Assassin's Creed: Blood Sail is on course for a release in China, but publisher Ubisoft is considering bringing the title to Western shores.
The game is being developed by China-based studio CMGE, one of Ubisoft's various partners in the region, and was quietly announced last year. In fact, we spoke to CMGE back in December about how it's working with Western firms on famous IP like Assassin's Creed and The Walking Dead.
However, fresh details emerged today as Ubisoft made the details of its plans public. Blood Sail is an MMORPG for mobile devices, it is built with Unreal Engine 4, and it is currently slated for a China-only release. However, Aurelien Palasse, Ubisoft's head of licensing and publishing, tells GamesIndustry.biz that its China specific strategy could change.
"We only have a few successful examples of games in China that have been able to go to the West. But they do exist"
"Today it's only for China, but if it's working, yeah, why not bring it to the West?" he says. "We've just started [exploring this]. Might and Magic: Heroes of Chaos just launched a month ago.
"There's a process to bring games to the West - not only the production process but also making sure we have an English version we can test with the community to see what changes we have to make. And [then we determine] whether it makes sense to bring it to the West, because if it's not accepted by the core fan in the West, it will never pass the barrier.
"I hope we can bring them all - that's what I'm working for - but today we really don't know. We only have a few successful examples of games in China that have been able to go to the West. But they do exist.
"The game looks good, it's very addictive and the Western mobile market is pretty casual, so the gameplay will fit and the audience can enjoy it. So first China, and if it's a success, we'll see if the community wants it and then we'll bring it to the West."
Assassin's Creed: Blood Sail is the publisher's latest effort to establish its biggest brands in China. A partnership with Lilith Games has already seen a Chibi-style Ezio - perhaps the series' most popular protagonist - added to Soul Hunters as a playable character, along with early Ubisoft icon Rayman and the modern Prince of Persia. Meanwhile, the aforementioned Might & Magic title was originally developed specifically for China.
The Assassin's Creed series is already known to the PC gamers of China, thanks largely to grey sales of its mainstay entries through Steam, which currently skirts the governmental approval process. So while no Creed titles have officially been released in China, due to their violent content, awareness among the audience there is high.
"If the point is to be in the top ten on mobile, if that's the measure of success, the revenue you have to do is more than a console game"
This is also the latest attempt to establish Assassin's Creed within the mobile realm. Past efforts have ranged from the side-scrolling Chronicles titles to the Black Flag-inspired Pirates and 2014's full-blown entry Assassin's Creed: Identity. Could Blood Sail be the one that finally captures the mobile audience?
"We just announced Assassin's Creed: Rebellion [at E3], which could also be the one that cracks the mobile market for Ubisoft," Palasse says. "Assassin's Creed: Pirates has been downloaded more than 15m times, so it's still pretty huge.
"If the point is to be in the top ten on mobile, if that's the measure of success, the revenue you have to do is more than a console game. So from a brand perspective Assassin's Creed: Pirates was very well received. Assassin's Creed: Identity, which was a premium game - so, by default, a niche market on mobile - is also one of the top premium games on the market today. In China, it's No.1 this week.
"We didn't crack the top of the charts, but I think the performances are pretty good. I hope the next one will be Rebellion - I really love the character design, and China has nothing to do with that one. It's really a global consensus that we decided to find this kind of art direction.
"[Blood Sail has] one of the top PC MMO developers [behind it] so the ambition is there. We're in a country [known for its] MMORPGs and if you look at the mobile market, Asia is one step ahead of the West in terms of developing more events and content. So maybe this one could be the one [to crack the mobile market], but it will arrive later than Rebellion."
Assassin's Creed: Blood Sail is due for release in China next year, and later in the West if the publisher believes there's demand for it. Speaking at the China Digital Entertainment Congress 2017 this morning, Ubisoft CEO Yves Guillemot promised it would "set a new benchmark" for mobile MMOs.