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Ubisoft bets big on open world in wake of  Watch Dogs  success
Ubisoft bets big on open world in wake of Watch Dogs success
June 10, 2014 | By Kris Graft

June 10, 2014 | By Kris Graft
More: Console/PC, Business/Marketing, E3

Ubisoft CEO Yves Guillemot has a pretty good reason to direct his company toward more investment in open world games: people sure do like to buy them.

“We think that gamers want more freedom, and they also want games that they can play for quite a while, because there are less [triple-A] games now,” Guillemot told us at E3 this week.

“So, open world is giving us the possibility to give different gamers different types of experiences," he said. "… I think it’s a trend for the industry — there will be more and more open world games, because gamers really buy those games more than the others.”

No matter how you feel about that trend, staying on top of it makes sense for Ubisoft. The newly-released Watch Dogs is an open world game in the vein of Grand Theft Auto, and sold 4 million units in its first week, which is a significant achievement for a brand new triple-A, high-budget franchise.

Guillemot has said in past Ubisoft earnings reports that his company would be investing heavily in open world games going forward. That investment remains high particularly when Ubisoft annualizes a franchise, as it did with fellow open world franchise Assassin’s Creed.

Guillemot said Ubisoft has yet to decide whether Watch Dogs would be annualized as well, but you can bet with the success of the first game, the company is putting that under very serious consideration.

“We need to first make sure we give time for Watch Dogs’ second iteration, that we can use perfectly all the tools we created, plus create new ones,” he said. “Then we’ll see how many teams we can create to come up with some innovative stuff regularly. But it’s too early to say what we’ll do on different properties. It depends on the teams and the level of quality we can hit.”

Open world games aside, Guillemot has also previously said it will place heavy investment in its digital strategy. That includes free-to-play games on mobile and PC.

And when talking about free-to-play on PC, it’s hard not to bring up Riot Entertainment’s hugely successful game League of Legends. Guillemot is watching the “MOBA” space, but admits with Riot’s dominance, finding success would be difficult for Ubisoft.

Asked if Ubisoft has a MOBA in the works, Guillemot said, “Nothing to say yet. We all know that now that there is one that is extremely popular, it’s extremely difficult to take that space.”

He acknowledged that there is also Dota 2 from Valve, sold on Steam. “But [selling Dota 2] makes sense for them, because they have their own platform, and they can push and push and they can achieve more,” he said. “We have Uplay, but we don’t have people as regularly coming back to the platform as they do. So it’s possible [to find MOBA success], but it’s not easy to establish.”

While the big, most heavily-marketed projects will be open world games at Ubisoft, the publisher wants to make sure it covers all the bases, getting into as many genres and business models as it can.

“What we decided to do in the last few years is to invest more in triple-A, and also more in free-to-play,” Guillemot said. “We have to create more free-to-play, but we also have to create more brands in triple-A. Creating more brands means that some of them won’t be successful.”

Entering the free-to-play market also means evolving development practices to fit those markets. A common method for mobile game companies is to dump a game and move onto the next, if it doesn’t stick and become a good business in a relatively short period of time.

Guillemot said that while that might work in mobile free-to-play, “on PC, it’s becoming more expensive now. It’s more complex [when games cost] $5 million.”

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Julian Cram
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It sounds like Midway all over again.

In 2005 Midway purchased our studio, Ratbag Games, because we were doing some very cool stuff with open world games, and Midway execs were all "Open World Games are the Future!!" blah blah blah.

In 2006 they shut us down. Too many shit open world games which didn't sell enough. Not long after, Midway itself went under.

With a slew of open world games coming out, including a Zelda game, Ubisoft better up their game from the quality and focus reported about Watchdogs.

Alex Nichiporchik
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Open World Games Where You Have To Sync Areas And Fend off Waves Of Weak Enemies And Then A Wave of Stronger Enemies Surrounded By Weaker Enemies-bubble

Joe Stewart
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I think if I was him, looking at the reviews for Watch Dogs and recent ACs, I'd start steering the company away from open world stuff. I'd start trying to diversify the company's game genre portfolio, in order to weather the further hit open-world games are sure to take (given that Ubisoft already has so many in development) and try to hit on whatever the next big thing is three years from now.

But.. maybe there's a reason I'm not in his position :) I still like Ubisoft's open-world games, after all.

Sam Stephens
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“We need to first make sure we give time for Watch Dogs’ second iteration, that we can use perfectly all the tools we created, plus create new ones,” he said. “Then we’ll see how many teams we can create to come up with some innovative stuff regularly."

I know games are a business and all, but reading this was so depressing. This guy is talking like these games are made by machines that just come off an assembly line (which is probably the case for Ubisoft). Also open-world games are usually a lazy excuse for not designing a compelling gameplay experience, so I really don't want to see an industry dominated by them.

Andreas Ahlborn
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Makes sense that Ubi is specializing in open world, but I hope they realize that they will have "to step up their games" in every possible way to stay relevant.

I´m generally pleased by the stuff they release but i´m not blind to the fact that the mass of their content is often masking the poor quality of their writing, their pacing, their technologies (in the last three AAA games from Ubi I always got savegame corruption, now in watchdogs to the point that it has become unplayable for me after sinking 80€ in game + season pass).

Also: If the formula becomes too obvious Ubi will loose customers that seek out mature experiences. When I saw the first footage of FC4 I thought: charismatic bad guy with prominent voice actor? again? and with the same menatl health issues as last times baddy? come on ubi...

If all they do is making a poor man`s GTA (watch dogs) or poor man`s Red Dead redemption (AC3) they should eventually change the companys name to Rocksoft or Ubistar.

Bart Stewart
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Why not combine these strategic interests by making a truly open-world game for the PC?

Going by the Rock Paper Shotgun review (, Watch Dogs is not that game. The world itself is deeper than in most games, which is a good start, and is probably the main reason for the game's commercial success so far. But then access to that world is cordoned off, console-style, by invisible walls and "there must always be action!" interruptions and an unnecessary lack of a save-anywhere capability for exploring that deep world.

If PC gaming is a good market to target, and open-world games are a good product to market, I'd like to see Ubi make games that satisfy both of those strategic goals.

Eric Geer
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I personally would like to see more truly open world, in the sense that they may be smaller world or stage but more of the buildings and areas were open to exploration and use. The problem I see with Watchdogs or Assassins Creed per say, is worlds are vast and beautiful, but as soon as you try to find a building to walk into, that you generally should be able to enter is basically just a big inaccessible cube and it breaks the illusion.

I guess what I'm looking for in these two games is the ability to have amazing on-foot chase scenes that resemble the chase scenes in the Matrix or the epic Point Break chase scene Through open windows, through those previously inaccessible buildings, through unlocked doors, through lived in locations.