Ubisoft distilling "Fun"?

I was watching the Quicklook for Assassin's Creed IV and was reminded of the very specific way Ubisoft creates games.

In Assassin's Creed IV you play an incredibly "meta" role as a play tester for Abstergo and you're able to rate every mission in the game with 1 to 5 stars, which obviously is feedback that goes directly to Ubisoft.

I think everyone's noticed by now, the way in which gameplay elements blend over between games like Assassin's Creed, Splinter Cell, Far Cry and Watch_Dogs, which all seems to be features that people generally preferred in those games. One of the most lauded additions to Assassin's Creed 3 was the sailboat missions and that Assassin's Creed IV suddenly is a game about pirates hardly feels coincidental.

I'm not saying that there's no creativity at Ubisoft, but doesn't it feel like they are trying to distill "fun" and create a "product", rather than creating "art"?

The leaked screenshot from a suspected Prince of Persia game, is virtually indistinguishable from Assassin's Creed.

In essence, I'm starting to feel that Ubisoft is the McDonald's of game development. There's not necessarily anything wrong with that, because despite all the hypocrisy, everyone has had McDonald's at one time or another followed with varying degrees of regret, but can their efforts every hope to aspire to something truly unique or will they end up just making the same game over and over again?

30 Comments
30 Comments
Posted by jimmyfenix

It is a money maker why change ?

Posted by fetchfox

I wouldn't say that they're on the McDonalds level, but definitely fast food. Sometimes it awesome, and other times you hate yourself for buying it. I see your point though, the "color" of their games have become less and less distinct over time. A good game mechanic doesn't necessarily fit all games, something they aren't quite aware of. I haven't played the latest Splinter Cell, but it apparently "suffers" from the Ass Creed climbing implementation.

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Posted by CheapPoison

Well videos games are a product.
No shame in making stuff as many people can enjoy.

Posted by probablytuna

I'm pretty sure they settled on the idea of making a pirate game when ACIII was still in development. After all, Black Flag had a development time of over two years. Although it does seem like Ubisoft likes combining features or gameplay mechanics from titles that work well/positively received into their newer games but I don't think that's necessarily a bad thing.

Posted by yinstarrunner

Yeah I've not necessarily been a huge fan of Ubisoft over the past couple of years, although they can still make good stuff, like SC: Blacklist and the Rayman games. I'm just not a fan of Assassin's Creed, and that feels like the kind of identity their going for: "We're the guys who make Assassin's Creed and games like Assassin's Creed."

Posted by Brodehouse

Back in the day we would say they have a house style. The same way BioWare games will feature dialogue wheels and romance storylines, and Paradox games will drown you in numbers, and Capcom games will be big on animation priority.

Posted by Jimbo

I haven't played AC4 yet, but they are in danger of moving their franchises too close together if they aren't careful. They've been going that way for a while, and eventually there will be a backlash against it.

The problem with chasing the mythical 'ideal' game is that it ignores that different people want different things, and that even individuals want a variety of experiences. It's flawed logic to always design towards the most popular opinion if everybody else is doing the same thing and serving the same group.

The 'open world, covered in side activity padding' thing is obviously their go-to framework now (AC, Far Cry, Watch Dogs), which is fine until everybody gets bored of that blueprint and they're caught out because they have all their eggs in the same basket.

Posted by RobotSquad

Activision is McDonalds. EA is Burger King. Ubisoft is Wendy's. Yeah they are still fast food, but they got the Frosty, man.

Posted by Jimbo

@brodehouse: I'd argue Bioware's decision to homogenise their franchises backfired on them pretty badly though. They had two distinct and popular franchises and they wrecked one by needlessly trying to turn it into the other. That's what Ubi need to be careful of.

Posted by domowoj
@jimbo said:

The 'open world, covered in side activity padding' thing is obviously their go-to framework now (AC, Far Cry, Watch Dogs), which is fine until everybody gets bored of that blueprint and they're caught out because they have all their eggs in the same basket.


open-world games have been huge for years and Ubisoft tend to do them better than most, and even if that mostly stems from hit-or-miss annual releases and lots of iteration on core concepts it's still a system that's worked for them for years. judging by how excited everyone is for Watch Dogs it doesn't seem like their particular bubble's going to burst anytime soon.

besides, it's not like they don't do anything else. Splinter Cell shares some basic gameplay mechanics but is largely its own standalone. Rayman is still popular, and they're still doing stuff like Might and Magic X and Child of Light even though they're both super niche and clearly won't sell gangbusters.

they're experimenting with trying to build the ideal open-world experience. even if the product might come across as single-minded and purely driven by corporate greed and a desire to capitalize on something popular, there's art to be found in the process itself.

