Since their first release in 1987 to the upcoming Assassin’s Creed Mirage, Ubisoft has had a strong foothold in the games industry. Ubisoft has developed and published some of the most beloved and recognizable franchises in gaming like Far Cry, Rainbow Six, Rayman, Just Dance, Prince of Persia, and the aforementioned Assassin’s Creed. Despite this portfolio, Ubisoft isn’t invincible. Far from it.
The peaks and valleys of game development affect even the greatest of companies. Even Nintendo releases a Wii U here and there. But the past several years have been extraordinarily rough for Ubisoft. The France-based game company has had so many recent issues that it’s cause for concern about its future. From canceled projects, games stuck in development hell, failed live services titles, executive turmoil, and botched acquisition pitches, it’s fair to say Ubisoft has dug itself a hole it might not be able to climb out of.
The cancelation of any game is one of the many necessary evils in the industry. Sometimes, games can’t escape the conceptual stages or instead, make it to the 11th hour before being shut down. There’s a myriad of reasons why a game could be canceled but the most prominent issue usually is dysfunction and mismanagement. Missing deadlines, feature creep, publisher intervention, or lack of staff can all result in a game being delayed and its budget ballooning. Once a project gets beyond a reasonable cost for a publisher, the axe usually comes down.
This is something Ubisoft has done with alarming regularity in the past few years. Within the past year and a half, Ubisoft has canceled more than 7 titles, some known and some unknown. While there were various titles that were still in the pre-production phases, two notable Tom Clancy titles were canned last year. Ghost Recon Frontline was supposed to be a Free To Play Battle Royale title. It was allegedly canceled due to a striking resemblance to Call of Duty Warzone. The other was a Splinter Cell VR title that was canceled for unknown reasons, possibly with it being a bit derivative of the Splinter Cell Remake that was announced in 2021.
However, the biggest blow was the recently canceled Immortals 2. Besides having one of the most generic names in existence, Immortals Fenyx Rising was quietly one of 2020’s best games. A mix of Breath of The Wild and modern-day Assassin’s Creed, Immortals streamlined a lot of the issues and fluff from both entries. What resulted was one of Ubisoft’s best games in quite some time which is why its sequel’s cancellation stings a bit more than any of the others.
The decision to cancel all these projects was to streamline Ubisoft’s pipeline for future releases. Ubisoft officially stated that “As part of our global strategy, we are redirecting and reallocating some creative teams and resources within the Quebec studio to other unannounced projects”. This, in turn, would cut down its profit goals as the company attempts to navigate its current rocky situation. It appears Ubisoft’s plan of attack is the cut back on any title or project that strays too far away from its established IPs.
Franchises such as Assassin’s Creed, Watch Dogs, Rainbow Six (for the most part anyway), Just Dance, and Far Cry seem to be safe. Newer IPs or legacy series like Immortals and Rayman respectively seem to be on the back burner for now. But even as Ubisoft internally cancels titles that never stood a chance, there are several projects that are stuck in game development limbo. Not canceled but, after years of work, still not ready to come out yet.
There are infamous stories of games that took entire generations to come out. Games like Duke Nukem Forever, Final Fantasy XV, and Dead Island 2 took over a decade to be released and went through multiple development teams and iterations. Some succeed in being halfway decent games but most of the time, these titles are stuck in development hell for a reason.
Typically, these instances are rare. The stars have to align (or misalign?) just right for everything to go very wrong on a project to prolong the development. What’s even rarer is for a publisher to have multiple projects in this rough of shape. Ubisoft currently has 3 titles laboring in development: Skull & Bones, Beyond Good and Evil 2, and the Prince of Persia: Sands of Time remake.
The Sands of Time remake isn’t as egregious as the other two projects but it certainly has hit its fair share of roadblocks. Announced in September 2020, the reveal trailer received massive backlash. Fans noted the lack of polish for a remake of a game most consider one of the best games ever made. Especially when compared to recent remakes such as Resident Evil 4, Demon Souls, or Final Fantasy VII. With just 4 months between the reveal and the release date, fans were worried.
The negative reaction to the reveal trailer must have panicked those at Ubisoft as Sands of Time quietly missed its initial release date in 2021, being delayed to March 18th of that year. It would miss this date as well, being delayed into 2022. By May 2022, Ubisoft would delay the title indefinitely, rebooting development as Ubisoft Montreal would take control over the project from Ubisoft Mumbai and Ubisoft Pune. The Prince of Persia: Sands of Time still does not have a release date as of the writing of this piece.
Skull & Bones is one of the most fascinating game development stories of the past decade. What started off as an expansion of Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag has spiraled into a mess of dysfunction, mismanagement, government subsidies, delays, and reboots that one wouldn’t believe if it wasn’t true. Beginning development in 2013, Skull and Bones has been helmed by Ubisoft Singapore. Early on, a partnership between the local Ubisoft branch and the Government of Singapore was inked. The former would subsidize the development of Skull and Bones and the latter would create jobs during the development process and beyond.
For a decade, the project meandered with no real direction. In-game locations were changed, mechanics were implemented, and cut at the drop of a hat. Scope and scale seemed to expand and shrink at a whim. Management positions were akin to a revolving door. Since its reveal in 2017, Skull and Bones has been delayed a whopping 6 times. During the course of this debacle, Ubisoft has sunk $120 million into the project. The only reason Skull and Bones is still afloat is because the Government of Singapore is essentially on the hook for the bill.
As much of a mess as Skull and Bones is, it pales in comparison to Beyond Good and Evil 2. The original title was released in 2003 to critical acclaim but was considered a commercial failure. While a sequel wasn’t officially announced, it was teased on and off around 2008. All work that was done between 2006 to 2008 was scrapped and Beyond Good and Evil 2 was in an elongated pre-production phase for several years. Game director Michel Ancel was pulled in several different directions as work progressed on Rayman Origins and then its sequel Legends between 2009 and 2014.
After the release of Legends, a new version of Beyond Good and Evil 2 was back in production. Teased in 2016, Ubisoft officially announced Beyond Good and Evil 2 at E3 2017. The title would be a prequel to the original as a flashy CGI trailer and some pre-alpha footage were shown to the public. Since then, there’s been nothing but radio silence and moving pieces. E3s came and went without a peep from Beyond Good and Evil 2. Ancel’s leadership was the main culprit as similar issues with Skull and Bones occurred. An unorganized direction and an allegedly abusive work environment led to Ubisoft Montpellier having to restart development several times. Due to the alleged abuse, Ancel was ousted from Ubisoft in 2020.
Despite this, development was progressing well according to a Ubisoft financial report in 2021. Unfortunately, tragedy struck the team in July of this year as creative director Emile Morel unexpectedly passed away. As the project entered 2023, Beyond Good and Evil 2 broke an industry record of being the longest active development for any video game ever at over 15 years with no end in sight. Beyond Good and Evil 2 has not been publicly displayed since 2018 but Ubisoft has confirmed it is still very much in development. A very tentative release date of 2025 exists.
With Ubisoft’s newly adopted strategy of streamlining their projects and priorities, it’s a wonder if any of these projects will see the light of day. Unlike some of Ubisoft’s other ongoing projects, those caught up in development hell are only costing money, not making it. But even those designed with revenue streams in mind don’t always pan out.
Struggling Live Service
Similar to the rest of the industry, Ubisoft is no stranger to the Live Service genre. In fact, they’ve been quite successful with it. Titles like Rainbow Six Siege and For Honor have been going strong for years. But for every success, there are far more failures, especially over the last few years. The Rat King formally known as the Tom Clancy franchise seems to be plagued by the Live Service bug. Despite Seige’s success, there’s been no such luck for other sub-series. From Rainbow Six Extraction, The Division 2, Ghost Recon: Breakpoint, and the mobile title Elite Squad, there’s been nothing but failure.
Extraction got off on the wrong foot even before it came out. Once titled Rainbow Six Quarantine, Extraction was renamed due to the ongoing pandemic at the time. Despite a neat concept, Extraction did not review well, with critics citing it as an asset flip with very little depth. To Ubisoft’s credit, they haven’t abandoned the title yet, with Extraction still getting content updates fairly regularly. But it’s nowhere near the popularity of Siege or even the mildly successful spinoff Ubisoft was probably hoping it would be.
The Division 2, while an overall improvement on the original, has meandered in limbo for some time now. While Year 5 was announced fairly recently, Season 11 was a PR disaster. Massive Entertainment was set to release Season 11 until an issue arose. When pushing the update, a bug was found that “brought down the build generation system for The Division 2”.
This, in turn, delayed the release of Season 11 for weeks as the team had to reconstruct the entire build generation system of the game. Luckily, Massive was able to salvage this situation but it did put a dent in Ubisoft’s planned resurgence of The Division 2. It probably also had a negative impact on the mobile spinoff Heartland which was delayed past 2023 and into 2024. Granted that’s just speculation.
The Live Service bug hit another one of Tom Clancy’s 3rd Person Shooters in the form of Ghost Recon Breakpoint. Its predecessor, Ghost Recon Wildlands, while an integration of the Ghost Recon series into the open-world Ubisoft formula, was received well by fans. By no means a return to form, it was an enjoyable co-op title that brought the series back to relevancy. Something Breakpoint immediately tarnished.
