Recently it came to light that Ubisoft was delaying the release of the next installment in the Assassin’s Creed series for a year. This, despite the upcoming release of the next installment of Assassin’s Creed Chronicles, seemed to be an interesting move for the company who’s already releasing a new Far Cry this year along with new releases in the Tom Clancy franchise including The Division and Ghost Recon: Wildlands. In addition Ubisoft is in development of a new IP that features “heavy multiplayer focus”. It’s possible that this IP is what’s taking up Ubisoft’s creative team’s plate, and they want to come out strong with an untested new possible (probable) franchise. But whatever the reasoning behind Assassin’s Creed’s delay, shifting priorities, overworked dev teams, a mysterious note pinned to Yves Guillemot’s door with an ornate knife, the decision to delay the newest Assassin Creed is one of the most refreshing bits of news I’ve heard all year.
To be clear, I’m aware that the year has barely started, and I’m also a huge fan of the Assassin’s Creed series; it’s among my favorite of all time. But I do think that delaying the next iteration of the series is a very good choice on behalf of Ubisoft. In an entertainment landscape where we’re promised a new Star Wars every year and a new AAA franchise release every six months I begin to worry what kind of products consumers are getting. Assassin’s Creed has been putting out installations every year since Assassin’s Creed 2. And while it was exciting at first it’s just sort of become numbing and in many instances a little bit played-out. In comparison, Fallout: New Vegas came out 6 years ago and Fallout 3 two years before that. Fallout 4 was released last year to a massive fanfare and is still proving to be an excellent game. Similarly, Bioshock 2 was released in 2010 and Infinite dropped in 2013. What I feel companies need is a sense of delayed gratification, to draw out their release dates and space them apart. This has a lot of benefits in respect to maximizing hype, and ensuring that their products are being properly made.
When Bethesda announced Fallout 4 at E3 it blew everyone’s collective minds. There had been rumors circling that it was coming, that it was taking place in Massachusetts/Boston, but the announcement effectively outshone almost everything else announced that year. Soon after came the marketing, the release of Fallout Shelter, MORE marketing, and then finally the game dropped. People are still playing it and enjoying it, which is one of the reasons that release dates for major titles should be spread out a lot further. There are fans who will sit there and play a game, and by some sort of providence in their life have a lot of time to do nothing but play the game. They’ll marathon it and complete the story, then pick it up occasionally afterward to check out the side quests, and afterwards they move onto the next release. But for most people—some might refer to them as “filthy casuals”—they can’t dedicate as many hours to a lengthy campaign. But eventually they finish it and congratulate themselves on understanding the memes and in-jokes while feeling a swell of pride or something.
But it’s not all about waiting for the slow kids to finish their runs, spacing out releases also helps to make big flagship titles feel like Big Damn Deals. When game after game in a franchise comes out machine-gun style it starts to make the whole thing feel cheap. When a new teaser drops after you’ve barely finished the tutorial on release day it lessens the impact of the series expanding and growing, the excitement goes from “Oh man new [INSERT AAA FRANCHISE HERE]!!!” to “Oh, yeah, there’s a new [INSERT SAME FRANCHISE HERE] coming out tomorrow but I could also go file my taxes.” Again, when Fallout 4 was announced it was a MASSIVE deal due to the franchise being so beloved and the fact that it had been years since the last iteration was released. But with games like Assassin’s Creed being released every year, it doesn’t feel as big. It feels routine. And I worry that this is the same way Star Wars will feel a few years into its “release-a-year” schedule that Disney has going for it, but that’s an entirely different article.
Among the reasons I don’t particularly see this working out is that at the end of the day, companies that put out these AAA releases are businesses. They’re corporations that need to make money for their shareholders, and you can’t make as much money spacing out releases to satisfying intervals as you can by working on two games ahead of the series and pumping them out as fast as you can. I understand that. It’s just that I don’t feel as though it’s a practice conducive to producing good content which seems to me—and I can’t stress enough the sheer lack of a business degree or education I have—like a better strategy for the long term. If you have a consistency towards great products people will be more likely to invest in your games and your DLC and what-have-you. But if you constantly rush things into release you’ll get poor stories and more importantly buggy games. And I know that there’s a “we’ll fix it in post (-release)” culture surrounding these things now, but doesn’t it make sense to get it right the first time? Take Fallout 4 again: (Which you’ll notice I’ve been hyping for this entire article. I likes what I likes.) Great buzz, great release, but still buggy. A lot of things were not as good as they could be, and perhaps a longer QA period could have been beneficial. Fans will still be hyped when the game comes out and even more so when it doesn’t look like a pile of ass that you need your devs to scramble to patch. And if you’re worried that perhaps customers will get irate that the games haven’t come out yet? Maybe do the smart thing and don’t release any teasers until you’ve got something to show.
So Ubisoft, while you’re getting your new IP off the ground, please remember to find the time to really work on the newest Assassin’s Creed. Give it love and care and hopefully it’ll grow into a beautiful Fantastic Game Tree. Let us get our fill of Syndicate, maybe explore Unity and maybe if we’re feeling saucy pick up Rogue. Then give us some time to finish the Chronicles series, and bubble with wonder about what crazy stuff you’re going to do with Eagle Vision and just how you’re going to justify a game set in a more recent timeline but without programming a Model T driving segment.