Last year I experienced a moment of personal generational crisis when I witnessed Tyler "Ninja" Blevins streaming a game of Fortnite while wearing his own skin. Today I was struck much closer to home, as it was reported by Bloomberg, and then confirmed by Ubisoft, that the Assassin's Creed action-adventure-RPG series is going to become a kind of online service - an evolving platform codenamed Assassin's Creed Infinity. I understand this decision, but I don't like it. Because, in a similar way to Ninja's recursive blue hair, it has made me feel old.
I don't mean old in a "You'll never guess how long ago Finding Nemo came out" way (but don't look that up, because it will depress you). I mean old in a cold, business calculus way. I can feel PR teams ceasing to care about me, and a yawning pit in front of me representing the point at which Westminster advisors will start telling Tory MPs to court my vote.
This is for two reasons. Firstly, I really like Assassin's Creed, and secondly, I'm not into games-as-a-service games. Point one is something that's come up quite a lot. I am the AC-liker. I like the gold in them thar hills, especially when that gold is a smattering of icons I can clear off the hills, thus giving me a nice completionist glow. I like the towers, the stabbing, the crouching in knee-high grass.
The AC series has been a lodestar of my pop-culture consumption since I was a teen. I have merch! I was once bought one of the novelisations as a present! I buy the special editions 'cos I like the DLC! These games are a big deal for me. I treasure the hundreds of hours of single-player adventure that I've had.
My relationship to online games has been more complex. I used to play a bunch of World Of Warcraft, and I spent more time on Left 4 Dead 2 at university than my actual degree. Now I have to do my other hobbies in snatches during my lunch break because the evenings are reserved for watching either Love Island or the football that is currently happening. I'm trying to save up for a mortgage (and if you want an update on that: lol), for goodness' sake. I don't have the time to dedicate to something like GTA Online or Fallout 76, with their morph suits and their... people.
Because I also just don't have the inclination any more. Many things about the world make me sad, and one of those is "unexpectedly interacting with strangers online". It makes me more anxious than unexpectedly interacting with strangers in real life, because strangers online skew more towards dickhead than the normal average.
Which is all to say that I like single-player games that I can boot up in my own time, and play in my own time. I don't like games that might change before I'm prepared for them to do so. And I know that this makes me an old ma'am yelling at cloud, because service games like Fortnite, or even Rainbow 6 Siege offer a better return on investment for developers, and people like 'em. But I'm not one of those people.
"My game mum doesn't love me anymore. She wants me to fuck off out of the nest."
We know barely anything about Assassin's Creed Infinity, apart from that it has resulted in the merger of the Ubisoft Quebec and Ubisoft Montreal teams, and that it exists. But that it exists as an online platform means that I must confront a terrible truth: I'm not the target audience any more. I'm out of 18-25 and well on my way to 36-40. It doesn't matter if I complain about all these online thingymajigs these days, because my consumer voice has ceased to be an important one. The landscape has changed and instead of gold the hills are full of monthly content updates, and that's what a lot of people want, so it make sense to pivot to that.
Oh, there'll probably be another single player AC game, maybe two, before it launches. But Infinity means one thing to me: my game mum doesn't love me anymore. She wants me to fuck off out of the nest - at least until I've had my own children, who will, once they turn 13, demand I pay for a subscription to the Assassin's Creed Battle Royale Bonus Club, a concept that I will barely understand.
"When we were young," I'll say, as I pull out my credit card, "Assassin's Creed was a game you played by yourself. You did the same three missions three times, but the horse was really well done. Really realistic. Then in the second one your family was hanged in front of you. Good times. Great... great times."