Following Ubisoft's surprise Watch Dogs delay (causing its stock to plunge 22%
in a single day. Ubisoft doomed! Isn't it great to know the financial markets who hold such sway over the world economy are dominated by calm, rational and long-term oriented actors?), they revealed that Rayman Legends and Splinter Cell joined the ever-growing pantheon of storied franchises that "failed"
lately. Ubisoft may be disappointed, but most people who were paying any attention were definitely not surprised.
Following poor Wii U sales, Ubisoft decided to delay the one-time exclusive to September in order to launch it simultaneously on all platforms. While the decision to drop the exclusivity was a sound business move, everything else was questionable, to say the least. In one fell swoop, they took Rayman away from an audience that was starved for games, ANY game, and left it for dead on GTA V's front door. As for that starved, GTA V-free Wii U audience? By the time Rayman arrived, they were no longer starved, they had Pikmin 3 and other games released between February and August to feed them. Still hungry, perhaps, but not desperate. Rayman had competition.
Could Rayman have done better if Ubisoft had released the Wii U version in February as scheduled and followed it up with the other versions when they were ready? We can only speculate, but it's a strong possibility. Despite everything, the Wii U still accounted for 50% of first week sales in the U.K. Be that as it may, I'd bet my soul that releasing poor old Rayman within days of GTA V was NOT a good idea, to say the least.
Then we have Splinter Cell, a faded brand (though one I still very much appreciate) that launched to very little fanfare, and the most buzz it ever got was the controversy over the interactive torture scene. It also happened to launch dangerously close to that other
The proximity to GTA, the fading of the franchise and the utter lack of hype (I have no intention of playing GTA V in the near future, but I knew when it was about to launch. On the other hand, I fully intend to play Blacklist, but the announcement it was already out caught me completely by surprise) no doubt all took a toll on Blacklist's sales, but what 100% guaranteed the game never had a chance was... Assassin's Creed.
Time was, Splinter Cell sold 2-3 million copies, and everybody was happy. Even Conviction, already smack-dab in the middle of the ballooning budgets of the HD era, had its 2 million sales described by its makers as "solid". Hardly a shout-from-the-rooftops endorsement, but a far cry from "missed sales targets".
By the time Blacklist came out, Ubisoft was selling 12 million Assassin's Creeds, and was rather vocal about its "need" to move Splinter Cell closer to the popularity of its crown jewel. The results were, as always, painfully predictable. As Square Enix made it abundantly clear (as if that somehow wasn't clear enough), set ludicrously unreasonable targets and you will "fail" every time.
I wonder what those elusive targets for both games were. Rayman Legends sold 20% more than its predecessor, at least in the UK. Given that Origins bombed, that hardly meant it was a hit, but it does mean that it grew the audience. How much more was Ubisoft expecting? 4 million sales maybe? What about Blacklist? The previous game sold "only" 2 million copies, but this one was charged with starting to catch up with Assassin's Creed. What does that mean? 6 million?
I'm curious to see what "failure" meant for these games. Did they truly bomb, or do they belong to the Square Enix School of Failure? Regardless, it seems bloated expectations and a boneheaded publisher may have killed/put on a long hiatus/ensured the next will be mobile/F2P only yet more beloved franchises. Again.
Will it ever end?