It’s no secret that game companies are often at odds with gamers. One look at Electronic Arts (and their spiffy Most Hated Company in America award) makes that pretty apparent. Recently, however, it would seem that Ubisoft has been working hard to come up with ways to compete for this coveted award with their determination to make as much money off of low quality content as possible.
“How can this be?” you may be demanding with rage. “Ubisoft has put out a number of amazing games such as Far Cry and Assassin’s Creed! How can you say they make poor quality titles!?”
I say it not because they have done so, but because it is the inevitable outcome for where they are headed.
A recent IGN article states that Ubisoft will no longer make games unless they will be franchised. IGN cites that in an interview with A List Daily, Tony Key, the Senior Vice President of Sales and Marketing for Ubisoft, explained that games cost too much to make. “We won’t even start [a game] if we don’t think we can build a franchise out of it. There’s no more fire and forget–it’s too expensive.”
But..but that’s a good thing, right?
Yes. And no.
I have nothing against a good series, whether it be books, films or games. The problem is the attitude presented by the company and the inevitable loss of quality that must occur with this business model.
To say they aren’t going to bother with something if it’s a stand alone means they aren’t willing to take risks and, frankly, video games are too young for companies to be taking this stance. The game industry is still evolving as it tries to come into its own which is something they will most likely not be able to accomplish if a company is stuck in an endless cycle of sequels. Banking on a series means they are ready to play it safe and stick with the tried and true. And chances are they will make very few changes to future installments for fear of alienating the current audience at which point one must ask, why are you even making new games? Unless the story is engaging (which it often is not) why even bother purchasing the new game when it is effectively just a reskin of its predecessor?
While this is worrying in and of itself, what if they do the opposite instead? What if we see another Far Cry 2 where they claim the game is a sequel when in fact it bears so little resemblance to the first game that it can hardly be considered as such. Hoping that the name alone will be enough to drive sales is a dishonest approach to selling a product, particularly when said product could have done well as an entirely new IP.
The second concern with this “franchise only” approach is quickly becoming apparent with the Assassin’s Creed series. Don’t get me wrong, I love AC, I love the concept behind it, and I’m excited for Black Flag. But for how long can we expect it to be a good, interesting game now that it’s been annualized? How can the quality possibly be maintained when they are turning out a new game every year just for the sake of putting out a new game? An article published by Gamespot credits creative director Alex Hutchinson of saying that “releasing annual sequels allows Ubisoft to keep the Assassin’s Creed franchise ‘in people’s minds’ so that the publisher can ‘keep telling the story.'”
Seriously? I call bullshit. If you expect me to believe for one moment that a game as well loved as AC will just be forgotten, then you are a fool. I know there are some us out there with derpy attention spans, but really? If the game is that good, we won’t forget. What’s more, we will be excited as hell when we learn there is to be a next one, regardless of when it is released. The more time spent between games, the more the hype builds. And what’s more, the better quality the game will be.
Unless they have a brilliant idea, design or story-wise, they’re setting themselves up for failure in the long run. With this model creativity and innovation take a backseat to milking a cookie-cutter franchise to death. What’s more, we are more likely to get bored with a franchise when there is always a new one just around the corner.
What it really boils down to is that this way of looking at game design is nothing short of lazy. And it is not the only lazy idea Ubisoft has had. A piece on Polygon explains why Ubisoft believes gamers will ultimately embrace always online games. The article explains how Ubisoft’s goal as far as online games are concerned is to bank solely on the idea that everyone wants to play an MMO without playing an MMO. That certainly isn’t how they put it, but it essentially is what it comes down to.
The open worlds that Ubisoft is designing use elements of MMOs, but take them one step further. An open, sandbox world with no internet connection isn’t good enough for Ubisoft. Instead, they’re pushing a dynamic world in which players can influence not only your personal interactions, but they can in some ways influence the world as well. It sounds as though your interactions will be less about NPCs and more about your fellow players. You’re not forced to play with them like in a multiplayer, they are instead doing their own thing in the same world as you.
But what does this mean? It means you simply cannot play a single player game. You can’t come home after a long day with people, sit down, and play a game on your own for a little “you” time. It is yet another situation in which social interaction with complete strangers is forced on your gaming experience. (In some games–others it sounds as though you will only see people you are friends with, but the article was not entirely clear on this.)
I don’t know about you, maybe you love having people around you all day every day. But I know there are many of us who do not and who relish our time alone in a game world. And it feels as though game designers are trying to make console games after the same fashion as mobile games. Recently I tried to find a game like Words with Friends but…well…minus the friends bit. I just wanted to be able to play a word game without having to rely on other people. I imagine one exists, but I couldn’t find it so I continue to not have a single mobile game installed on my phone.
This dependency on other people for the full experience is another fault apparent with the always online model. While in some games the interactions with others will make sense and serve the story (such as in Watch Dogs where you will have to be wary of other hackers), in Black Flag it seems fairly pointless. The Polygon post goes on to explain how always online will influence the new AC title.
“…when a player’s friend stumbles across an incredibly rare event in the world, like sighting a white whale…that event is automatically communicated to all of a player’s friends, who in turn can then seek it out in their own world.
This isn’t just identifying what already exists in the world for all players, it’s placing it there, Ismail said. This allows players to pepper the best of their own experiences into another player’s world without making it their own.
“These are very rare and unique experiences,” he said. “If you’re playing on your own there’s a chance you may find them, but it’s very tiny. The more friends you have, the more likely you’ll see these experiences.”
Now please, tell me how this is remotely interesting. I have to rely on other people in my single player game in the hopes that I might get to see more of the content? Seriously?
What a bloody gimmick.
I have two final concerns with the always online model. And they are that, yet again, it is a lazy way to produce content. Instead of making a new game, or even a sequel, it allows game makers to simply slap some DLC on there. DLC, their favorite attempt to get people to stop trading in their games. Polygon recently wrote an article that covered very well why used games are not the horrible evil monster of doom that developers and publishers make them out to be which I suggest you read here. The only addition I would make is, rather than blaming used games and stand alone titles for their apparent lack of funds, maybe they should review how their businesses operate and find true solutions to their financial problems rather than scapegoating used games and presenting us with cheap, easy content. Again, the industry is new. Experimenting is still in order.
Finally, what happens when the servers go down. Will an entire generation of games be gone forever once they are no longer supported? Are they taking these things into consideration at all?
Ultimately, the idea is good, it’s fun and it is engaging. BUT–is this truly the future? Are all games going to coerce us into these open, internet connected worlds where we are forced to put up with others at all times, not just when we choose to? I see nothing wrong with this–as a genre. And that, I feel, is a very important distinction. We already have the MMO genre, the multiplayer fighting genre, the Call of Duty FPS genre, the racing games, the single player RPGs, action games, etc. I see no reason why this new, blended genre can’t work and can’t work beautifully.
But the fear remains. The fear that the people behind the games will make the decisions for us in regards to the games we want to play in favor of the games that allow them the easy route.