Ubisoft shying away from licensed product

Avatar the latest underperforming movie tie-in from French publisher

French publisher Ubisoft has admitted that it intends to focus on its own brands going forward, as another of its licensed titles based on a Hollywood movie underperforms at retail.

James Cameron's Avatar: The Game is on track to sell around 2.5 million units across six formats, although Ubisoft had initially expected to sell between 3.5 and 5 million copies. The movie has been breaking box-office records, with $1.6 billion in ticket sales since release in December.

"Our plan is to take more care of our high end franchises, we will leave less place for licensed games," said CEO Yves Guillemot in a recent call to investors. "So the goal is to reuse the investment and licenses and put more emphasis on the making of our brands bigger and make sure they can come more often with high quality. So it doesn't mean we will stop but we're going to spend less in licenses in the future."

The game hasn't been a loss-maker, stressed the company, but Ubisoft has gone so far as to initiate discounting with GAME in the UK to ensure product goes through the tills, with one third of stock sold at a discount according to internal estimates.

Ubisoft has previously released a number of licensed titles each year across multiple formats, usually based on mediocre movies such as Beowolf and Open Season. Avatar seemed to be a big license in the vein of it's last movie hit – Peter Jackson's King Kong. Upcoming tie-ins include Scott Pilgrim Vs the World and a game based on Steven Spielberg's Tin Tin movie.

Last week the publisher lowered financial forecasts, mainly on very poor DS sales in Europe, and said it intended to focus on Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 product. Upcoming Wii exclusive Red Steel 2 also had its expectations slashed, with estimates of one million sales halved to 500,000.

The company's big push for the next financial year includes new Ghost Recon, Driver and Assassin's Creed games, alongside the much delayed Splinter Cell: Conviction – all of which are to have significant multiplayer options.

The company also revealed that ambitious title I Am Alive has been further delayed and will now be built using the same engine as Splinter Cell: Conviction.

"We have been totally re-engineering the product," offered Guillemot. "So it's still on the way, it's going to use the Splinter Cell engine and we have amortised all the costs that were incurred with the previous developer.

"So everything we do now is fresh on that product and we think it can become a very good quality product but it's not going to come this financial year."

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Latest comments (8)

Tameem Antoniades Creative Director & Co-founder, Ninja Theory Ltd12 years ago
So what's on track to becoming the most successful film in history cannot translate to a license that sells. That's a pretty big bombshell for an industry that often survives on licenses.
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Alex Wright-Manning Head of Recruitment, Splash Damage Ltd12 years ago
Lets be honest, if these titles based on licenses were actually any good there wouldn't be any problems. As much as I'm not a big fan of Metacritic et al, I know most publishers are, and a score in the 60's just won't cut it these days. If however it was up in the 80's/90's and garnering rave reviews from the specialist and mainstream press then it would've been an altogether different story. Modern gamers set a lot of stock in internet, magazine reviews and word of mouth, and if it's a good game it won't bother them that it's tied in to a successful license - it's a bonus.

Games based on movies are always going to be beset by problems; the need to satisfy broad demographics, smaller development and advertising budgets and not least inflexible release dates tied in with the actual movie release. Publishers have to realise that critical and commercial success of the original product will no longer translate into sales for the video game - consumers are more savvy and less likely to blow their hard earned on a game simply because it's based on a popular franchise or movie.

Rocksteady have proved that you can make a phenomenal title based on an existing licence if not hamstrung by all the traditional problems that beset licensed game development. Admittedly it wasn't based on an existing movie, but the resurgence of the Batman franchise helped rather than hindered them.

If you want to make the most of a license, i.e. generate big sales, you can no longer rely on riding the crest of the wave of the movie release. Sure, it focuses attention on the game release, but as we all know just a couple of extra months of polish can turn an average title into a good one, and a good title into a great one. I can't speak for the costs of acquiring these movie licenses, but I wouldn't imagine they're cheap, surely a better title would create more sales and prove a far better ROI?
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Soeren Lund Producer, Io Interactive12 years ago
I think Ubisoft may have realised the same as you have Alex. Consumers want quality even if the product is based on a popular IP. The problem with games supposed to be released with movies are simply that you do not have a flexible release date. That means that once you do realise that you need that extra time to add that additional 10% to the metacritic score it's just tough luck.

In the case of Avatar I think the problem was twofold. One was the set in stone release date the other was that the release of the movie was so late in the year that the game did not have time to make it onto anyones Christmas wishlist. So poor quality and unfortunate release date combined to make a lower than expected sales. Mind you... It's still pretty good sales numbers... If they can justify what they had to pay for the license I don't know.
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Show all comments (8)
Istvan Fabian Principal Engineer, Sony Computer Entertainment Europe12 years ago
While it's not my job to defend the game you should really see it in 3D - that would easily increase those metacritic scores...!
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Alex Wright-Manning Head of Recruitment, Splash Damage Ltd12 years ago
I did get a chance to play it in 3D at last years GamerExpo, and i'll be the first to admit that it certainly added an extra dimension (no pun intended). However if 99.9999% of consumers have no access to equipment that utilises this functionality it's for all intents and purposes nothing more than a showcase for the technology. It's a fine line between gimmick and leap forward, and because of the reason above I know which side it fell on.
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James Battersby Studying MSc Games Software Development, Sheffield Hallam University12 years ago
"The company's big push for the next financial year includes new Ghost Recon, Driver and Assassin's Creed games, alongside the much delayed Splinter Cell: Conviction"

Not a single new IP then....
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Istvan Fabian Principal Engineer, Sony Computer Entertainment Europe12 years ago
I think once consumer 3D equipment becomes popular the current and upcoming 3D titles will sell regardless of quality (at least for a while) - quite simply it's a new medium and people will want to experience it with anything they can get their hands on.
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Alex Wright-Manning Head of Recruitment, Splash Damage Ltd12 years ago
I don't doubt that Istvan, but we are probably a good five years away from the sort of levels of saturation in 3D technology that will make this reality. I think there'll certainly be massive demand for titles that utilise this new 3D tech, regardless of quality, but right now it's not the difference between a good and a great game; simply because it's not applicable to the majority of consumers.
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