Posted by Daiphyer

Wait. Prince of PERSIA is black? What in the world?

Edited by James_ex_machina

If Ubisoft could see where some missions are just not fun that would be great. I do imagine this could ruin your creativity if you did this for a living. If creating new types of stories and games is hampered by a "paint-by-the-numbers" environment, the games could get boring. Meanwhile game designers might give up and move to another place where creativity is desired. Then the "paint-by-the-numbers" company is filled with "yes" people who just do as told.

Years ago I worked with a guy who's brother was in the band LIVE. He told me how the band had submitted songs for a new album that they really believed in. The record company, said this sucks and go follow this formula. The band fought and lost. They had to rewrite songs to fit the formula the record company demanded. The record did quite well, but the band really started to become unhappy because they were painting by numbers "for the radio single". I imagine game designers becoming unhappy too, if in the same environment. Sometimes the publisher is right, but when they continually crush creativity gaming can get stale. I like Assassin's Creed but I really can't imagine playing 10 of these games. I've already started to get bored and I'm only on Brotherhood.

Posted by Slaegar

I hate it when companies make stuff I enjoy.

That's it. I quit video games.

Posted by Klei

play tester for Abstergo and you're able to rate every mission in the game with 1 to 5 stars, which obviously is feedback that goes directly to Ubisoft.

You're not a play tester. The missions aren't rated for Abstergo, but for Ubisoft. There's nothing obvious about that, it's just the structure of the game. They're asking US if we like the missions they built, in order to eliminate those we don't like.

AC4 is a big massive shift from the rest of the franchise. It's an Assassin's Creed game by mechanics, but not by design. Want my two cents? They'll start milking a pirate-themed game series on its own and, who knows, maybe they'll just separate it from the main continuity of the AC's.

Also, about your games being products and not art; it's been like that since forever. All games aren't artistic, and I like it that way. I want games that I can play/interact with/ replay at will. I wouldn't want experiences like Beyond / Journey / Brothers to be the main focus of this industry, otherwise I'd just stop playing games altogether.

Edited by Sooty

Assassin's Creed is not art and never will be. Nor will Splinter Cell, Far Cry or Watchdogs.

If we're going to call a game art, at least cite ones that look like they fit that term. Like Rayman.

Posted by davidwitten22

It almost seems like you're suggesting that listening to customer feedback and basing your game development process on that is a bad thing. The "rate mission from 1-5 stars" thing should really be in every game so they can adjust their mission structure to get rid of the missions that people generally hate (the boat level in Mirror's Edge being an example of a generally maligned level).

Posted by fetchfox
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Edited by AMyggen

@davidwitten22: Well, going for what the "majority" likes in that way doesn't always create a good product, it just creates a product that tries to appeal to everyone, and that often ends up being something everyone can Accept, but no one really loves. So I'm not a big fan of "rate this mission" after each mission, and Ubisoft maybe actually basing decisions on that. We've been here before with focus testing games and films to a mediocre, bland death.

Besides, Ubisoft should know that no one really likes "collect x number of y" or "kill x number of y", but they still put those mission into their games. Don't think people "downvoting" will change that.

Anyways, as for the topic, Ubisoft has been doing this for a while now, and I'm not a big fan. But that's what you'll get from many of today's AAA Publishers. The budgets are becoming so huge that they can't afford to take any big risks, so their big games blend more and more together. Remember, this is the sa,e Ubisoft that said that making a stand alone game which couldn't create a franchise of games was a waste. There's obviously a market for this, but I've been out of that game for a while now.

Edited by mlarrabee

Game developers make products all the time.

Nearly every game is designed with your purse and back pocket in mind. That isn't a bad thing, it's just that pure self-expression isn't very financially self-sustaining.

Ubisoft's grasping is pretty glaring--"You liked the ships? OK, we'll do more ships. And we'll ask you how you liked each mission, for next time."--but every developer tries to figure out what makes a game succeed or fail.

EDIT: Most movies, music pieces, and paintings are products, too.

Posted by Ares42

I'm not saying that there's no creativity at Ubisoft, but doesn't it feel like they are trying to distill "fun" and create a "product", rather than creating "art"?

In my experience I enjoy it much more than all the big games these days trying to "push the medium". Ubisoft realizes they are making games, and as with all other types of games out there it's just all about finding an activity that's enjoyable to do. Look at board games, card games, sports etc, they are all trying to figure out how to make the activity as fun as possible, not making some unique special "experience".

