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Ubisoft explains why launch games underwhelm

Ubisoft explains why launch games underwhelm

Mon 18 Nov 2013 4:08pm GMT / 11:08am EST / 8:08am PST
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Tony Key also notes that the $100 price difference between Xbox One and PS4 won't matter, and he expects installed base to quickly double last gen

During the months walking up to a console launch, there's a great unspoken truth the press, publishers and gamers all choose to conveniently ignore: The first batch of games are going to be pretty bad.

Sure, there might be an occasional standout, but the majority of the titles people heap with praise and say they can't wait to try are titles that will mostly be forgotten before the following holiday. Even installments of well-known franchises are generally just graphically enhanced versions of what we already know.

Tony Key, senior vice president of sales and marketing at Ubisoft, knows this better than anyone - and says there's actually a good reason launch lineups inevitably get middling reviews.

"Right now, all publishers are transitioning their development resources," he says. "For a game like Assassin's Creed: Black Flag, most of the sales are still going to be on current generation platforms. We can't make a version for PlayStation 4 or Xbox One that's so wildly different that we can't market them together. So, for now, developers and designers are focused on making a game that works really well on all of the systems - but as we transition resources to the next gen, it's going to be more difficult to do that because the power of these machines is going to allow so much more creativity."

New franchises that are part of a system launch, meanwhile, can have rocky starts since specs don't get locked down until the last minute, giving them very little time to adequately polish the game.

"We can't make a version for PlayStation 4 or Xbox One that's so wildly different that we can't market them together"

That's part of the reason Ubisoft decided to opt for a last-minute delay of Watch Dogs, arguably one of the most anticipated launch titles of both the Xbox One and PlayStation 4.

"It's heartbreaking to be so coveted for launch and not be able to deliver it at launch, but from a business perspective, it's not a difficult decision to make," says Key. "Watch Dogs is designed to be a long-term brand for Ubisoft. We won't launch it until we know it's equaling the vision it can achieve. ... We're playing the long game - and as a company, we know how important it is to get it right."

Ultimately, he says, pushing back the game will result in more sales than the publisher would otherwise have seen.

Ubisoft, not surprisingly, is all-in on the next generation systems. The company has a long history of being an early, avid supporter of new technology - and has never been shy about giving its opinion.

Key has a few noteworthy ones on the PS4/Xbox One battle. For instance, that $100 price difference? He doesn't expect it to make any difference to players, as long as both consoles can show players why their systems are worth the price.

The only way it will become an issue, he says, is if the PS4 begins to look demonstrably better than the Xbox One.

And while there has certainly been a fair bit of attention paid to the social aspects of the machines, Key says he still thinks they're being undervalued.

"Think about all the things we've learned socially since the last consoles launched seven years ago," he says. "Facebook was still at Harvard. Smartphones were in their infancy. All these changes that occurred were factored into not only this hardware, but into the games as well. ... You'll see over the next year or so how consumers drive innovation on that as people begin sharing things we completely didn't expect. I think it will be the wild card in the future of these systems."

In part because of this, he disagrees with critics who believe this generation of consoles will fall short of the sales numbers we've seen this time around.

"Our feeling is the installed base of these machines will be much faster to take hold than previous generations. In the first couple of years, we expect double the installed based of previous generations"

"Our feeling is the installed base of these machines will be much faster to take hold than previous generations," he says. "In the first couple of years, we expect double the installed base of previous generations [during that same time period]. ... The reason why is: the last cycle was longer, so there's a lot of pent up demand."

There's demand on the developer side, too, he says - as the horsepower fueling the new consoles gives game makers the chance to do things they haven't been able to dream about previously. And, he says, those great strides aren't too far away.

"There's so much more under the hood," says Key. "Give them just a little more time and you're going to see the difference start to build. The amount of innovation that's going to occur around these machines is really going to inspire the category.

"That's what we need: We need to bring excitement back to this industry."

14 Comments

Elphège Kolingba
Product/Brand Manager (Online/Offline)

16 2 0.1
Go for it. We expect next games to be different, not matter if they got a current-generation version :)

One way to differ a current version vs next gen one could have been to integrate extra contants or new features (easy to implement), that would have needed to get it right at the early stage of the game development.

Posted:5 months ago

#1

David Serrano
Freelancer

280 246 0.9
Popular Comment
"and he expects installed base to quickly double last gen"
I almost pee'd a little when I read this lol. So despite the fact that only 30 percent of 360 and PS3 owners actively play any games on their consoles and the overwhelming majority of core games released each year only reach a single digit percentage of the installed base (and nobody in the wider potential audience)... he believes all 150 M 360 and PS3 owners will purchase new systems that will exclusively feature the same types of games they won't purchase for the systems they already own AND an additional 150 M consumers will magically decide to purchase a $400 to $500 device they have absolutely no use for? Wow... I mean... wow! I need a big bag of what he's smoking!!!

