Pop quiz, readers. If I say Ubisoft, what's the first thing that comes to mind? Massive, systemic open worlds? Towers wot you climb to unlock the map? Extensive skills trees and an apolitical approach to politically charged themes? France? For the last 20 years, everything that makes a Ubisoft game tick has been decided by a Paris-based editorial board.
As it happens, having a select group of designers and producers in a France deciding your multi-national publisher's every move results in a bunch of games that may feel a little too familiar. In an attempt to fix an arguably tired formula of sneakin', climbin' and stabbin', Ubisoft are revamping their editorial team to give their catalogue a shake-up.
According to a report by Video Games Chronicle, a poor 2019 has led Ubisoft to rethink how they handle their catalogue of open-world romps. Ghost Recon: Breakpoint's tepid reception, in particular, seems to have wounded Ubisoft deeply.
The publisher has already delayed many of this year's big releases, including Watch Dogs: Legion and Gods & Monsters, to ensure they don't launch with Breakpoint's technical troubles. But Breakpoint was also blasted for being a bit of a chimaera, mashing up traditional Ubisoft mechanics haphazardly into a wholly adequate open world.
It was every Ubisoft trick in the book, with nothing to differentiate it from even predecessor Wildlands. As our own Matt put it in his review, simply having "a massive and meticulously-crafted open world just doesn’t cut it" anymore.
Instead of the same heads making the same decisions for their games, Ubisoft's new editorial structure is giving seven vice presidents their own franchises to run as they see fit. They'll still check in with each other and CEO Yves Guillemot from time to time, but will largely have autonomy over their given IP. That's in stark contrast to a previous system where - while each game would have at least a line designer and producer - series showrunners would largely be at the mercy of chief creative officer Serge Hascoet's whims.
An anonymous source told VGC: “In the previous system that editorial had, there were often the ideas of just one or two people getting put into every game. That’s why you tended to see such similarity, because it’s the same taste and opinion being replicated.”
It's been a hot minute since I plugged the hours into a Ubisoft tower-climber. As I gather, at least some of them are getting braver - Assassin's Creed looks well neat now they've ditched the hoodies, and Watch Dog: Legion's gotta-catch-'em-all revolution looks genuinely brill. As neat as they are, though, every new idea feels held back by adherence to the formula.
If shaking up the top brass is what it takes for Ubisoft to take risks, I'm quietly excited for the results. It's about damn time Ubisoft games got weird.