Ubisoft Shifts Its Future Plans To Include More 'Free To Play' Games

from the freebiesoft dept

The embrace of “free” in the video game industry continues to pick up speed. We were just discussing the years-long success Epic Games has had with Fortnite, a free-to-play game that has nevertheless racked up $9 billion over the course of two years. The point of that post wasn’t that all games have to be free-to-play. The point was that there are methods in the industry that completely negate the idea that has far too long permeated industry mentality which amounts to: you cannot compete with “free” or piracy. Not only does the story of Fortnite prove that isn’t true, it proves that it’s not true in spectacular fashion.

Ubisoft, as a company, has a somewhat tortured history when it comes to its own outlook on this sort of thing. On the one hand, the company has looked for data on just what kind of impact piracy has on its own bottom line. On the other hand, Ubisoft is also a company that has done more to implement restrictive, broken, annoying, and failed DRM than perhaps any other video game company on the planet. It’s also a company that certainly has experimented with free-to-play games in the past, but it has always been much more focused on releasing a handful of AAA games per year and making its money that way.

That, it seems, is about to change. During a recent earnings call, Ubisoft indicated that it was no longer going to primarily focus on that staccato AAA release strategy and will instead incorporate an increased focus on releasing free-to-play games as well.

The company provided an update on its game development strategy during its full-year earnings call on Tuesday, when it said it intends to be less reliant on AAA releases as part of its overall product mix.

“In line with the evolution of our high-quality line-up that is increasingly diverse, we are moving on from our prior comment regarding releasing 3-4 premium AAAs per year,” said Ubisoft’s chief financial officer Frederick Duguet. “It is indeed no longer a proper indication of our value creation dynamics. For example, our expectation for Just Dance and Riders Republic are consistent with some of the industry’s AAA performers. Additionally, we are building high-end free-to-play games to be trending towards AAA ambitions over the long-term,” he added.

Other Ubisoft reps chimed in on Twitter to assure fans of the company’s AAA games that those will still come, but the company is looking to build a larger percentage of its revenue off the sort of free-to-play games that, again, negate the concern about piracy and “free”. Notably, the company has also indicated that it is taking a cautious approach with this new strategy when it comes to the next fiscal year, but that it also sees a lot of potential in getting some of its biggest franchises into this model as well.

“We recognise this is the first year we are coming meaningfully into the space. That’s why we need to take reasonable assumptions for year one on the top line as well as on the contribution, but of course we want to make sure this is a strong contributor in the long-term to the expansion of the overall brand on console and PC, and then of course will come mobile at a later time.”

Duguet elaborated on the new direction: “We think that we have a great opportunity to meaningfully expand the audiences of our biggest franchises.

As with all things when it comes to releasing free-to-play games, the way it’s done is everything. If Ubisoft is looking at all of this strictly as a cash-cow in the sense that it’s going to load these games up with in-game purchases that effect core gameplay, it will fail. That type of thing just annoys, well, everyone. But, as several very well done free-to-play games including Fortnite have demonstrated, there are certainly right ways to do free-to-play. If Ubisoft does this the right way, perhaps it can largely get out of the dumb DRM, complaining about piracy business and back to making money off of making great games.

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Comments on “Ubisoft Shifts Its Future Plans To Include More 'Free To Play' Games”

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Bloof (profile) says:

They won’t do it the right way, what they’ll do is make casino-fied lootbox filled versions of popular franchises that vaguely imitate fortnight then give up after a year or two when the revenue isn’t what they’d hoped to try and clone something else popular, leaving the few people who pumped money in with nothing but diminished bank accounts.

It’ll be fun watching them squeeze pop culture character skins into Assassins creed Royale to try and gain users though.

That One Guy (profile) says:

Hope for a sandwich instead, you can actually get those

If Ubisoft does this the right way, perhaps it can largely get out of the dumb DRM, complaining about piracy business and back to making money off of making great games.

Yeahhh, this is Ubisoft we’re talking about, they are not doing this because they think they will make less money from this change so the only way they’re likely to do this the ‘right way’ is if you define that as ‘make extremely predatory games packed to the gills with micro-transactions’.

Redefine it that way and I strongly suspect that they will go above and beyond in doing this the ‘right way’.