Breakpoint took the base Wildlands set and forced Live Service elements upon it. It felt at odds with itself and was a clear way of trying to monetize the success of Wildlands. It was also the testbed for Ubisoft Quartz, an NFT push by Ubisoft that ended as an unsurprising failure. Support for Breakpoint officially ended in April of 2022. With the aforementioned Ghost Recon Frontline being canceled last year, the series could be on a hiatus in the short term.
Official support has also ended for a number of other titles as well including the previously mentioned mobile title Elite Squad which lasted just a few months. Hyperscape, the interesting but ultimately disappointing Free to Play Battle Royale from Ubisoft Montreal, was officially shut down in April of 2022. Roller Champions, the Free To Play PVP sports title, hasn’t set the world on fire. Player counts lowered to the point that Ubisoft had to officially confirm it wasn’t canceling the title and instead keeping the service active for the foreseeable future.
xDefiant, which was previously ridiculed upon its official reveal, is set to release any day now. So much so, that it dropped the Tom Clancy moniker to try and rebrand itself. The Call of Duty-like shooter has had some successful beta sessions in the past months. But it remains to be seen whether it will be added to the pile of forgotten or shut down Live Service attempts by Ubisoft.
Live Service titles can be a costly endeavor. For a game to not even reach 2 years of active post-launch support means a potential revenue stream dries up quickly. With so many misses for Ubisoft in both the Live Service realm, canceled titles, and projects in limbo, it’s no wonder they’re in dire financial straits recently. While the company has outwardly restructured its priorities for future releases, Ubisoft’s upper management was quietly trying to abandon ship.
Begging for an Acquisition
While Microsoft was going on a shopping spree by scooping up the likes of Bethesda and Activision Blizzard, Ubisoft higher-ups saw a potential light at the end of the tunnel. It was reported at the beginning of 2023 that Ubisoft was making the rounds, proposing acquisitions and mergers to similar-sized or larger companies. The consensus around the industry was that of amusement. Ubisoft was reportedly “laughed at” in acquisition talks.
Ubisoft definitely already did the rounds proposing acquisitions and mergers with other similar companies, and it mostly got laughed at. It's just too unwieldy. Its strength was its distributed development structure, and now that is an albatross.
— Grubb (@JeffGrubb) January 11, 2023
As the company was shipping underperforming titles like Just Dance 2023 and Mario+Rabbids: Sparks of Hope, they were simultaneously canceling several games behind the scenes and delaying titles like Skull and Bones. With state of the company being what it is and Ubisoft potentially inflating its internal view of its worth could have led to the aforementioned laughter. All of the company’s issues seem to point upwards and the trials and tribulations they seem to be embroiled in.
In June 2020, amidst strain while dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic, Ubisoft was rocked by findings of widespread and endemic harassment throughout the company. From sexual misconduct to abusive work environments, more than 25% of the company had experienced or been witness to behavior that went unpunished for years. One in five employees reported they were not “fully respected or safe in the work environment.”
The fallout of these allegations led to the aforementioned development issues with Beyond Good and Evil 2 and the departure of Michel Ancel. CEO Yves Guillemot addressed these issues, accusing those in leadership roles of abusing their influence and power within the company. Guillemot is not without blame though. Even years after the company-wide incident, employees are still saying enough isn’t being done.
An internal employee union of sorts known as A Better Ubisoft was formed to address the toxicity within the company. Despite this move, almost none of its proposed improvements have been made. If anything, it’s made things worse, with some employees suggesting any changes Ubisoft has made are “superficial”. This is supported by a recently leaked internal email from Guillemot who essentially blamed development teams for the various cancellations, delays, and underperforming sales. Guillemot would go on to say that the “ball is in your court” to see the company through this tumultuous time.
After a terrible 2022, Ubisoft's Yves Guillemot tells staff the next year is crucial, telling them in an email that "the ball is in your court" to deliver ontime/onbudget.
"Today more than ever, I need your full energy and commitment to ensure we get back on the path to success"
— AmericanTruckSongs9 (@ethangach) January 11, 2023
While always a strong presence in the games industry, Ubisoft turned into a powerhouse throughout the late 2000s and early aughts. As the company has grappled with the changing times of the current games industry, there’s no doubt it’s faltered. A toxic work environment has led to chaotic and mismanaged projects. Some of those projects are either delayed in perpetuity or canceled outright. Some meander about in Live Service hell and die before they’re able to blossom into full titles.
To its credit, Ubisoft seems to have a plan to move past all this. Try to clean up its toxic work environment. Streamline its releases. Focus on its strengths and cut away the fat of its weakness. Even Assassin’s Creed is doing this by going back to its roots. But if something doesn’t change, a giant of the industry could fall. Or be swallowed up and folded into a larger publisher’s portfolio. Hopefully, Guillemot’s promise that this upcoming year will be the “best in Ubisoft history” rings true. Otherwise, Ubisoft could succumb to all of its self-inflicted wounds.