It’s been a few days since Ubisoft announced its intentions to forego the 3-4 AAA games per year model, in favor of FTP titles that will have longer life spans alongside their AAA stuff; as with everything, the community seems to have some “hot takes” on the matter. In this case, surprisingly, I am no different but it is for different reasons than what most people have expressed. I actually welcome Ubisoft’s decision to decrease the number of games it releases on a yearly basis and I hope that means they understand the fundamental flaw of their offerings in the past years; they are all, basically, the same game. Same light-RPG systems; same microtransactions that just make most people angry; same open-world structures; same “controversial” settings that say or add nothing of value regarding their topics. It has got to a point where playing their game about ancient Greek Gods and hackers in near-future London doesn’t feel like you are playing completely different games, but mostly the same game with different gimmicks on top. Having less titles and more opportunities to be diverse and risky can only be a good thing, right? I am not that gullible and I know that their FTP titles are likely to be shrewdly monetized and will probably evolve in ways that will drive me off pretty quickly, due to my personal wants and views on what I want from games, but I can’t help but feel like they should first try before I can be cynical about their plans; also, they still haven’t addressed the misconduct scandal from last year and that is actually something worth getting angry about.
With the context of Ubisoft’s 2020, the announcement of having less AAA games each year might come as either a shock or a no-brainer to people, such is the company’s gap between their reputation in the community and their earnings. In 2020 alone, the company released 18 (!) games (that includes ports and re-releases to new platforms), but that narrows down to 6 brand-new, titles of varying scopes and monetization; Trackmania, Hyper Scape, Watch Dogs: Legion, Assassin’s Creed Valhalla, Just Dance 2021, Immortals Fenyx Rising. Trackmania and Hyper Scape have been pretty bad launches; the former had a trully baffling monetization scheme that was kind of like a subscription but not really, while the latter only endured in the public eye for about a week before falling into obscurity. However, the bad news doesn’t end there for Ubisoft. Immortals has had a pretty bad launch (sales-wise) and the company hasn’t been forthcoming in how well it did with sales so far, with the consensus being that is has been underperforming, despite it being positively received by critics and fans alike. Beyond those 3 releases, Valhalla has been touted to become the best-selling AC game ever, while Legion sold 2 million digital copies in 3 days alone.
Sales are just one side of the coin and the reception is where things get interesting. Trackmania currently has a 71critic score with a 41 user rating, while Hyper Scape (for PC) has a 68 critic score with a 41 user rating as well. Valhalla has a good 82 critic and 75 user rating, alongside Immortals with 79 and 77 respectively. More average are the ratings of Legion with 72 and 56, as well as for Just Dance 2021 with 70 and 65 (for the Switch version). Despite these numbers, 2020 was Ubisoft’s most disappointing year (for me, at least). After the fallout from Breaking Point (a release so bad, the company delayed everything for a year in order to rework their projects), I expected something more interesting from Ubisoft’s projects this year, but alas – for Legion and Immortals at least – that was a misguided hope; for quite a while now, Ubisoft games feel the same. They have differences, but they are surface level; I can play as anyone in Legion, but they all feel like Ubisoft protagonists. Fenyx is a Greek demigod, but they might as well be Cassandra from Odyssey. I haven’t even played Valhalla and don’t plan on doing so, because I don’t feel it is different enough from Odyssey and I stopped playing that game after 50+ hours of gameplay that got me around 25% of the story, which utterly defeated me and made me loose interest; there are lots of things to say about how homogenized Ubisoft games are, but that is a different topic.
My focus today is if the announcement of Ubisoft’s plans to have FTP games alongside less AAA games can be a good thing. The answer to that obviously lies with Ubisoft’s intent and execution; if they want to use the Tom Clancy brand to build a gotcha game, then I will be very disappointed but not surprised. If, however, their intent is to create FTP games that evolve and grow through community feedback and become profitable through fair monetization then I would be surprised and happy for those communities, but I’ve never really been a part of that; I like games that have an end and once I reach that I rarely come back to them, I just move on to something else. For me then, I look at this as an opportunity for Ubisoft to be riskier and try more things; perhaps a game that isn’t open-world sandbox, like Valiant Hearts or Grow Up? Maybe they give more time and resources to an open-world game that can redefine the genre, like Far Cry did back in the day? If monetization and reoccurring profits can come from FTP Tom Clancy games, then perhaps there is a future for Sprinter Cell after all! I’m not saying that this is what is going to happen and we shouldn’t put up with bad business practices because it can lead to getting we want in return, however (this is very selfish I know) I want to fall in love with Far Cry again, with Assassin’s Creed, with Watch Dogs, and I haven’t loved entries in those franchises for a long time, since they are all the same game monetized the same way that makes the company tons of money, this new model may be the solution for the talented and creative individuals behind those franchises to finally thrive and push themselves creatively; it probably won’t be and this is another way for Ubisoft to make tons of money, but I cant help but be hopeful.
That matters very little to me anyway; what matters the most is that Ubisoft has still not addressed the sexual misconduct allegations and the numerous reports of abusive staff, and these are matters that actually are meaningful and should be at the forefront of any discussion about the company. I really care about the games, but the people are actually important and worthwhile.