Ubisoft Wants You Playing New Assassin's Creed Games For Six Months Or More

Back when last year’s Assassin’s Creed Origins was still a fairly new game, Ubisoft found an unusual way to brag about it. In a press release three and a half months after it launched, the company noted: “Average playtime per player expected to almost double.”

The claim had some odd caveats. First, it was a projection, based on how people would play the game across a full year. Second, for some reason that you can probably guess, it excluded the sprawling 2013 game Assassin’s Creed IV Black Flag.

Regardless, it made sense that average play time would be increasing for Origins. The playable map was enormous and more full of things to do than any Assassin’s Creed before it. The game was also designed to keep players hooked with a trickle of post-release content and that strategy must have been working.

For years, Ubisoft has been experimenting with ways to keep players from trading in Assassin’s Creed games after they complete the story. Years ago, the publisher introduced competitive multiplayer to the series, but while its cat-and-mouse design was a nice change from online shooters and strategy games, it never quite caught on. After several sequels, they dropped it.

Now, it’s becoming clear that Ubisoft has a new strategy for the series: a steady drip-feed of post-release content. It’s an approach that has become ubiquitous across the games industry not just in service games like World of Warcraft and Destiny, but in everything from first-person shooters to Kirby games.

Look even at this week’s Tomb Raider, which is set to get new tombs every month from October through April of next year.

A month in advance of the next big Assassin’s Creed game, Odyssey,game director Scott Phillips is promising “our most ambitious post launch support ever.” He said that in a video for the game’s calendar of content that convincingly supports his point.

The Assassin’s Creed Odyssey post-release plan includes six story episodes players have to pay for and that are slated to release every six weeks or so, free episodes in between, and more.

Odyssey is set to have months of free and paid content. The main offerings appear to be a staggered set of episodes that’ll alternate between free “Lost Tales of Greece” releases and paid chapters of two three-part “story arcs,” one focusing on the first wielder of the Assassins’ hidden blade weapon and the other on Atlantis. (Yes, as in the lost city of Atlantis.)

The premium story arc episodes are the main offering of the game’s $US40 ($56) season pass. They’re set to release about every six weeks, with the free Lost Tales releasing between them.

It’s unclear how evenly this will all be distributed, but the content calendar shown in today’s trailer shows that Odyssey players who pay into this plan could be looking at a new episode every few weeks from November or December until late in the spring.

This would be more frequent than Origins’ purportedly playtime-doubling plan which involved some free quests as well as two big expansions in January and March. (For the record, Assassin’s Creed has had post-release expansions nearly from the start, just nothing like a calendar’s worth until Origins.)

It’s unclear how different the Odyssey and Origins plans actually are, though the Odyssey one does seem like it’ll be offered more piecemeal, with fewer stretches of the game being in stasis. Origins had two big additions in its January and March expansions—the second one was particularly good—but it actually also quietly received a batch of free quests, too.

Each of its paid expansions was preceded by the release of a free quest, as was the game’s horde mode. Additionally, it got a short quest that crossed over with Final Fantasy. (The corresponding crossover in Final Fantasy XV was much more elaborate, but the Origins crossover was neat for what it was.)

The post-release plan for Assassin’s Creed Origins, which was ambitious for the time but doesn’t fill a calendar as densely as Odyssey’s.

No matter how it works, it’s clear that Odyssey will get a lot of stuff. That stuff will expand a game that already appears to be gargantuan. During the current pre-release hype cycle for Odyssey, the game’s creators are already promising the franchise’s biggest game map and a story that runs 100 hours or more.

Since Ubisoft started showing off Odyssey, some franchise adicionados noticed some things that seemed to be missing. High on that list, oddly enough, are Assassins. Odyssey occurs before last year’s Origins, which depicted the creation of the Assassin’s order and then, in an expansion (notice what they did there...), showed the first Assassin’s brotherhood in action.

Odyssey, which is set a few a few centuries before Origins, doesn’t even feature the series’ signature hidden blade as a weapon. This has led to confusion and, in some online quarters (among others, the sceptical AC subreddit), some aggravation that Odyssey might lack both a Creed and Assassins.

Enter the first expansion, announced today, and its promise to let players fight alongside the first wielder of the hidden blade. That blade appears prominently in the lead marketing image for the game’s post release content, dominating the new trailer’s YouTube thumbnail.

Fans are speculating that the man with the blade is Darius, a Persian assassin referenced in 2009’s Assassin’s Creed II and again in last year’s Origins, though he had been thought to have died right before the era during which Odyssey is set. Perhaps it’s him. Perhaps not.

