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Ubisoft: Delays Done Wrong. Developers, Take Notes.

Delays suck. You get so excited for a product, then all of the sudden, "Woop, sorry guys! Gonna have to wait a bit longer plzundrstndkthxbai!"

Delays can happen for many reasons. Quality issues, conflicts within the development team, floods, alien abduction, mo-cap actors being deported to Ireland. Regardless of the reason, there are ways to properly handle delays, both after the fact and beforehand in case such a thing were to happen down the road.

Ubisoft is a master class of how not to do and handle delays.

Let's start with the funniest one in my opinion: Assassin's Creed III for PC. It's no secret that Ubisoft treats PC gamers like shit, especially when it comes to Assassin's Creed. Every Assassin's Creed PC release since Brotherhood has come at least a month after the console releases. But Ubisoft promised that III would be the game that would release simultaneously for all platforms (interview tidbit at the bottom).

Gamespy: So when's the PC release date?

Ubisoft PR: October 30th

Gamespy: Yeah, but when's the real PC release date?

Ubisoft PR: It's October 30th.

Gamespy: Uh huh. And can you say that with a straight face?

Ubisoft PR: You can ask me as many times as you like, but the answer will be the same.

Gamespy: Very well, let's move on. So, when will you announce the delay of the PC version?

Ubisoft PR: ...

Turned out the answer was August 10, 2012, two months before console release.

And then Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag got delayed on the PC. But this time Ubisoft actually gave an explanation, which was basically, 'we need time to adapt the game to PC.' 

Yeah, like we couldn't figure that out the first three times.

As you probably noticed, people weren't as burned about Black Flag's delay as much as ACIII's. Why is that? Well just like Black Flag, we expected ACIII to be delayed. But Ubisoft kept saying, "Nonononono, we promise, we triple promise that this won't happen." And then it did. No one likes it when promises are broken, so when Black Flag came around, Ubisoft promised nothing. Lesson learned, right?

Nope! Time for Rayman Legends!

We all know this story, so I'll just tell it in a nutshell. Rayman Legends was originally a Wii U exclusive that got delayed a little over a week before its February release all the way to September so that it could be ported to other systems.

Why did Legends get delayed? Was Ubisoft fearful of the Wii U's low install base? No, otherwise they wouldn't have bothered bringing it to the Vita. Were they just greedy bastards who just wanted every cent they could get out of every gamer? Maybe. 

We don't know why Legends got delayed, but that doesn't matter. What matters is that this delay killed what hope the game had in growing legs. See, many people argue whether or not it would have sold more if it remained a Wii U exclusive. Would it?

Yes it would. See, we live in an industry where every developer and publisher is dependent on launch sales. After the first month, the game usually falls off the radar, and if it didn't maximize profits at that point, then it was a failure. Nintendo games are a different story. Their games continue to sell long after release. Just look at Mario Kart Wii. That game came out five years ago, and it sold one million units last year.

Let me reiterate: Mario Kart Wii came out in 2008. It sold one million units... in 2013.

How many developers can say that for their games?

Let's look at a more recent example: Super Mario 3D World.

The internet world was in chaos when Media Create's Top 20 Chart for 11/18-11/24 was released, as it revealed that Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII (released on 11/21) was at #1 with 277,082 units sold, while Super Mario 3D World (released on the same day) was at #2 with 99,588 units sold.

Huh? A 3D Mario (a game that historically sells less than 2D Marios) on a system with a low install base sold less than a game on a system with a much larger install base? Sound the alarm! Nintendo is doomed! It's over!

Or is it? Let's fast forward a month.

Media Create Top 20 Chart for 12/16-12/22. Super Mario 3D World? It's at #5 with 86,408 units sold, making a total of 327,514.

Lightning Returns? Nowhere to be seen.

Hey, how about we go to the most recent one, the Top 20 of 1/20-1/26? Especially with January being the worst month for video game sales, 3D World must have lost its steam by now, right?

Nope. It's still charting, totaling 470,687 units. Lightning Returns, on the other hand, isn't even in the Top 50.

So what does this all have to do with Rayman Legends? Well, by February 2013, the Wii U had been around for nearly three months. People began wanting something new. This was the perfect opportunity for Ubisoft to plant a seed through Legends. Sure, it wasn't going to sell millions right out the gate, but its status as an upcoming quality Wii U exclusive would have pretty much guaranteed that when someone did buy a Wii U that it would one of the games included in that person's purchase, and it would have kept going long after release.

When Ubisoft delayed Legends and made it multiplatform, the game went from 'awesome exclusive' to 'just another game.' And it didn't help that it released on the same month as Grand Theft Auto V.

But Ubisoft was determined that this was the right decision. And how did it work out?

It didn't. In November 2013, Ubisoft announced that Legends (as well as Splinter Cell: Blacklist) failed to meet sales expectations, surprising absolutely no one. And I don't just mean that out of spite. By the time Legends was released, there were already so many better games out already and on the horizon, so it's no surprise that people chose them over this.

There are conflicting reports about which version of Legends sold the most, but I see more saying the Wii U version. Wouldn't be surprised. Nintendo gamers love them some 2D platformers.

What's funny is that a few weeks after launch, Ubisoft executive Alain Corre told CVG that they were not ruling out bringing Legends to the 3DS. Ironic, isn't it? He's basically saying that if their game bombs, they'll come crawling back to the company they fucked over in the first place.

And a 3DS port made perfect sense. After all, to my understanding, Origins did relatively well on the Wii and 3DS, and the 3DS is the best-selling gaming device right now, so why not? Well, right after it was announced that Legends was a financial failure, Ubisoft said that they were indeed porting the game...

...to the Playstation 4 and Xbox One.

This is going to bomb even harder than it did the first time. Let me tell you why.

First, and let's not kid ourselves here, the reason people are buying these two consoles is so that they can play games that are nigh photo-realistic. Legends is the antonym of the 'next-gen promise.'

Second, the vast majority of the people who buy consoles at launch are not 'new' consumers, but rather people upgrading from previous systems, people who have played the crap out of these systems and are ready for more, so if people were interested in this game, then they would have played it by now. There's something to be said about selling the same games to the same people.

Third, there's release date and price. Tomb Raider had only been out for 10 months, and Square Enix expects us to pay 60 dollars for minor graphical tweaks and DLC for the game type that nobody likes or asked for. Legends hasn't even been around for six months, and Ubisoft expects us to pay 60 dollars for 'sharper textures,' new character skins, and no loading times within levels. 

If this doesn't spell "Disaster," I don't know what does.

Finally, we have Watch Dogs.

Let me tell you about my experience in anticipating this game.

When Ubisoft first introduced it at E3 2012, I, like many others, was blown away. And they followed it up with more amazing trailers and screenshots, and they even did another awesome demo during the Playstation 4 reveal.

Then E3 2013 came around, and I was very excited to see what Ubisoft would show this time. During their own press conference, they showed a CG trailer, which kinda bummed me out, but I figured they would show gameplay at Sony's show. And they did...

...It was an escort mission. And it was all downhill from there.

A few months after E3, we were shown another gameplay demo of Watch Dogs, this time showing Aiden infiltrating a building to install a virus into a control center so he can control electronic devices in that area. That's when I realized:

This is Assassin's Creed. Instead of hidden blades, we have iPhones. Instead of horses and pirate ships, we have Lamborghini's and Corolla's. Instead of viewpoints, we have control centers. It's the same. Damn. Game. After you get past the novelty of 'hacking' stuff, which is essentially "PRESS BUTON TO WIN GAEM," it's really nothing different from what we've played before.

And just when I thought my interest couldn't get any lower, Ubisoft delayed the game in October 2013, just a month before release. It was a damn shame for Sony, as they were promoting this game out the yin-yang. And what has been shown about the game since? Pretty much nothing.

I'm gonna say this right now: Watch Dogs WILL fail to meet sales expectations. Here's why.

The first reason, one that is always concerning as far as games go, is the budget. Back in June 2013, executive producer Stephane Decroix said that Watch Dogs' budget exceeded 50 million euros (that's 68 million dollars).

To reiterate, the budget was over 68 million dollars BEFORE the delay. How much is it now? Originally, Ubisoft expected the game to sell 6.2 million units at launch. How much does it need to sell now?

This is why I believe these rumors of the Wii U version's cancellation to be ridiculous. At this point, Ubisoft needs all the sales they can get, and cutting off a platform will not help them.

The other reason is the change in Watch Dogs' status as a game. At first, it was to be our first step into true next-gen gaming. But now that the next-gen console hype is starting to wear down, it's become just another game, just like how Rayman Legends lost its star status when it was delayed and became multiplatform. By the time it actually releases, we will have had plenty of 'next-gen' games to satisfy the hunger we had in the beginning. And it doesn't help that Ubisoft has done pretty much nothing so far to assure us that it will still be amazing.

Now before anyone tells me "But Trogdor! Everyone at IGN, Kotaku, and NeoGAF are very excited about it!" Let me tell you something: These are the same people who were begging Ubisoft to bring Rayman Legends to other platforms, and Square Enix to do the same with Deus Ex: Human Revolution Director's Cut. If those keyboard zealots actually represented the mass market, none of those games would have sold as poorly as they did.

The internet gaming community is a minority. An annoyingly vocal minority, but nonetheless... a minority.

So there you have it, folks. Three lessons to take from this:

First: Do not promise a release date. Use the word 'expect.' By using 'expect,' you let consumers know that anything can happen, and they'll be less upset if something does happen.

Second: If you're releasing a game on one system, go with your gut and keep it that way. Do not listen to people from internet forums telling you otherwise. It will be worth it in the long run, when all is said and done. And if you do delay it and make it multiplatform, you only have yourself to blame if doesn't work out.

Third: Do not blow your load about your game until you are 200% certain that the release date is golden and you know there will be absolutely no problems. You can only hold people's interest for so long in the event something happens.

Expect to hear from me if the Wii U version of Watch Dogs does get canceled and the game doesn't meet sales expectations.
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About The Bowels of Trogdorone of us since 7:13 PM on 03.09.2013

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