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Ubisoft is Setting-Up a Year of Fails

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By Nelson Schneider - 02/11/24 at 04:27 PM CT

As the once-great critic of Corporate Gaming, Jim Sterling, used to say, “Oh, Ubisoft!

That’s really all I can think to say in response to the French member of the Big Three Two Evil Videogame Publishers, as it is seemingly intent on setting itself up for a full year of failure, barely two months into 2024. Back in 2022, in the midst of the hubbub surrounding the flurry of acquisitions, mergers, and buyouts within Industrial Gaming, Ubisoft started off proud of its independence from even bigger corporations, then said it would be interested in reviewing any potential acquisition offers, before becoming seemingly perplexed and defensive when asked why they hadn’t been acquired yet.

Meanwhile, the tech sector, and especially the Games Industry, has faced steep cost-cutting measures, declining revenues from the Live Service model (to which Ubisoft has hitched all of its metaphorical wagons), and the evaporation of the “free money” known as venture capital.

Thus we come to the present day, which almost seems to have been prophesied by Ubisoft itself back in 2013, with the release of “Assassin’s Creed 4: Black Flag,” a pirate-themed game that features a parody of Ubisoft CEO, Yves Guillemot, during the obligatory non-pirate framing device sections of the game. Now we have the real Yves Guillemot talking out of his ass about a new pirate game, “Skull & Bones,” which only recently exited Development Hell to hit the market at the new Industry standard price of $70. Of course, “Skull & Bones” is a late competitor to Microsoft’s Rareware-developed “Sea of Thieves,” in that both games are PvP-centric Live Services.

“AAA” games, and Ubisoft games in particular, have cost far more than the former Industry standard MSRP of $60 for a good long time already. The typical single-player Ubisoft Sandbox title, like ‘Assassin’s Creed’ or ‘Far Cry’ has been $120+ for the last two hardware generations, thanks to Ubisoft’s love of DLC and proliferation of multiple confusing ‘versions’ of the same game that each come with varying amounts of ‘extras,’ which are all actually required for the ‘complete’ ($100+) experience. In that respect, $70 for “Skull & Bones” doesn’t seem like that big of a deal… until you take into account the fact that it is NOT a single-player game, like ‘Assassin’s Creed’ or ‘Far Cry,’ but a “Sea of Thieves” clone that will drip-feed paid content and paid Battlepasses for the extent of its lifespan. Of course, “Sea of Thieves” launched before the Sony-instigated MSRP increase…. But even then it wasn’t a $60 game, but instead a budget-priced $40 game.

In defense of this overpriced Live Service, Yves Guillemot attempted to coin a new tier of Corporate Gaming Product, the Quadruple-A, or “AAAA!” game, which sounds less like something to excite the gaming audience, and more like what the gaming audience screams whilst ripping out their hair and fleeing from a company’s products in droves. We don’t even really know what the stupid term, “AAA Game” really means, other than that the title has a massively oversized budget, uses the latest technology (typically to push shinier visuals), and is made by a Big Corporate Publisher-owned studio. So what does that extra “A” add, here? All of the above, plus a subscription?!

Speaking of subscriptions, Yves Guillemot isn’t the only bigwig at Ubisoft who is completely out of touch with reality. It turns out that their Director of Subscriptions, Philippe Tremblay-Gauthier, is just as deluded. Of course, when you’re paid a Corporate Executive salary to push subscriptions, of course you’re going to talk about subscriptions like they’re the best thing ever, whether you actually believe it or not. Anyway, Philippe seems to think that the simple solution for the floundering of subscription services all across the gaming sector, even Microsoft’s unprofitable best-in-class Gamepass, is to convince Gamers that they don’t need to own their games. It’s unsurprising that an Ubisoft executive would say such a thing, considering their heavy-handed DRM and obligatory Uplay Ubisoft Connect launcher have been worst-in-class roadblocks to Gamers feeling confident in owning their Ubisoft titles for over a decade already. However, having an Ubisoft executive come out and just say it in black and white is nearly as disconcerting at the infamous “You’ll Own Nothing and You’ll Be Happy” essay from Danish politician, Ida Auken, that made waves at the 2016 World Economic Forum.

Of course, Philippe’s comment is largely being taken out of context, implying that Ubisoft wants to completely kill off the buying of games. Taken alongside the long-running conflict between Ubisoft and its customers (which it typically refers to as ‘pirates’) surrounding DRM, it’s easy to jump to the worst possible conclusion. However, I don’t really think Ubisoft wants to end game sales or destroy their customers’ digital libraries. Rather, Ubisoft (and Microsoft, and Amazon, and Netflix, and Google) is so desperate to make subscription-based gaming work that they’re willing to neglect the traditional sales model as they ‘laser focus’ on the new model, which is doomed to failure.

Executives like Philippe and Phil Spencer of Microsoft often ponder why customers are so willing to accept subscription-based music, television, and movies, but not gaming. Naturally, in their myopia, they neglect to acknowledge the difference between the passive nature of music and video content compared to the actively-engaged nature of videogames. Even more myopically, these gaming executives don’t seem to be aware that subscription-based video is collapsing in upon itself, rendered unstable and unsustainable by every individual company trying to compartmentalize its own content behind a discrete subscription, all while a dearth of compelling content renders NONE of these individual services worthwhile.

With Ubisoft acting this stupidly in February, we’re likely in for an interesting year. Let’s hope Ubisoft’s executives can pull their heads out of their asses and reassess the situation before they manage to scuttle the entire company. Barring that, we’ll have to keep our fingers crossed for an acquisition, but with the state of the Industrial Gaming Economy, the only outfits with enough money to buy Ubisoft or acquire its valuable IPs are just as bad, if not worse, than Ubisoft itself.

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