If you take a look at our Skull & Bones tag on RPS, it's clear the ever-upcoming pirate game has had its fair share of troubles. It's suffered four delays, the removal of a managing director and a change in vision, and until now we could only wonder what was really happening behind the scenes. But now a new report tells of eight years of rocky development at Ubisoft's Singapore studio: from mismanagement and issues with creative vision, to a deal with the Singapore government promising to release the game.
In a lengthy report by Kotaku, a number of anonymous current and former Ubisoft staff spoke of a tumultuous development on a game that, eight years on, still isn't taking shape. In 2013, Skull & Bones started life as an expansion for Assassin's Creed: Black Flag, before turning into an MMO-like spin-off Black Flag Infinite, then eventually the potential live service pirate game being made now.
"If Skull & Bones were at a competitor it would have been killed 10 times already," one former developer told Kotaku.
The game has reportedly blown through all its budgets, and cost Ubisoft over $120 million so far - a number that's only increasing as more devs pitch in to help ship the game. Three sources told Kotaku that the game can't even be scrapped because of a deal with the Singapore government. It requires that Ubisoft Singapore launch original games in the next few years in order to receive subsidy payments.
The seemingly never-ending production seems to have taken its toll on developers, with current devs hoping that they can avoid a similar fate to games like BioWare's Anthem, but at the same time they desperately want to move on to something new.
"When a project drags for more than a couple years, your initial assumptions are no longer valid," a former dev said. "Technology was moving forward, and pretty soon you want better visuals. And then you realize that some of your assets don’t fit anymore… and the more and more you start to change, the more parts become obsolete."
As development continued over the years, multiple developers spoke of an "exodus" of staff leaving the studio, with one person claiming: "People would learn about the project, see how it works and everything around it, and then leave. It was constant."
In response to questions from Kotaku, Ubisoft gave a statement saying: "The Skull & Bones team are proud of the work they’ve accomplished on the project since their last update with production just passing Alpha, and are excited to share more details when the time is right."
At this point, it seems as though the "right time" for Skull & Bones may have already been and gone. I highly recommend reading Kotaku's full report to get the bigger picture.