PaulT (profile) says:

"It’s also a company that certainly has experimented with free-to-play games in the past, but it has always been much more focused on releasing a handful of AAA games per year and making its money that way."

Well… sort of. They made an obnoxiously huge amount of money by incorporating a bunch of typically free to play tactics into Assassins Creed Odyssey, but they managed to do it in a way that didn’t kill the experience for people who bought the initial game full price and refused to pay extra.

But, those games have a huge budget, and Ubisoft have seen how much they lose when they screw it up. So, it must be tempting to create a game with a far lower initial budget but retain the income stream.

rangda (profile) says:

FYI gamers generally don’t view free to play as a good thing. With few exceptions it’s viewed as a bad thing. Free to play games are frequently designed as cash grabs, where the game puts nearly impossible levels of grind in front of you and then sells you the ability to bypass the grind.

This isn’t to say you can’t do free to play well, Path of Exile is an example of free to play that is mostly done right. But it is to say that it’s so infrequently done well that the target community views it as a flaw not a feature.

BG (profile) says:

Re: wait for it!

They’ll be online always games, so they won’t need DRM.

That doesn’t mean some asshat won’t try to add Denuvo to protect the "precious 4-8 week post-launch window" for a half baked MMO/Battle royale/MOBA … and then proceed to blame piracy for the game’s failure when they shut down the servers 4 months later rather than acknowledge the game shipped without key features, meaningful content, or any attractive reasons to replay the game.

Ubi is stuck in it’s ways. The lack of significant high-level firings following the exposed misconduct in the upper ranks means the same people are making decisions that have been there for years, if not decades. They have no fresh blood in the decision making ranks. This latest strategy smells strongly of them chasing other AAA publisher’s successful ideas, but coming to the party late.

Anonymous Coward says:

you can sell skins and dances , emotes without using a lootbox,
you can play fortnite without buying anything,
if millions of people play a game x per cent will buy skins ,emotes etc
warzone the free game is one of the most popular call of duty games ever.
players add value to a game simply by playing we,
they provide targets and team mates for anyone that likes cod,fortnite etc
online fps games need 1000s of players to fill up the servers.
And a good free game will print money

Wyrm (profile) says:

Wait and see. The "Free" model has worked pretty well for some games.
I’ll withhold my judgment based on two questions:

  1. How free is "free"? Multiple games recently have developed a concept of "microtransactions" where the price of each transaction is somewhere between $1 and $100… I’m not seeing the "micro" there. Also, how necessary will these transactions be in order to experience anything remotely like normal "pay once" games.
  2. "Free" might not mean "DRM-free". I dread the excuse that, since it’s going to be free, we shouldn’t complain about DRM… when it should be the exact opposite.
    Depending on their actions regarding these two points, I will either be enthusiastic for their approach or avoid them completely.

There is also the quality of the games themselves to consider, but I’m willing to compromise on this point… to some extent.

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Re:

"How free is "free"?"

That’s ultimately up to the player. The market has very much stated that "play to win" games are unacceptable, and many countries are making moves to ensure that lootboxes are treated as gambling. So, do you want to pay for skins and similar cosmetic items? If not, it’s free.

"Also, how necessary will these transactions be in order to experience anything remotely like normal "pay once" games."

This is down to the developers, and we’ll have to see what form the games actually take. It’s certainly possible to sell a game piecemeal that you’d normally get for a cheaper price if you paid upfront. It’s possible for the game to be feature complete but encouraging people to buy purely cosmetic items that don’t change the game. It’s also possible to be somewhere in between – for example the old tactic of selling new maps as DLC for a full price game.

""Free" might not mean "DRM-free"."

From Ubisoft? I would say almost certainly not. Certainly not if they’re pushing online multiplayer, where "anti-cheat" stuff will be baked into the DRM.

"There is also the quality of the games themselves to consider, but I’m willing to compromise on this point"

I don’t see why you would. There’s already a huge number of F2P games out there, and nobody’s starved for good full priced releases either, especially if you’re part of a subscription service. There’s no reason to support Ubisoft trying out an existing business model type unless you like the game. I’d support them if they were breaking new ground here, but it seems they’re just playing catchup because other people were successful with the model.

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