Is Ubisoft’s Franchise-Centric Mindset Good For The Gaming Industry?

Franchises have always been a part of the gaming industry, from Pac-ManMario and even Metal Gear Solid. These franchises have become synonymous with gaming culture,  and even the masses who don’t consider themselves gamers know of their significance.

So it wasn’t surprising when Ubisoft VP of sales and marketing Tony Key, clearly stated Ubisoft’s intentions when developing new titles. “We won’t even start if we don’t think we can build a franchise out of it.”

Ubisoft has been built around strong franchises, which include the Tom Clancy series (Splinter CellGhost Recon etc.), Assassin’s CreedRayman and Far Cry. However this statement means new titles such as Watch_Dogs and The Division, may already have sequels in the pipeline. Which begs the question, if it is a good idea to aim to franchise a gaming series before the original game is even released?

Today Vlad Pintea and Jamie Briggs will discuss this statement, giving two very different opinions on Ubisoft’s intentions.

Jamie Briggs: I couldn’t be more excited for Watch_Dogs, ever since the original gameplay reveal I have been ready and waiting for the release of this new IP. However Watch_Dogs Senior Producer Dominic Guay, recently stated they have a plan for the franchise to last an entire decade. Coupled with Key’s latest statement regarding franchises, it seems Watch_Dogs and any other Ubisoft franchise will definitely be around for years to come. The problem is, Watch_Dogs hasn’t even been released and they are already planning this extensive future. I do admire their confidence in the brand, they must believe it will be a top quality release seeing as they are planning so far in advance. But isn’t it a little too much? It hasn’t proven itself, it hasn’t showcased if the franchise can sell, yet more than likely we are already guaranteed to see more of the series.

Do you think it is a too early to be planning such an extensive future, without their original vision being released?

Vlad Pintea: This matter should be considered from a double perspective: that of the gamer, and that of the publisher.

From a gamer’s perspective, you’re right; it’s a little bit worrying. Let’s take, for example, Watch Dogs. It’s a brand-new IP, and even though its trailers and extensive gameplay videos put it in a fantastic light, as you said, it’s still too early to promote it as a whole potential franchise. What if the characters aren’t interesting? What if the story simply falls flat? What if, even though it looks exciting, the gameplay is repetitive? Gamers need to experience the title first-hand, in order to judge its relevance as a potential future series.

Now from a publisher’s perspective, there’s really no doubt to it: Ubisoft saw the whole game, the fans’ reactions, and it has 100% faith in the title (after all, stating that you expect your game to sell around 6 million copies isn’t a small feat whatsoever).

I for one tend to side with the publisher on this one. Producing a great game in this day and age isn’t hard; the problem sides with selling it. Putting so much effort and money in your title only for it to “flop” at sales is not only depressing, but can also eventually lead to bankruptcy. Just look at THQ; it had great franchises like Saints Row, MetroCompany of HeroesDarksidersRed Faction, or Warhammer. All these titles are loved by our community, but the sales were not strong enough to keep the publisher afloat. Because of this, I 100% understand a publisher if it’s hesitant on developing a game, only because the company is not sure whether the title will be able to evolve past its first entry or not.

Jamie Briggs: THQ is another conversation entirely, they made bad moves with products such as the UDraw which put their company in the poor position; that led to their bankruptcy. Saints Row was one of their key sellers, with the other franchises selling modest numbers that allowed them to at least be profitable. Yet even Darksiders was never guaranteed a sequel, even though the groundwork was certainly built in the first game.

The problem I see goes back to another franchise that assumed it would be a hit amongst their fans, that series was Too Human. This game ultimately released to poor reviews, poor sales and the franchises original planned trilogy went up in smoke. We are now left with a game that concluded on a cliffhanger, because it was so over-confident it would be a smash it. It’s decisions like this that can come to bite companies in the backside.

Vlad Pintea: I see. Ultimately, even though the vision of the original game might change a bit, due to the fact that the developer will have to think of it as a full franchise (e.g.: the ending might change in order to leave room for the sequel; happened to the original Assassin’s Creed after all), I don’t think that planning for the future is that bad. Sure, it might come back to bite the publisher, but that would only happen if the developer would do a poor job on the first game as a whole, and not on the small pieces here and there which needed change for the title to accommodate to a whole franchise.

Jamie Briggs: I don’t think planning for the future is a bad idea, it at least means they are putting faith into a project. I just think the mindset of methodically creating titles that can be turned into franchises, rather than creating a great game and see what happens; isn’t one I can get behind. If a title is successful and it makes sense to create more entries in that universe, by all means have at it. However to have a one track mind when hearing out ideas for new projects and how these can be turned into franchises, could be a bad move for the future.

What are your thoughts on Ubisoft’s new mindset? Can you get behind the idea of a company only focused on franchise titles? Or would you like games to prove themselves before being turned into a series? Let us know in the comments below.