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How Far Can the Assassin’s Creed Train Keep a Rollin?

UbiSoft has turned the Assassin’s Creed franchise into the equivalent of Madden. Assassin’s Creed 3, set for a late 2012 release, promises to be ‘bigger’ than ever says CEO Yves Guillemot.

“Assassin’s Creed is an incredible franchise and there are a lot of expectations that it will continue to grow. We are pleased with our continued success so far: in the US, Assassin’s Creed: Revelations was a Top Ten title for the entire calendar year, which shows that the demand is definitely there. We think that delivering regular installments and expanding the brand to other platforms will continue to satisfy the demand, while at the same time attracting new fans. And we’re confident that the next installment of Assassin’s Creed will be the biggest to date.”

All well and good. The big question is: do we really need more Assassin’s Creed? More importantly, do we need a new Assassin’s Creed every year? UbiSoft is milking this franchise for absolutely all its worth and in the process risks damaging its image. I’d argue that has already started to happen with AC: Revelations. In fact, if you believe the figures available, the Creed series has seen sales decline with the release of each edition with a particular drop off after the release of Brotherhood. 

The sales are still good; Revelations was indeed a top 10 seller. But it didn’t sell as well as Brotherhood, which didn’t sell as well as Assassin’s Creed II.

I remember when these releases were an event — a mark your calender event for its fans. By releasing a new game every year, Ubi is taking a risk that it turns the series into something that carries with it zero buzz — and fewer and fewer sales. Fact is, this isn’t Madden. A roster update just won’t cut it.

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Let’s hope at least that AC3 changes the formula up at least a little.

Bill Abner

Bill has been writing about games for the past 16 years for such outlets as Computer Games Magazine, GameSpy, The Escapist, GameShark, and Crispy Gamer. He will continue to do so until his wife tells him to get a real job.

13 thoughts to “How Far Can the Assassin’s Creed Train Keep a Rollin?”

  1. Hated the first game but saw its potential, loved II and Brotherhood…and I have zero interest in Revelations or playing ANOTHER AC game this year. Other Recollection, which is terribly interesting.

    They’re going to drive this franchise into the ground. The diminishing returns are already evident. Annualizing a story-based franchise like this is disaster, and it’s already apparent that in order to make an annual Q4 release they’re not really doing much more than changing the scenery and writing a new script.

    And after what, three 25-40 hour open world games who wouldn’t be tired of  playing them every year? I had Revelations sitting here from Gamefly for nearly two months and I just couldn’t be bothered to even put it in to see what it looked like. Because I already knew. I sent it back last week.

    This game needs for its sequels to be Big Event games like Metal Gear. The kind of game you get excited about and there’s a huge release because you know the end product will be labored over, anticipated, and with new elements. If you just expect one every year…it’s not so exciting anymore, is it? And I don’t like this whole spin-off model…is the demand that great they need to release the same game three times?

    I really find it hard to believe that these games are maintaining sales. The AC games are always deeply discounted at Christmas and can usually be had for $20 two or three months after release. Don’t people know that?

  2. It’s funny you posted this, since I just beat Revelations two nights ago.  On the whole I found Rev… unsatisfying.  I liked the story well enough, although not a lot ‘happened’.  But the game components just didn’t work together very well.  By that I mean:

    I dunno.  The entire thing just felt spoon fed this time.  I loved that they concluded Ezio and Altair’s lives.  But the gameplay, aside from the primary mechanic present since AC1, felt pointless or simplified to the point of Fable-esqe mockery of the player.  There we are… been hoping to get that out for two days.

    The point made here being that I feel this is in part due to the yearly release cycle.  Spend some time making sure the game actually works before releasing it.  Or split the series between two studios/timelines like Activision does with Call of Duty.  Whatever they’re doing now doesn’t seem to be working for me.

  3. Although I have really loved this series, I do agree that they are shooting themselves in the foot by releasing these games so quickly.  That being said I think that the quick releases is the biggest issue that hurts the series, and I know I will be picking up 3 to see how the series wraps up(or maybe just continues…).  

  4. Couldn’t bother to finish AC1, loved both AC2 and AC:B.  And while I’m weary of AC a little, I’m still interested in AC3.

    AC:R was definitely more of AC:B, but with a couple of added mechanics.  Some of those are good (hook-blade, even easier to climb), some were bad (dumb-ass tower defense).  Yes, it’s totally just an iteration with a new story.  While the improvements aren’t nearly to the extent of AC2->AC:B, they’re still there.  I even liked how after you found 50 animus fragments, the rest would show up on your map.

    Ubisoft is doing the right thing by their shareholders.  Sure, they’re driving the franchise into the ground, but it’s super-profitable on the way.  I don’t know what their sales would be like with 2-3 years between cycles, but it’s definitely less than what they’re getting now.  When you take 3+ years to create a game, you’re adding a lot more risk – there may be newer consoles to develop for, you’re adding lots of new/different mechanics (some of which may not be fun), people might forget about your franchise.

    If sales get bad on the constant iterations, they just pocket their money, mothball it for a few years and see if interest comes back.  It’s a great strategy, even if it makes me less excited to play AC:3.  I probably still will.

  5. I forgot how spoon-fed the ‘secret’ armor was.  That was definitely a negative.  And I can’t speak about bombs, because I never used them.  Too many weapon options, so I basically just used the wrist-daggers and my gun against the really powerful guys.

  6. Does nobody in management understand the idea of milking something to death? I get that the company exists to make money, and this will work in the short term, but does nobody go ‘damn if we take a year off and knock it out of the park this will be way better than making people sick to goddam death of our game’.

