Over-Optimism: Ubisoft Learning From Watch Dogs Demo

Watch Dogs did not look like this.

You know how trailers of work-in-progress games sometimes look better than the finished game? That’s largely because they’re unfinished, unoptimised, and running on production hardware, so no one’s yet ordered folks to beat the beautiful out of them so they’ll actually run. It’s misleading, and while it does build anticipation it also leads to crushing disappointment. Ubisoft have felt that wave of disappointment crash over their faces, which is why they say they’re stopping doing that.

In an interview with The Guardian, Ubi head honch Yves Guillemot said that the company were overambitious with early displays of Watch Dogs, but their E3 2015 showings were the real deal.

Open-world crime uncle simulator Watch Dogs looked jolly pretty at its debut during E3 2012, but trailers became less attractive – as Nathan noted – leading up to its launch in 2014. it looked a fair bit less attractive than its showing at E3 2012. Folks fiddled with files to restore some of the old look, but it was a bit wonky and not quite the same. (I maintain that Watch Dogs in its original super-cinematic state would’ve been near-unplayable with all that blur and murk, but hooo it sure was a lot prettier.)

Anyway, the point is: Guillemot says they’re now reluctant to repeat that.

“With E3 2015 we said, OK, let’s make sure the games are playable, that they’re running on the target machines. When we show something, we ask the team, make sure it’s playable, make sure gamers can immediately see exactly what it is. That’s what we learned from the Watch Dogs experience – if it can’t be played on the target machine, it can be a risk.”

So they say. I wonder how long they’ll stick with this policy – and how they’ll deal with perhaps needing to tweak games before launch as unexpected problems crop up.

I also wonder if this means they’ll ease up on ‘bullshots’ too, those staged and tweaked screenshots which look far prettier and more dramatic than the game ever well. They’ve certainly been guilty of that too, along with half the games industry.

44 Comments

  1. Te says:

    No worries, their next deception will be much more skillfully exectuted.

    • Darth Gangrel says:

      Heh, that’s actually the first thing my cynical brain thought when I read this. I can just imagine them saying “oh dear, we did something bad and people found about it. We’ll be more careful (with our scheming) next time”.

      Ubisoft isn’t the only company that does this and while the “everyone does it” remark is no excuse for such behavior, I won’t be surprised or even disappointed if this happens multiple times again in a near future. I personally will always judge a game once it’s out and people get to play it. If there’s anything wrong, people WILL complain about it.

      • Te says:

        The best way to push a large company in the right direction is als protest, to show they need to stop the BS. So all cynicism aside, it’s a good development for now.

  2. Anthile says:

    Obligatory: link to smbc-comics.com

    • CookPassBabtridge says:

      Ahhh the wonderful inner workings of the Marketing Sociopath. I like it. I will also link to one Mr Jim Sterling, who has some similar thoughts link to youtube.com

  3. Sakkura says:

    Talk is cheap.

  4. Ethaor says:

    Didn’t the technical fiasco Assassin’s Creed Unity come after Watch Dogs? I don’t think they’re learning anything, that’s just generic PR damage control. Trust us! Please trust us!

    It seems that for the past decade every year or two the community can say about a Ubisoft game “well, I hope they will learn from this debacle, it’s the last time I preorder from them”, and almost every year Ubisoft does it again.

    • Asurmen says:

      That seems apples to oranges though. AC:U ran bad because it was designed badly and no effort made to fix problems. Watch_Dogs was bullshots/over estimation of graphics.

    • apm says:

      they already did the same with the division, compare last years trailer with the few weeks old one.

      • KenTWOu says:

        The Division was announced a year earlier than Watch Dogs was released. So it doesn’t count.

  5. Viroso says:

    I still don’t think that’s being honest enough, what he said. That wasn’t even gameplay trailer. It was very scripted and it led people into thinking the game could be way more exciting. That you could spontaneously cause a car crash and it’d lead to an amazing firefight, and that you could potentially solve the same situation in many different ways, which the viewer imagines will be just as amazing.

    Same thing with that bullshit E3 Bioshock Infinite gameplay demo. The gall to call it gameplay demo, when the thing’s scripted from start to end. You’re led to believe the game will have destructible environments, amazingly reactive AI, a lot of awesome scenarios created by player interaction.

    • Eleven says:

      That was the thing. Quite apart from the graphics downgrade, the demos gave the impression of much more intelligent gameplay that what actually turned up in the released game. They made it seem a lot more freeform than it actually turned out, like a less-violent Hitman game with hacking and social engineering instead of assassination. It made it look like interaction with characters in the game would be more nuanced than just putting bullets into them.

      The social profiling feature is a case in point. I thought that it was actually going to be a gameplay mechanic, giving you background on your target and their motives, letting you exploit their fears and vulnerabilities. Instead it only ever gives you randomised tabloid headlines about passers-by.

