make a profit, it’s ultimately up to us as gamers; we’re the ones paying for the games.