    I have yet to play Revelations. At all. I got a copy on Boxing Day for twenty bucks, so yay, but my desire is not huge. I like this series, but it is really wearing out its welcome.

    AC2 was great, a revolution compared to the first, and that newness made me salivate at the thought of Brotherhood, and I enjoyed the hell out of that. It was more when I wanted more. Now, Revelations reads like a total money grab and while I am happy to play it, my patience is starting to wear thin.

    I am but one consumer, but c’mon, clearly several people see this.

  7.  

    p style=”margin-bottom: 0cm”>If the writing and characters remains strong, is it really a problem if Assassin’s Creed switches its narrative format from a ‘Blockbuster movie’ to a ‘TV series’?

    p style=”margin-bottom: 0cm”>Because as far as the narrative is concerned there’s no inherent reason for a games quality to drop just because we are getting version every year.

    p style=”margin-bottom: 0cm”> 

    p style=”margin-bottom: 0cm”>Id argue that mechanically the AC series has always been about iteration and gradual improvement. I think the series most dramatic (& successful) change was the introduction of Ezio, a genuinely likeable lead character. His life, history, and relationships gave Ubisoft a device with which to frame the series’s big meta narrative, and even make us actually make us give a damn about it.

    p style=”margin-bottom: 0cm”>As long as his story remained interesting I could forgive alot.

    p style=”margin-bottom: 0cm”> 

    p style=”margin-bottom: 0cm”>That why AC3 is important In my opinion, not because the game might get mechanically tired but because with Ezio gone they have to give us someone new who we can build as strong a sense of empathy with.

    p style=”margin-bottom: 0cm”>Long term they REALLY need to ground Desmond better within the world, his ‘real’ world has never felt as authentic as the worlds of Ezio and (to a lesser extent) Altair in the animus.

    p style=”margin-bottom: 0cm”> 

    p style=”margin-bottom: 0cm”> 

  8. If I know anything about writing, the fact that Desmond has spent all of his time thus far imprisoned or in hiding suggests that the Ubisoft team isn’t interested in fleshing out his world right now. They’re employing tried and true techniques to keep the viewer in the dark about things, though I’m not sure for what end. Are the writers unsure of their ability to pull off convincing worldbuilding in a near-future context? Can the engine somehow not handle modern cityscapes? Are they saving it all for some crass reveal in Assassin’s Creed V: Sequelization? You tell me.

  9. Do people really expect game franchises to have thrilling and satisfying conclusions? That might save them from the fate of Lost, if nothing else.

  10. Really hate that ‘it’s only a game so…’ to excuse any falinings of writing. You’re probably right, it won’t face as much scrutiny for it, but it should. I hope one day we will all hold games to the same standards of writing as movies, it’s not like Hollywood sets an unreasonably high bar after all.

  11. @Gormongous

    I think alot of the problems Ubisoft have with Desmond stem from the way the Animus allows them to remove a whole heap of problems from the gameplay.  By telling me that course of Ezio’s life is predetermined alot of possible points of discord from the story disapeer, because the question of ‘why can’t i do X’ or ‘what happens if i fail at Y’ don’t occur when your reliving someones memories. Thats why the limited moment we have had with desmond so far have all been ‘no fail’

    But…. Thats not to say you couldn’t have Desmond reliving his childhood memories or those of a far closer relative (father, mother ect) and use it to tell us alot more about him.

     

    @CMiller 

    Also as you both implied i think in genrally its very very hard to succesfully tie up any long running series in any media no matter how good the series itself was(lost certainly was quite shaky). I can think of very few which have memorable and satisfying ending. Can you suggest any series you think did do a good job?

    Id agree the changing of staff isn’t a good thing (project lead being a particularly bad one to loose)but id argue that this sort of serilisation of a game actuallycould allow a more coherant vision if done correctly. If they can retail personelle(As opposed to games done years apart where the personelle wil always be very different not matter how good the intentions).

     

    I guess what my argument comes down to is that just because AC:R was part of a quick release cycle & was disspaionting, it doesn’t necissairly follow that any game realsed on that schedule will also be. AC:B was actually my favourite of the series and it game out just as quickly after AC2 as brotherhood did after it.

  12. It’s quite simple, they’re falling into a common trap of serialization. What I like to call Lost syndrome. They are writing themselves into a corner. They have no definite end game, and are adding mystery upon ambiguity. Without a definite plan it will eventually start to collapse under the weight of questions. At that point any attempt to solve it will invariably fall short due to there being no underlying vision.

    Make no mistake they have no vision, other than keep making more AC games. How could they when they keep replacing project leads every game.

  13. I really like this series, but Revelations was kind of a dissapointment. Within a year it’s clear they can’t iterate on the gameplay in any meaningful way, which is why we got this bomb and tower defense bullshit. 

    If you think about it, even movie sequels don’t come out every year, and movies have a much shorter production time. 

    Assassin’s Creed is kind of a surprising series though, ain’t it. The first game was a mixed bag, but it lead to Assassin’s Creed II, which I believe is on of the best games of the last decade. Now with revelations, it’s still a mixed bag, but the fundementals are solid. The next game can go both ways in my opinion. They can either REALLY put in the time (and maybe they were making it in parallel with AssRevelations, and I hope they did because that would give them valuable incubation time) and then it comes out the same way Assassin’s Creed II did and be a fantastic surprise. Or it could follow the Revelations path and be mediocre. 

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