      I was surprised by the quantity and magnitude of the violence as well. The theoretically good guy who lives in a peaceful functional city can, without consequence, hijack cars off the street, cause potentially fatal crashes by interfering with public services, digitally mug every person on a busy street for their cash, and shoot huge numbers of people (as long as they’re designated “bad” people) The game fully expects you to do all of it, assuming its audience has their morals set to GTA levels, despite it making the lead character look more of a threat to the city than the “bad” guys.

      • Turkey says:

        I dunno. From what I remember, people were projecting what they wanted the game to be a fair bit. Even the first gameplay trailer showed Aidan causing a huge traffic accident and the game turning into a shitty cover shooter.

  6. cakeisalie says:

    Watchdogs is one of dullest, most uninspired games I have ever played. I got it free with my GFX card and I played for about an hour before uninstalling (and I normally give games a few chances before giving up on them). Talk about hype…

  7. drinniol says:

    Do we expect all movies to be as good as their trailers? All books to live up to the blurb on the back? Any product ever advertised to be as good as adverties? I sure don’t, and it’s no different with games. Mountains out of molehills imo.

    • Roxton says:

      Certainly, we should take marketing releases with a pinch (or more) of salt, but there’s a difference between brushing one’s hair and polishing one’s shoes before an interview and hiring an actor to take it for you. That’s a weak analogy, granted, but so are yours:

      Book blurbs: Rather different to a gameplay trailer in that they’re a description of the book, rather than a sample of its comments. Also, it is to be expected that people’s opinions of a book might differ, especially if one of them is being paid to find it attractive. A more accurate comparison might be the ‘free first chapter’ things I’ve seen for ebooks (though that’s probably more akin to a game demo) – if that first chapter is Tolstoy-level stuff and you buy the book on the strength of it, you’d have a reasonable grievance if it turned out that the rest of the book was missing or illegible or written by people discouraged by fanfiction.net’s high standards.

      Film trailers: About as close a comparison as we can get, I think. We expect the trailers to show us the ‘best’ bits of the film, and so, yes, it’s not surprising if the film doesn’t quite live up to the trailer’s promise. However, if the trailer is deliberately misleading then it’s reasonable to be upset, I think. The only example I can think of off the top of my head is the old thing about Sky Captain and Angelina Jolie, but I’m sure there are others.

      Product descriptions: Similar to book blurbs in that they’re descriptions, not extracts. While we expect a certain amount of exaggeration or carefully-worded claims (“up to”, etc.), deliberately misleading or false claims can get you into quite a lot of legal trouble, at least in the UK.

      TL;DR: There are degrees of deception; small amounts of exaggeration are grudgingly accepted but misleading displays are less welcome.

      • Evil Pancakes says:

        To add, I think the film trailer analogy works well, but a bit different.
        We expect a film trailer to show us a basic premise of the story, what kind of film it is (action, comedy, romance, etc.) and the actors who will appear in it. That sort of thing.
        Now, you would rightly be very upset if you go watch a film based on the trailer, but it turns out completely differently. For example, some time ago I watched a recut trailer for The Shining, which made it look like it’s actually a romantic comedy. The trailer is entirely composed of film clips with a silly music track over it, so what it shows is from the film and the voice over thing does describe things that are part of the film. But if you were to watch The Shining based on that trailer (assuming it was an official trailer of course) you could most certainly complain that the product wasn’t as advertised at all.
        Watch Underscore Dogs though wasn’t a deception of nearly that level, so while I can understand people being upset over the downgrade and the suggested but not delivered freedom of the game, it’s not at the level where you could sue for misleading advertisement. Colonial Marines on the other hand, that’s a prime example of misleading trailers.

        • Legion23 says:

          We had our share of misleading movie trailers already. For example for the remake of “Black Christmas” with scenes only made for the trailer that are not in the movie. The overbloated PR for movies and the so called Triple-A games are the same by now.

        • SominiTheCommenter says:

          This is wrong.
          Case in point:

    • P.Funk says:

      So you’re an apologist for misleading advertizing?

      Gotcha.

  8. KenTWOu says:

    They should release at least one solid game without misleading customers in one way or another, then we will talk. Then they should support that game after release and release the next game without misleading customers, then we will talk again. And when they will release the third game, we could tell that they improved the situation.
    Unfortunately, judging by a long development cycle of AAA games, they need at least two years to make it happen. Two years is a long term and plenty possibilities to mess everything up. Uplay alone could generate dozens of problems.

  9. schlusenbach says:

    I think it’s really funny, that the CEO is interviewed and basically says, that in 2015 they intend to make their games playable now.

  10. LogicalDash says:

    If I’m not mistaken, “running on production hardware” should read “running on development hardware”.

