Assassin’s Creed takes a calculated risk with its new live-service direction

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Earlier today, Bloomberg posted a report that Ubisoft is looking to transition Assassin’s Creed into a live-service experience. Ubisoft then confirmed this itself with a blog post talking about the future of the franchise and its next installment, codenamed Assassin’s Creed: Infinity.

In some ways, this move is surprising. The franchise’s last two entries, 2020’s Assassin’s Creed: Valhalla and 2018’s Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey, have been major hits for the publisher. Why make such a massive structural change to a series that is already performing well?

But everyone is eying the kinds of mega cash that live-service games like Fortnite and Call of Duty: Warzone bring in. Warzone may be what really caught Ubisoft’s eye, as it shows how another major publisher was able to take a franchise with regular releases and transform it into a persistent live-service money-maker.

As executive director and video game industry advisor for the NPD Group Mat Piscatella notes, this venture could pay off well for Ubisoft.

This change can also make it easier for Ubisoft to have multiple studios working on a single Assassin’s Creed game. Most entries in the series focus on a single place in time and geography, like Anglo-Saxon England or Ancient Greece. Infinity can act as a portal to different settings, and different studios can work together on these or independently on their own world. Ubisoft Montreal, which took charge of development for Valhalla, and Ubisoft Quebec, which had the reins for Odyssey, no longer need to play hot potato with the franchise.

Can Creed succeed?

But the move does have some risks. Ubisoft will need to pick a payment model that will work for it and consumers. Overcharging players or letting them pay for items that can give them big advantages can backfire, as we saw with Star Wars: Battlefront II.

Ubisoft also has to figure out how to make Assassin’s Creed a more social experience. Although its blog post didn’t go into those sort of details, live-service games usually depend on a multiplayer focus. Assassin’s Creed has mostly been a single-player affair with optional multiplayer content in the past.

This may also mean that Ubisoft can’t make an Assassin’s Creed game that pleases everyone. Throughout the series’ almost 14 years of existence, it has been many things. Some games have focused more on stealth. Others, like the recent entries, have been more action RPGs. Ubisoft will need to find a way to deliver all of these aspects of the franchise into a single title. Right now, we have a lot of questions on what exactly this new Assassin’s Creed will be, and Ubisoft’s post doesn’t answer many (if any) of them. Ubisoft’s own post doesn’t even ever use the term “live-service,” but it is clearly what they’re implying.

It’ll be interesting to see how this Infinity experiment plays out. This could become a hit that Ubisoft is able to support for several years. But it could also mean saying goodbye to those massive triple-A launches, and the loads of cash they bring in. And if for some reason Infinity doesn’t prove to be popular with fans of the franchise, Ubisoft may have to scramble back to the old formula.

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