When enticing potential players with promises of post-release content, developers must perform a careful balancing act. If players get the sense they’re being denied too many parts of the game in favour of add-ons and preorder bonuses, they’ll often revolt.

It’s a game of manipulation: With, say, WWE 2K, the publisher intentionally held back one of the most interesting new members of the wrestling company’s roster, Ronda Rousey, as a bonus character you get right away only if you pre-order.

With Odyssey, players itch to have any characters with hidden blades—any bona fide assassins or proto-assassins in the game—and Ubisoft signals you’ll have to pay more to scratch that.

Part of Ubisoft’s process turning Assassin’s Creed into a service game has been adding timed events. Last year, with Origins, Ubisoft also tried to hook players by activating special high-level boss battles every couple of weeks. They’d not done this before, and the inexperience showed.

A month after that game came out, those fights were too tough for half the player base to even try. It looks like Ubisoft is trying to refine that idea with Odyssey, offering weekly appearances of high-level mercenaries and ships, along with the promise to add more mythological enemies, all of which would be more reason to keep playing the game.

One way to hook players is to let them keep pecking at the game in the hopes it’ll dole out a new and exciting treat. That works best for loot games, which for many years, Assassin’s Creed wasn’t. Players could collect some swords or outfits for their characters, but the game’s systems weren’t based upon frequent acquisition of items of varied quality, a la, say, Diablo or Destiny.

Last year’s Origins went full Diablo by adding an abundance of colour-graded, randomised gear acquired through combat, quests or shopping. There appears to be plenty more gear to get in Odyssey, and today’s trailer shows that even more will be obtainable using a “special currency” earned by completing daily or weekly contracts.

Daily and weekly “contracts” in Odyssey will reward players with a special currency that can be used at a special vendor to gain rare items, seen in this screenshot from today’s post-release content trailer. For now, there’s no sign of those rare items being offered through that vendor via random lootboxes, which would be a change from Origins.

Earlier this summer, Ubisoft’s CEO, Yves Guillemot, said that Assassin’s Creed wouldn’t have a new release in 2019. The series has usually come out once a year, with rare instances of skip years.

For its previous AC cycle, Ubisoft launched Origins in late October and wrapped up post-release content in March. For this one, they’re going longer, starting with a game launch in early October and not finishing their season pass of content until mid- or late spring. It’s actually surprising they’re not trying to stretch it longer.

The company has offered year-two slates of content for more multiplayer-oriented games such as The Division, Rainbow Six Siege, and Ghost Recon Wildlands. It stands to reason they could do something similar with a single player game, particularly one as sprawling as Odyssey is likely to be.

On top of all of that, Ubisoft is dangling the prospect of getting two remastered Assassin’s Creed games—III and Liberation—for people who buy the season pass, and they’re promising the additions of a historical-tour Discovery mode and a New Game Plus, both added post-release.

In this era of online service games, many have wondered how big publishers can find success making single player games. With their increasingly service-minded approach to Assassin’s Creed, Ubisoft might be showing a workable model.

We may still see the odd standalone singleplayer success story like Sony’s God of War but the trend is leaning more towards a menu where you buy your meal, pay extra for some dessert, and maybe get some free chips on the table between courses. Publishers want to keep us at the table, hopefully long enough that we’ll even decide to buy an extra drink or two.


Comments

    I hate this strategic direction, this publisher goal. I want to be done with a game after a few weeks, maybe a month or so at best. It was one of my favourite things about God of War, and looks like the same for Spider-man.

    If there's new stuff out a week or two after I've finished the game, I'll give it a look. But a month? Two months? Three months? I've uninstalled it already, I don't fucking care. I'm just annoyed that it wasn't released sooner. It doesn't make me care about the game for longer. Release that stuff while I still care about the game, you bastards.

      Honestly, I think this is the way the industry is going. With the amount of games (and other forms of entertainment) I'm guessing that once launch passes the game gets forgot about, with xpac/dlcs etc. being released the game would see a spike in interest and likely more sales. I have no problem with this aslong as the base game is complete and the DLCs are meaningful new content and not stuff cut/held back.

      Give me Spider-man DLC now!

        Argh, this is a prime example. I'm so hype for some more Spidey right now. But the DLC drops at the end of October. Do you know what else is out then? Red Dead Redemption 2. The hell I'm going to be playing Spider-man when there's Red Dead to be playing.

        It's as if they want to try and compete and claw away some attention from the rival, but that's... it's just not happening!

      Ubisofts "live services" (must said in the style of Jim Fucking Sterling Son!) have been extremely pitiful in farcry 5 and the DLC for Farcry 5 is extremely underwhelming as well

      So i take it you wouldn't enjoy Witcher 3 with its 100+ hour of base content and even more with DLC?

