As seen with Take-Two, EA, Activision-Blizzard and every other listed publisher, it’s been a good year for video games. That remained the case for Ubisoft, which reported an enormous jump in sales and net bookings for its third financial quarter, despite still dealing with the implications of multiple high profile executive and developer dismissals.
It wasn’t all good news: Ubisoft’s earnings came just as they were dethroned as Europe’s most valued publisher by Embracer Group, the rapidly growing conglomerate that has subsumed Gearbox, Koch Media, THQ and most of its older properties, the makers and publishers of games like Goat Simulator, Satisfactory and Valheim, and Saber Interactive, which itself owns the Redout franchise, pinball developers Zen Studios and some other talented folks. (Unusually, Embracer called out Ubisoft directly in their tweet early this morning.)
But that aside, the Christmas quarter was an absolute blast for Ubisoft. Assassin’s Creed: Valhalla and Watch Dogs: Legion were both huge hits for their respective franchises, with Valhalla recording the highest ever revenue for an Assassin’s Creed game. Assassin’s Creed Odyssey and Origins enjoyed increases in player engagement, undoubtedly spurred on by the coronavirus and ongoing lockdown measures worldwide. Even games like The Crew got a shoutout for improved revenues and engagement, while Just Dance and Mario + Rabbids: Kingdom Battle continue to sell well on the Switch.
The success was enough for Ubisoft to tout itself as the “second-leading publisher” for the Xbox Series X and PlayStation 5, and a 57 per cent jump in net booking to 1.755 billion euros ($2.748 billion). Around 1.243 billion euros ($1.94 billion) of that was spent digitally, highlighting the global transition away from brick-and-mortar retailers.
Naturally, investors wanted to know more about Ubisoft’s partnership with Lucasfilm Games to make a new Star Wars adventure with the same engine that powers The Division 2. Ubisoft’s board wouldn’t be drawn on a particular release date, but Ubisoft CEO Yves Guillemot mentioned that the 2022 fiscal year would be fairly important for the company.
“For fiscal  we expect to grow on the top line. We expect another solid financial year, what we see that we will rely on a big slate of new releases — including the three that we mentioned — other premium game launches as well as for the first time, a big step into free-to-play launches,” the Ubisoft CEO said.
“Coming with new IPs and free-to-play games, of course, comes with strong initial R&D and marketing investment that we will lay strong foundations to pursue strong top line growth in the outer years,” Guillemot said, adding that Ubisoft would provide more “colour” on that future strategy in May.
Those major titles undoubtedly include Far Cry 6, which was delayed into May, and Rainbow Six Quarantine. Ubisoft’s fiscal years end on March 31, so those games will come under Ubisoft’s fiscal 2022 results. Riders Republic and the Prince of Persia: Sands of Time remake were also postponed indefinitely, and we’re still not sure when Skull & Bones, Beyond Good & Evil 2 or the Assassin’s Creed VR spin-off will release.
And while there hasn’t been a release date for the Ubisoft Star Wars project — and the Ubisoft board said “we will have to wait a bit before telling you about timing” — investors did note that EA’s exclusivity on the Star Wars license runs until 2023.
Guillemot, however, did say Ubisoft would stick with their usual strategy of launching “3 to 4 AAA” games each fiscal year. It’ll be interesting to see what Ubisoft means by the free-to-play comment. They’ve launched free-to-play games before, like the battle royale Hyper Scape, but there’s obviously a project in the works with vastly bigger ambitions.
There was also an interesting bit of cheek, with Barclays Capital very openly questioning the board about the logic of launching Rainbow 6: Quarantine in the current environment:
omfg my heart goes out to the investor on ubisoft's call who mentions rainbow 6 quarantine and goes "are there some PR problems about launching a game about an alien parasite when we're in the middle of a global pandemic"
— Alex Walker (@dippizuka) February 10, 2021
Ubisoft’s board reiterated that they’ll have a strong 2022 fiscal year, backed by 3 AAA releases and other premium games that haven’t been announced. As for Rainbow 6: Quarantine, the board said that “is something we are evaluating and will see what comes in the future on that product”.