There’s a movie based on the Assassin’s Creed coming out in December. The eight year old game franchise is finally making it to the big screen thanks to Regency Films and The Kennedy/Marshall Company. Most fans are waiting to see more before passing judgement on it until the games developer made an odd announcement.
The video game developer, Ubisoft, announced via their blog that the release of their new movie will have pre-order bonuses. The developer will be working with the fledgling Kernel to promote their new movie by adding items from a script to a freaking $1200 crossbow.
This mightn’t be a shocking idea, given that marketing for any product is slowly getting more and more ridiculous. The idea of movie studios selling cheap tat in order to sell more tickets is only surprising in a world without Star Wars. Most people would shrug their shoulders but question why there’s a $1200 crossbow on that list.
However, the gaming world had a different reaction to this news. The cynicism coming from the games community is less to do with the pricing or quality of the bonuses and marketing, but rather the pre-order culture that comes with it.
So far, the practice of pre-order incentives in the gaming world has led to a slow decrease in the quality of products and an attitude of ‘launch now but fix it later’ from some developers. So to understand why some people are wary of these small pieces of tat, let’s look into Ubisofts recent problematic launches.
The Assassin’s Creed series is Ubisofts flagship series. The series started in 2007 with nine games in the main series and thirteen spin-off games on mobile platforms. Along with comic books and the movie, it has been a pretty successful eight years for the series.
However, the disastrous launch of the eight game in the series, “Assassin’s Creed Unity”, is a major black mark in the series’ history. The game launched on November 11th 2014 with almost 400,000 pre-orders in the United States alone. It offered four different game pre-order incentives along with the ‘iconic’ watch of the games protagonist.
The game itself was laughably buggy at launch with reports of major frame rate issues, crashes, character models losing textures and characters falling through the world. The game was a mess at launch and tried to apologise with free downloadable content before the game was actually fixed.
A lot of people were stuck with a game that a lot of powerful PC’s just couldn’t play. And if you’re thinking “well, it’s really the consumers fault for buying a game on the first day without looking for reviews”, you’re only partially right.
The launch of Unity saw review copies being sent to the usual websites but with an embargo. Now, this isn’t really that uncommon, with embargoes allowing journalists to write reviews without rushing to be first and unfairly criticising the game.
These review embargoes usual end a day or so before the launch, allowing the publisher to use these reviews to create hype around the game. The problem was Unity’s review embargo ended twelve hours after the launch, which was too late for anyone to cancel their pre-order.
The Unity debacle actually impacted Ubisoft’s stock, which plummeted in the days after the games launch. Yet, this didn’t force Ubisoft to re-think their push for pre-order hype, they just continued with the same strategy.
The negative PR also impacted the pre-order numbers of the franchises newest instalment, “Assassin’s Creed: Syndicate”. The game had around half the pre-order numbers of its predecessor and a dip in sales, despite the reviews actually giving it some praise. It has gotten to the point where some gaming sites are actively discouraging any pre-orders or day one purchases.
This isn’t the only example of Ubisoft focussing on pre-orders and sales rather than the quality of the game. The studio received praise for the trailer of “Watch Dogs” from E3 in 2012. In the two years before the launch, Ubisoft announced that the game has had a graphical downgrade.
This led some to criticise the original trailer which contained no disclaimers about the game being a work in progress. Despite the backlash against the publisher, Ubisoft continued to do this with their other products. The recent analysis of “Tom Clancy’s The Division” showed us that the game looked better in its E3 trailer in 2013.
Ubisoft earned the reputation of a developer which is so focussed on driving up pre-order sales that they have effectively alienated themselves from their audience. That they are willing to show videos which don’t represent the final product in order to drive up pre-order sales.
A rather infamous example of this, outside of Ubisoft, came from Gearbox Studios with their game “Aliens: Colonial Marines“. The game based on the Alien franchise, was promoted heavily with a E3 trailer which claimed to be from the game.
Except the trailer contained a lot of events and animations which didn’t make it into the final game. Their was a large outcry from both reviewers and players, with many feeling that the marketing of the game was just lying to the customer.
This led to some consumers attempting to sue Gearbox for false advertising in 2014. The studio eventually won the case but drew some more consumer anger when they tried to market themselves as championing for free speech.
Ultimately, it is down to the consumer to decide whether these new practices are actually successful. Ubisoft have an uphill battle with both the stigma of pre-order culture and the general consensus of video-game movies being terrible. Ubisoft will also have to contend with a wary audience who have dealt with the problems of Ubisoft focussing on pre-orders rather than the actual product.
Yet, they are continuing this cycle in a different market with this movie which has pre-order bonuses and tie in material but still no trailer. They are asking you to drop $1200 for a crossbow from a movie which is still an unknown quantity.
All this from a studio which may rival EA, a games company that has won worst company in America for two years in a row, for terrible business practices which exploit their consumer base. Despite all of this, there are consumers that continue to buy these pre-orders.
But let’s try not to cynical about it, this might turn out to be a good thing. The movie might be good and actually worth pre-ordering. Maybe in the future, we might even have to buy a ticket to a pre-order screening to see the actual ending of the film.
So, after all of this I’ve got to ask you: