Nov 22nd, 2016

Ubisoft is a company that finds itself heading into a new year on uncertain footing. French conglomerate Vivendi has been eying the company for a while now, slowly gobbling up shares so that it holds a 22.8% stake in the company. That’s enough to set current CEO and founder Yves Guillemot on edge, as the company has started buying back shares.

While Vivendi said on July 18th that it would not consider a full takeover bid for at least six months, that six months grace period is coming to a close in December. That means the next few releases that Ubisoft brings need to nail it with consumers so its current shareholders are happy and less likely to sell out to Vivendi. Here’s a look at some of the ways Ubisoft is attempting to nail that strategy.

No more annual Assassin’s Creed

Assassin’s Creed as a series didn’t really hit its stride until Assassin’s Creed II with Ezio, who Ubisoft managed to squeeze three games out of his storyline before letting him go. Ezio games were the start of the annualization of the Assassin’s Creed franchise, which saw a story-rich game reduced to a series of gimmicks for each new year, similar to how Call of Duty operates.

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Black Flag was a part of this annualization effort, but it’s widely considered a pearl on an otherwise heap of shit of games that came after the last in the Ezio trilogy. Largely, that’s true. Assassin’s Creed III was a buggy mess in terms of production values and the armageddon aliens stuff it introduced in the modern setting did nothing to make the modern corporate battle between Assassins and Templars any more interesting.

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The release state of Unity pretty much sealed the game’s fate on the chopping block for a few years, but Syndicate was still in the pipeline so it was released before the series ground to a halt. Now a company that once famously said customers “will tell us” if they’re sick of annualized Assassin’s Creed is saying it doesn’t see the need to return the series so quickly to the root of what killed it in the first place.

Why? Ubisoft has to get Assassin’s Creed right when it comes back. Even long-time fans of the series who enjoyed the historical setting were tired of it by the time Syndicate came out and sales showed it. Miss-steps with the modern story made it unappealing to most, despite the upcoming Assassin’s Creed movie featuring Michael Fassbender that will feature that angle prominently.

Ubisoft can’t afford for its shareholders to lack confidence in the company, so whatever the next Assassin’s Creed game happens to be, it will need to capture gamers’ imaginations and hearts similarly to the way Assassin’s Creed II did when it was released.

No more compulsory DLC

Ubisoft learned a quick lesson from the way it has been handling online updates for Rainbow Six Siege. The game underperformed when it released, yet Ubisoft has been careful about releasing map packs and expansions that might further fragment an already small community. Instead, map packs are released for free, while extra customization items and guns are what you pay for.

The practice of fragmenting a community as large as Call of Duty works in Activision’s favor, since it’s a way to require people to purchase DLC to stay up to date as the developers move through creating content for their game. It guarantees a revenue stream with each new release and is in general, a better business model for the company making the content than for those consuming it.

By bucking those trends and making sure that all the maps are available to the player pool regardless of what they’ve purchased, it means everyone stays on level playing ground. It keeps customers happy and lets Ubisoft focus on creating content that can support their revenue stream without dividing the player base.

Watch Dogs 2 is an amazing sequel

One of the major criticisms about the original Watch Dogs is how little effort Ubisoft put in re-creating the world of Chicago for players to run around in. The driving felt uninspired, Aiden Pierce himself was an unlikeable character, and the story the game told just wasn’t that compelling. It was enough for me to write off Watch Dogs entirely.

Thankfully, Ubisoft didn’t. They went back to the drawing board and came back with a sequel that is the same quality jump we saw in Assassin’s Creed to Assassins’ Creed II. Marcus Holloway is an all around more likeable character than Aiden Pierce and Ubisoft has given him a pretty accurate rendition of San Francisco to hack.

There’s a lot of tongue-in-cheek humor in Watch Dogs 2 and the driving is noticeably improved over what we saw in the first game, which shows Ubisoft is working on getting better with time. Watch Dogs 2 is the sort of game that we should have gotten when the first game debuted.