In my hands-on preview van Watch Dogs: Legion I already noted that most residents of dystopian London are simply not interesting to play with. At the time, I thought this was because – due to technical issues on Ubisoft’s side, by the way – I didn’t strictly play the game the way Ubisoft wanted me to play. I interpreted this as a flaw in the game design: if you don’t want players to play the game in a different way than your designers have conceived, don’t give those players that whole option. However, I did not make a link with microtransactions, because I did not see any indications for this in my play session. And then it came blogpost…
Apparently we can get our hard-earned kinks, in addition to cosmetic items, too operatives that have a “unique personality”, but that “have absolutely no traits that you can’t find in the game itself, no worries bro“. Well, in combination with my aforementioned impressions of the NPCs in Watch Dogs: Legion, that obviously leaves a fairly bitter taste in my mouth. Apparently even my cynical worldview couldn’t match Ubisoft’s gaming philosophy.
Learn from other people’s failures
In my preview I already said that Ubisoft should swallow its pride and get inspired by other games. At the time I gave the tip that a franchise like Watch Dogs can borrow some elements from, for example Hitman. But Ubisoft, do that g * dverd * mme (excuse the censorship, I write from Putten, where it is apparently forbidden to use the name of Our Lord in curses), also agree with negative aspects! Middle-Earth: Shadow of War did almost exactly the same thing, but then enticing Orc captains were hidden behind lootboxes. Even then the argument was that this was not pay-to-win, because the Orcs bought on the gamble did not have any properties that you cannot also find in-game. captains could find.
And although Ubisoft does not use lootbox mechanics in Watch Dogs: Legions (as far as we can determine at the moment), the company is still doing worse than Shadow of War in my opinion. In my review of that game I noticed that I never felt the urge to buy a loot box, even with the free one currency that I earned by playing the game. In fact, I said I didn’t even know there were microtransactions, if all of that fuss hadn’t been there. In my hands-on session with Watch Dogs: Legion, I found almost none operative that could interest me. The conclusion is quickly drawn: Ubisoft deliberately makes it difficult to grinden for good NPCs, so you’re more likely (and willing) to pull your wallet.
As far as I’m concerned, Ubisoft has learned nothing at all from Ghost Recon: Breakpoint or other times that the company has been criticized. In Assassin’s Creed it has been possible since Origins to buy “time savers” (like XP Boosters). I’ve always thought this was a shitty system, because with this you give as a developer literally allow the player to waste his or her time in the grinden for progression – and this is because the developer thought of it himself. Once again Ubisoft can take an example from another game: The Witcher 3, in which you can earn tons of XP in main missions, and side quests (almost) unnecessary to progress, as I recently did in an episode of Gamersnet Fanzone indicated. But no, instead we just keep pushing the limits of what people want to spend money on.
But Ubisoft has plenty of rock-solid franchises in house, so I really want them to learn how to use them. Assassin’s Creed, Watch Dogs, multiple Tom Clancy-series, even Far Cry… All series that are bursting with potential. But every time the same Ubisoft and microtransaction sauce is poured over it with cubic meters at a time, albeit each time in slightly different variants per game.
Learn from your own success
There is one series from Ubisoft that still appeals to me today: Anno. On the one hand, this can be explained, since Anno is actually a bit of an odd man out when it comes to Ubisoft games: it is not an action game. But on the downside it was Year 1800 proof that you don’t need backward revenue models to be financially successful: the game single-handedly ensured that Ubisoft in Q2 of 2019 most of its profit was in the PC market. So I find it strange that Ubisoft is still implementing the aforementioned revenue models: Anno shows that the company knows how to make money with good games – and yet the French publisher remains idiotic monetisation apply in other games.
I have said repeatedly that Ubisoft should learn from games from other publishers, but Anno 1800 proves that the company cannot even learn from its own successes. Hence the title of this column: then Ubisoft postponed multiple games (including Watch Dogs: Legion!) as a result of Ghost Recon: Breakpoint’s flopping, the company said it would learn and make significant changes. Well, Watch Dogs: Legion shows us what “learning” means according to Ubisoft: fucking niks! The company continues to ship badly injured games, then sells us the patches to fix that. This while they do know how good games sell well – just as Sony also knows that single-player games like God of War in Ghost of Tsushima sell well because these games are allowed to speak for themselves.
There are two possible conclusions from my story. The first is that Ubisoft is unable to learn from success stories, whether internal or external. The second possibility is that Ubisoft simply refuses to learn. I don’t know which conclusion I prefer, they are both jerk. My hopes for Ubisoft rest on a side effect of the abuse-related “reorganization” within the company; maybe the right key figures will be replaced by people who want the best for us gamers.