Ubisoft’s live service act needs work for Assassin’s Creed

Ubisoft's live service act

Assassin’s Creed Infinity, an online content platform incarnation of the venerable franchise, is an interesting idea but I’m unsure whether Ubisoft’s live service act is one that can pull it off.

As reported previously, Ubisoft aims to “create a massive online platform that evolves over time” and Infinity will “contain multiple settings with room to expand to others in the months and years following its debut.” The French video game publisher and developer confirmed the projects existence mere hours after the report, but it hasn’t really shared any details outside of it being a huge two studio effort.

I mean, love or hate live service games, there’s no deny how lucrative and successful they can be. There’s no denying that games like Destiny 2 and Grand Theft Auto Online aren’t just making money from recurrent revenue — aka microtransactions — they take up a huge share of “the culture” as far as gaming goes. In the case of Fortnite, they’re also platforms for brand deals.

Simply put, whether we like it or not, live service games are a part of modern gaming. Games like Sea of Thieves and Apex Legends aren’t just multiplayer games, they’re ongoing communities that bring people together and demand engagement to keep them connected. The project known as Assassin’s Creed Infinity has huge potential and a franchise premise that just writes itself.

Reactionaries will tell you that games going live service are fundamentally bad, but the core conern is whether Ubisoft is even capable of delivering on live services the way that developers like Bungie and Rockstar have. The publisher has a poor track record on this. The Division franchise has struggled to retain relevance, while bland rewards undercut For Honor. The Crew 2 and Hyper Scape attempt something new for Ubisoft but feel dead in the water.

It’s unfortunate too, because there’s an inherent fit between Assassin’s Creed and the live service Ubisoft hopes for. I myself would prefer single-player AC games, but if we take it as a given that Ubisoft will not budge from this direction, then we should look at what’s possible. Having a single avatar and account to explore different historical eras sounds tantalizing, and has the potential of making your Animus journey feel personal.

Ubisoft's live service act

But for us to indulge Ubisoft’s live service act, we have big questions that need answers. Will Assassin’s Creed Infinity simply behave like a menu of experiences in which each setting and chapter is like a gameplay mode in a multiplayer shooter? Or will it deliver its own open world hub from which to launch adventures? What kind of rewards will there be? There will most certainly be microtransactions, but will there be grind? How will narrative be draped over the game’s systems?

At this point, more details about Assassin’s Creed Infinity need to be revealed before we can ponder further. But regardless of how big a leap Ubisoft is taking, and no matter how much more profitable it could be, the company needs to internalize some harsh lessons from the service games it already has. For Assassin’s Creed Infinity to be a success, it’s going to need more than convince its core fanbase.

Assassin’s Creed Infinity’s success requires a Ubisoft that’s prepared to deliver quick hotfixes, rapid balancing and frequent tuning of core systems and mechanics. It needs a dynamic and exciting meta. It will depend on a Ubisoft that can generate FOMO not just in the form of exciting time limited rewards, but via in-game narrative developments that will keep players coming back.

Ultimately, Assassin’s Creed Infinity, like any good service game idea, has tremendous potential to deliver an exciting ongoing experience. If Ubisoft is even more clever, they’ll figure out ways to do brand integration – maybe a major consumer product ad is framed as an Abstergo deal. But I’m skeptical when it comes to a company that has already managed too many fumbles.