In another sign that something wasn't quite right with the roll-out of last November's Watch Dogs 2, the game's publisher said today that it is moving some of the planned paid content from the game's season pass to a free update. For paying customers, Ubisoft is replacing it with other stuff.
Showdown, a team-based PvP mode slated for the forthcoming No Compromise expansion, will now be launched to all users of the game for free. In exchange, a few extra costumes and vehicles are being added to No Compromise. The meat of No Compromise, more story missions for the game, is still part of the paid expansion.
In a company blog post, the game's live producer, Kris Young, cited two reasons: Expanding the potential pool of players for the mode and responding to "community feedback we've received since we announced the original plans", specifically a request for more multiplayer in the game.
It's very risky for any game studio to offer multiplayer modes only to people who buy paid expansions. If your game is hot, enough people may buy the DLC to keep that mode populated, but otherwise, the relative few who do buy it won't be able to establish a big enough player population. Too few people will play, and, as a result, those who do may not even be matchmade with players of a similar skill level.
Watch Dogs 2 may be a good game and a superior sequel — our reviewer liked it — but it does not seem to have been popular enough to make a paid multiplayer expansion viable. In a press release last month that covered the holiday sales period, Ubisoft referred to Watch Dogs 2's performance this way: "Launch not as dynamic as expected, but momentum now positive."
The season pass that includes No Compromise and the already-released Human Conditions pack cost $60 and was being sold before any of its big content was launched. Season passes are sold as acts of faith, and, typically, removing content from them will piss the faithful off. Ubisoft is understandably trying to fend that off by providing the reasonable explanation of keeping the multiplayer population high and by offering some compensatory other DLC for the next expansion. No Compromise was always going to feature a bunch of new single-player missions involving the Russian mob, but it will now also include some bonus outfits and vehicles for protagonist Marcus Holloway. He'll be able to dress and drive around as a policeman, fireman or paramedic. According to the post, "Each outfit and vehicle adds a new ability that lets Marcus affect NPC behaviour and do previously impossible things."
This is all part of the management of games after release that so many game studios have to deal with. Ubisoft, like many publishers, is now in the business of trying to sell not just a game but several months of content for that game after release. Selling a few months more of a game is a good way to get more money out of dedicated fans. It's also a way to explore the creative potential of a game that can be expanded past the rush of a launch-day deadline and tweaked in response to how players are playing it. With Rainbow Six Siege, a game that also didn't launch with the dynamism Ubisoft expected, post-release patches and DLC have turned the game into a bona fide Steam hit (deservedly so). With The Division, the developers have been chasing a disgruntled and fleeing fan-base with make-goods, to mixed success.
Arguably, Rainbow Six Siege and The Division had the problem that they were hobbled early on by significant design or content flaws. Watch Dogs 2, however, was a good game from launch (well, except for a slight delay in its multiplayer roll-out). It has suffered from, among other things, the shadow of disappointment cast by its over-hyped predecessor, which sold huge on its promise but then seemed to disappoint with its delivery. It's hard to say how WD2 ever recovers from that, but with a recent patch adding what might be a tease for a sequel set in London, perhaps Ubisoft's best hope is simply trying for better luck next time. Then again, stranger things have happened than a DLC tweak reviving an open-world game and turning it into a hit.
Check Ubisoft's official post on all of this to see the content roll-out for the game's remaining free and paid updates. Because of a platform deal, the No Compromise expansion comes to PS4 first on April 18 and then to PC and Xbox One on May 18. The now-free Showdown comes to all platforms on April 17.