Assassin's Creed 3 was revealed this week as Ubisoft's 'largest project ever' at the company, but what exactly does this mean for the investment put into the title and should Ubisoft be worried about burning out the franchise? These are questions GamesIndustry International put to Tony Key, senior vice president of sales and marketing at Ubisoft.
Speaking to us at a special Ubisoft GDC dinner, Key noted, "It's two times the development resources we've ever had, so that's twice as many people as we've ever had working on a game before. So that makes it the most expensive. It's a truly global effort around development, production and marketing, so when we say this is going to be the biggest launch in Ubisoft history, we're talking about how much effort we're putting behind it and that includes the marketing budget, the amount of people working, the business units pushing on this thing."
He continued, "it's definitely, hands-down going to be the biggest launch we've ever had. We've known that for a while - it's a massive product for us that's been in development for three years. We've been waiting for it and we're really excited finally to see the thing coming to life today and the people's reaction."
That reaction has been quite positive from the folks we've been talking to this week, particularly because of the Revolutionary period portrayed in the game. "We knew, especially here in the US market, that having the game take place on American soil was going to hit home for a lot of people in a way that maybe some of the past Assassin's Creeds have not. We see that as an opportunity to grow the brand," Key added.
While the brand is very popular, there's no denying that pumping millions upon millions into a title also involves great risk for a publisher. Ubisoft likes its chances, however.
"Any publisher who says that they don't worry about burnout is probably not being honest."
"We assess the potential and the quality of a product long before we're announcing the thing. We understand what we have, and while we're not flawless in our projections - we've had plenty of games that didn't meet our expectations - we firmly believe that this is a really good bet," Key explained. "And our goal is to grow the brand. We are one of the elite brands in the industry, but we're not the biggest - there are a few brands that sell more than Assassin's Creed so we know that there's room for this to grow. So we're getting behind it with bigger development resources and bigger marketing and our goal is to significantly grow it from where it is right now - so not just a little, a lot."
Key stressed that Ubisoft sees no threat of franchise fatigue, "especially since Assassin's Creed 3 is featuring a completely new hero, new technology, a new setting... now you're talking about a whole new part of history where you've got guns and giant armies and the Colonial America, which even in Europe has a lot of lore attached to it."
He added, "And our hero is totally cool - he's very unique, half British, half mohawk. That allows him to have a lot of cool attributes. He's got some of the typical weapons of Native Americans in that period but he also knows how to use a gun."
As bullish as Key and Ubisoft are on the newest Assassin's, publishers can never be guaranteed success in anything, and gold mines aren't filled with an infinite supply. "Any publisher who says that they don't worry about burnout is probably not being honest. There's always the worry about burnout because consumer tastes change, trends come along that cause you to evolve things in certain ways, so you always have to be forward thinking about your brand and where you're going next with it," Key acknowledged.
"You certainly have to strive not to do the same thing every year. You don't have to completely reinvent the brand every year to be successful on annualizing, but you do need to bring something new. And so, with Assassin's 3 that's not an issue at all - the thing is completely new," Key emphasized.
"It was started the day that Assassin's 2 shipped, it was in another section of the building from where Brotherhood and Revelations were being made, it took a different path with different tech and so they started right from that first day to do a true and honest sequel."
"Brotherhood and Revelations were both really good products, but they were derivative of the second game, but the public responded very well to them because they were high quality, they added a lot of cool features, they evolved the character - and when people fall in love with a character they don't necessarily want to throw that away after one game. So Ezio had a good run with three strong outings and now people are ready for a new guy."
Assassin's Creed 3 ships on October 30 for PS3, Xbox 360, Wii U and PC. The franchise is approaching 40 million copies sold worldwide.