Posted:5 months ago

#2

Alfonso Sexto
Lead Tester

714 495 0.7
@David Serrano

I can understand the point in your comment, But I think it's tone was intended for Gamespot, not gamesindustry ;)

Posted:5 months ago

#3

Andrew Goodchild
Studying development

1,199 317 0.3
So despite the fact that only 30 percent of 360 and PS3 owners actively play any games on their consoles
Do you have evidence of that?
overwhelming majority of core games released each year only reach a single digit percentage of the installed base
If 9% of people who read books buy a particular title, it will probably hit the top of the best seller list for months as long as there is not a new Harry Potter book. I'm pretty sure few films get seen by 10% of cinema goers. Why do you expect that a game must hit any more of the install base to be considered popular? Are core gamers supposed to all be clones with identical tastes?

Posted:5 months ago

#4

Dan Lowe
3D Animator

51 66 1.3
Popular Comment
I got the impression that when he was saying double the installed base in the first few years, he's not talking about reaching double the total install base of the current generation, he meant that if last gen they hit 5 million in the first year and 10 million in the second year, that this time it'll be 10 million in the first year and 20 million in the second year.

Like re-read the paragraph; the comment immediately follows him talking about faster growth and faster uptake, not total size of the market. It could be that the market doesn't grow all that much, we just reach saturation faster.

Edited 2 times. Last edit by Dan Lowe on 18th November 2013 7:56pm

Posted:5 months ago

#5

James Brightman
Editor in Chief

193 176 0.9
@Dan, yes I believe that's what Tony was referring to - double the market for the same period of time on the market, not necessarily double the whole thing in the end.

Posted:5 months ago

#6

Richard Browne
EVP Gaming and Interactive

77 67 0.9
That's how I read it also, faster take up - but I still think long term it'll be a lower install base unless Microsoft/Sony can move the needle with the device outside of gaming.

Posted:5 months ago

#7

David Serrano
Freelancer

280 246 0.9
@Andrew Goodchild

According to John Riccitiello:
...surveys tracking gamers' playing habits found that the percentage who play their consoles every week has been pretty steady for the past three years, hovering around 30 percent.

Posted:5 months ago

#8

Andrew Goodchild
Studying development

1,199 317 0.3
Ok, but if that's playing every week, the number is higher if you take people who do play, just not as regularly.

Edit: The statistic may or may not be accurate, and I apologise, I am generally sceptical about surveys based on taking small samples and extrapolating up. It may be a useful tool but should not be taken as gospel. It would be nice to see the actual data, what question was asked? How big was the sample? How were interview subjects obtained?

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Andrew Goodchild on 19th November 2013 10:15am

Posted:5 months ago

#9

Sandy Lobban
Founder and Creative Director

317 174 0.5
With no new home console from Sony or Microsoft for some time, its been impossible to get a feel for the market and where everyone's interests are heading. I think the numbers after christmas 2014 (when we have a wider choice of games) will be a good indicator as to whether the wider public are in fact looking for the deeper gaming experiences found on consoles or not, and more importantly, whether they like the associated price tags.

The uptake on PS4 is encouraging but at this stage its the people you would expect to be buying it that are buying it. The challenge is reaching out the people who have been introduced to gaming over the last few years via mobile, at a much lower price point and bringing them on board. The people who have cooled off on console gaming (myself) probably still need to be convinced as well.

The jury is still out for me on whether the console market stands to gain consumers or not from the surge in technology over the last 8 years or so. Lets hope so.

Making expensive games with rich content for the Vita obviously didn't go down too well with the public from a price point of view, and that business model just doesnt work when competing against the iOS and android install bases, but maybe a home console will fair better with higher price tags. We shall see.

Personally, I'll probably stick with Steam and a chromecast for Netflix, at least until my son is old enough to start nagging me for a console, but hopefully there will be a surge in interest from console/PC gaming virgins going forward.

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Sandy Lobban on 19th November 2013 11:39am

Posted:5 months ago

#10
I think , sometimes in Jan, when all the buzz of christmas and new year sales ahve diminished, and the shiny new games come onto the horizon, is a good time to take new stock, on the way console games are going. At the moment, its like the fish feeding chunder, and the waters get all muddied somewhat...

besides, its great to be enthused with new tech, hardware and opportunities to to showcase the latest/best. Remember teh time and excitement when one saw the new star trek reboot? it brought back the lens flare pastiche into a whole new dimension!

Posted:5 months ago

#11

David Serrano
Freelancer

280 246 0.9
@Andrew Goodchild
Ok, but if that's playing every week, the number is higher if you take people who do play, just not as regularly.
Based on what I've read, researchers and analysts classify an active core player as someone who plays specific types of AAA or AA games on what they label as a core gaming device for 5 or more hours per week.

So the questions I would have asked Tony Key are: why in a sluggish economy will tens of millions of 360 and PS3 owners who currently only play for a couple hours per week and infrequently purchase games for the consoles they already own invest $400 or $500 in a new console? Provide one tangible motive or incentive they will have to purchase either of the new systems as a primary gaming device? And how can there be "a lot of pent up demand" for next gen. hardware or games when by the industry's own standards, 70 percent or more of the existing installed base can't be labeled as active core players and there's no demand for the hardware (as a primary gaming device) outside of the installed base?

Posted:5 months ago

#12

Jeff Kleist
Writer, Marketing, Licensing

209 85 0.4
Regardless if what anyone thinks, there won't be a cear picture till January.....2015

These consoles need a Christmas with non-beta OS and exclusives worth buying a console for. Which neither has right now

Posted:4 months ago

#13

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