Posted by Jimbo

@domowoj said:
@jimbo said:

The 'open world, covered in side activity padding' thing is obviously their go-to framework now (AC, Far Cry, Watch Dogs), which is fine until everybody gets bored of that blueprint and they're caught out because they have all their eggs in the same basket.

open-world games have been huge for years and Ubisoft tend to do them better than most, and even if that mostly stems from hit-or-miss annual releases and lots of iteration on core concepts it's still a system that's worked for them for years. judging by how excited everyone is for Watch Dogs it doesn't seem like their particular bubble's going to burst anytime soon.

besides, it's not like they don't do anything else. Splinter Cell shares some basic gameplay mechanics but is largely its own standalone. Rayman is still popular, and they're still doing stuff like Might and Magic X and Child of Light even though they're both super niche and clearly won't sell gangbusters.

they're experimenting with trying to build the ideal open-world experience. even if the product might come across as single-minded and purely driven by corporate greed and a desire to capitalize on something popular, there's art to be found in the process itself.

I'd dispute that there's any art to be found in shaping a product a specific way exclusively for commercial reasons. It's a calculated, scientific approach to game design, not an artistic one. That isn't necessarily 'wrong', but it certainly isn't artistic.

Open world games have been huge for years, but anybody can see that recent Far Cry / AC's are less distinct experiences than they were a few years ago. They (and a lot of the industry to be fair) have moved from crafting these games individually to using a conveyor belt / assembly line approach, using a blueprint they know works. The 'open map covered in padding activities' thing is popular enough at the moment, but I think we're rapidly getting to the point where people will get sick of how overused / unfulfilling it is.

Edited by isomeri

I guess if the formula sells then don't change it. I mean what could go wrong?

This just in from the Ubisoft fun distillery.

Edited by Seppli

What defines Ubisoft-made games for me? Artifice, and a distinct lack of direction - as in cramming anything and everything in their games willy-nilly, regardless of if it's good or bad or blatant filler or even downright annoying. I often end up buying Ubisoft games when they go on sale, but usually I'll be very annoyed with these games for one reason or another.

For example - I recently played through Far Cry 3 (free via PS+), a game with core gameplay that I adore and hugely enjoy. But the game's lousy with low-rent filler bullcrap (fed-ex quests anyone?), and other annoyances. And for all their open world aspirations, not once have I ever felt their gameworlds are anything but gameworlds. They've all failed to come alive. Most blatantly - everything's so player-centric, I always feel like all eyes are on me, the gameworld is just waiting for me to show up. All Truman Show-like.

I always wanted to play Far Cry 2. Everytime I ponder to purchase it, I remember all the talk about how annoying the technicals are (weaponized jeeps I believe), and I remember how annoyed I've been with games like the Assassin's Creed games - and I just never got over it - I don't want to be annoyed.

Posted by Discoman

What's so horrible about focusing on an aspect that people enjoyed? GTA V focused on heists because people always liked those missions the best in the other games. If the entire industry suddenly moved towards Naval combat games I'd think you'd be making a good point because that's what happened with FPS games for a while.

If it was up to me I would have just got rid of the Assassin aspect and made it a pirate game though. Sometimes its best to move away from a franchise for a bit, or just not make it too much of the same old.

Posted by ch3burashka

I think they're technically decanting the fun.

Posted by tourgen

I don't know, I don't think your metaphor works.

Ubisoft has found a formula that works for them and people seem to enjoy. They bring some pretty impressive tech and attention to detail to their products too. I only fault them for their misguided attempts at online DRM and the super shitty Uplay software/service.

Posted by Karkarov

@discoman said:

What's so horrible about focusing on an aspect that people enjoyed? GTA V focused on heists because people always liked those missions the best in the other games. If the entire industry suddenly moved towards Naval combat games I'd think you'd be making a good point because that's what happened with FPS games for a while.

If it was up to me I would have just got rid of the Assassin aspect and made it a pirate game though. Sometimes its best to move away from a franchise for a bit, or just not make it too much of the same old.

Assassin's creed is stale as it gets. Moving to a new ip and just making it pirates would have been smart actually. That said I can't lie and say I am not buying it, I am, but only because I got to have something to play on the PS4 on release day and since it cant be the open world game I would rather play (watch dogs) may as well be this. It isn't like you cant level this same complaint at Acclaim, EA, or any other big developer.

Posted by ripelivejam

@robotsquad: fuck man, wendy's has some damn fine burgers too for fast food.

Posted by Oldirtybearon

@jimmyfenix said:

It is a money maker why change ?

If that was the reason then AC2 would have been a very different game. The fact that Petrice was pressured into adding a lot of "gamey" elements like courier missions and adding more bombastic story missions also feeds into the OP's theory.

Edited by TobbRobb

Isn't distilling a product the players are going to enjoy just their fucking job? Not everyone needs to make "art" and not everyone wants "art". Just make a fun game man.