        100 hours of content is incredibly misleading, the vast majority of people won't be going for 100% completion and will be done after 30 hours or so.

        Enh? I'm not following. Witcher 3 was long enough that by the time I'd finished it, the DLC was almost out. Also, Witcher 3 is a poor comparison to anything, given how exceptional it is. The freebie DLC were coming out while I was playing it, so that was fine, and the fully-fledged expansions were uncharacteristic for the industry (in this decade) in that they were a significant size. You can't ever really compare ANY game to Witcher 3, let alone UbiGames.

        But the main point is that none of the recent AC or Far Cry DLC has been worth reinstalling for, which makes it utterly pointless. Which is a shame, because they're coming from a background of Liberation, Freedom Cry, Blood Dragon and such. Excellent, meaty content that wasn't only worth reinstalling for, but didn't actually make you because it was stand-alone.

    It can be hard to do when hype is all around & everyone’s excited but if this trend irritates then playing the waiting game often softens the blow & takes the sting out of some of this BS. Got origins + dlc for a song not long back which meant I wasn’t waiting around etc. As good as spiderman is/much as i want to play it, going to hold off until all the dlc is out for the same reason - there’s too many games around now to keep coming back to titles as content is drip-fed/nickle & dimed. I feel for the large part, the focus on pre-order/day 1 is a large part of why/how companies can do a lot of this stuff, we’re marketed to death that we’re missing out/being left behind if we don’t play day 1 (look how successful incentives to play days/a week early have been), yet a lot of the time it makes little difference unless a pvp online thing?

    Back to AC, whilst there was undoubtedly a TON of stuff to do, after so many hours the sheen wore off & it becomes much more apparent how rinse/repeat it all is - it actually became detrimental to my experience towards the end & now i’ve finished playing I suspect my memory of origins - which i loved for the most part - is less than it would have been 10/20 hours earlier? Sounds bizarre to complain about getting too much for your money but - for me at least - quality >>>> quantity & less is often more.

    That's funny because I'm planning on playing it for 0 months.

    and 0 weeks.

    0 hours.

    I'm not buying the game.

      Love your work mate

      So what are you going to get this month?

        Is there anything out this month?

        I guess Hollow Knight on PS4. Even though I kickstarted it I never bothered to claim my copy on Steam.

        There's also Timespinner, another game I kickstarted 4 years ago. Not sure if I'm getting a code for that though.

    Game publishers seem unaware that people play games to be immersed in a new world. Adding some new quests and new loot and new playstyles does not change the world, so after investing so many hours into the single player story, we are, for the most part, done.

    After 30-50 hours, I WANT a change of scenery. I need something fresh. My enthusiasm waned for AC Origins, The Division, Destiny 2 etc etc. and I LOVED playing them through the main story. The only game I ever played where I wanted more, after two DLC, was The Witcher 3.

      It's why it's possible to often not finish some of these larger games and not care.

    Wait, so in Shadow of the Tomb Raider, are not all of the game's tombs accessible? Will I have to wait to pay for new tombs or extra tombs?

      Dude I dont know. They would say that they are releasing everything they made for the game at launch and the rest is bonus or extra content. When you know deep down that they have could have a great idea for a series of tombs in their made up region and the team decided to save it till after launch.

      Who can really put their finger on how much content is held back at launch

    Whilst i am usually a fan of more content the more pressing matter is how good is that content. I have started and stopped so many “AAA” games because they devolve into a grind and spend way too much time on other games for no reason than that I’m having fun. Still I have a gift card and my local game shop is doing j gold edition for cheaper than normal so I’ll check it out

    Haven't played Assassin's Creed sine Black Flag (IV), just because that was a good game and seemed to really push the game. Now they've obviously turned it into an RPG type game, but just check the prices that they want and the amount of time they take to fill your purchase. I mean >$120 for an online purchase for the collector edition and season pass is absolutely stupid at this point in time.

    or I'll just wait out the six months and get everything at once for a fraction of the price. I've got enough to keep me busy in the meantime

    I like this direction. I dont like short games. I like games with good story content. I absolutely loved Origins and would have loved some more story content.

      Yeah, I'm definitely on board with this direction too. Regular content updates really strikes me as such a non-problem. Just because they're on a regular content schedule doesn't mean we have to play it to that schedule, if I'm tired of the setting I'll play something else for three months and then come back and hit whatever content has built up in that time. If I don't come back to it then I don't come back to it, that's my choice. And if I'm not tired of the setting, then I'll be clamouring for that new content the day it comes out, so it's win-win really.

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