  11. Roxton says:

    What I find interesting about this is not the whole misleading trailers malarkey, but rather the design process that is implied by Guillemot’s description: rather than starting with a world of plain-textured cubes and adding detail until they hit consoles’ limits, they set out to build the most extraordinary and beautiful world, and then beat it down until it hits those limits. In my (admittedly limited) experience of game/software design, this isn’t a case of “I’m sorry this letter is so long; I hadn’t the time to make it shorter”, but rather doing the work twice – first by putting the bells and whistles in, and then by taking them out again. Surely this is very inefficient? On the other hand, there is something rather splendid about the idea of making the best thing you can make, no matter the cost in time or money.

    Of course, this is assuming that Guillemot’s narrative is true, and they didn’t deliberately make a shinier version for the trailers because they wanted to have some nice, misleading advertising. Incompetence over malice, etc..

    • that_guy_strife says:

      Having barely any experience in game development at all, it kinda makes sense to me. It reminds me of tweaking graphics in-game to hit that sweet spot of pretty but playable. You start really high, then you take it down notches at a time to juggle the balance.

  12. TacticalNuclearPenguin says:

    Yeah, but this time around they have to fight against the biggest monster they ever faced for their next game: Steam refunds.

    Not that i’m exactly feeling optimistic yet, but i surely can’t wait to see what happens.

    • Turkey says:

      Yeah, they’re definitely trying to do some damage control for their next game.

      Ubisoft even have trouble with their new console releases, though. So it’s not looking good.

  13. Solidstate89 says:

    The shipped visual fidelity of the game was hardly an issue. It still looked really quite nice, and the physics engine in particular was great. It probably has/had the best effects I’ve ever seen for a grenade launcher.

    It was the actual half-assed story and totally uninteresting characters that were the biggest let down. And the utterly boring and repetitive side quests weren’t much fun either.

    • Baffle Mint says:

      Jim Sterling made this point a while ago: Watchdogs looks good; it has perfectly good graphics and graphic design (Not brilliant, but perfectly acceptable, and I’d even say the design is mildly above average).

      So, I don’t understand why games companies would release misleading trailers. Aren’t they shooting themselves in the foot?

      If people didn’t have a better looking version of Watchdogs to compare the real one to, probably nobody would’ve really noticed the graphics, but by building up these huge expectations they couldn’t meet, they made perfectly fine graphics look bad. Isn’t that bad for business?

  14. Baines says:

    So is this the new thing? Apologize, say you’ve learned your lesson, and most likely go on to continue business as usual?

    Sega just recently claimed that they’ve learned a lot from Atlus, that “If we can make a title with proper quality, I believe there’s a good chance for it to do well even in the West for players that like to play Japanese games.” And that they acknowledge that they’ve released some titles that have betrayed the trust of fans.

    It was little surprise when Bethesda, with the push for Fallout 4 starting, claimed that their experiences with bugs in Skyrim taught them a lot.

    • Premium User Badge

      Wisq says:

      “New thing”? Hardly. EA’s had this perfected for years now.

  15. machineageproductions says:

    I just wish their experience with bugs in Morrowind, Oblivion, Fallout 3, and Fallout: New Vegas taught them a lot before Skyrim.

  16. Bing_oh says:

    Of course, on the extremely unlikely chance that they actually do this, they’ll be slaughtered by the average gamer because their games don’t look spectacular enough. Look at the comments about Fallout 4 being ugly and outdated, though that trailer will probably be closer to representative of real game play than many other big announcement demos and trailers out there.

    • Baffle Mint says:

      As somebody who grew up in the early 90s, I’m still constantly astonished that polygons can have textures now. The spectacle of people saying Watchdogs looked bad is kind of boggling to me, honestly. Can’t you whippersnappers be grateful for the amazing graphics you’ve been given?

      Although like I said above, in this case a lot of it is because the company was being misleading.

      Ultimately I don’t think a trailer with vaguely subpar graphics will hurt Fallout 4, and if it turns out to be accurate to the game it might build some good will.

  17. jonahcutter says:

    Looks like the Arkham Knight blowback might have put the fear into more than just WB/Rocksteady.

  18. JP says:

    Kinda hilarious that the picture accompanying this post is a classic obviously-not-representative “stacked” screenshot.
    To be clear I think everyone at RPS does a great job operating with integrity; I just think that, tactically, using those kinds of screenshots ultimately perpetuates publishers’ use of them.

    • Alice O'Connor says:

      Yeah, that was one of the very first Watch Dogs screenshots, from E3 2012. It’s kinda intentional here.

      • Cronstintein says:

        The story does not live up to the awesomeness of this screenshot, down with RPS!

  19. ironhorse says:

    LOOKING AT YOU BIOSHOCK INFINITE DEMO!!

    So disappointing..

  20. tonicer says:

    Games are getting uglier because … you guessed it … video game consoles. There i said it. We all know it but no one likes to say or hear it. PC’s get upgraded all the time but consoles stay as “powerful” as they were on release. I wish they would detach pc games from console games. Make console only games and make PC only games. The dev’s could go nuts with how much performance their games need.