In May of this year, Ubisoft unveiled a new logo, replacing their old logo — above left — with an updated, minimalist redesign. However, the news has, in general, remained under the radar. And perhaps this is with good reason — it may be a superficial tweak after all — but one with potentially seismic implications.
Ubisoft’s blue swirl arrived in 2003, featuring most notably in its infancy on Beyond Good and Evil, and ushered in a new age of success for Ubisoft. Over the next decade, Ubisoft would go on to establish some of their games amongst the top global franchises, including the Assassin’s Creed Series, the Far Cry series, and the various Tom Clancy games, among many others.
Fast-forward to May 2017, however, and we find Ubisoft in somewhat of a rut. The last three Assassin’s Creed games — Rogue, Unity and Syndicate — performed poorly, selling well below older titles such as Assassin’s Creed III and Assassin’s Creed II, despite an increased pool of consumers.
Concerns about poor sales weren’t assuaged by critical acclaim — all three games were largely panned, holding review averages of 74, 70, and 76, respectively, on Metacritic — a decidedly mediocre set of scores in today’s climate. For Honor, one of Ubisoft’s other more recent titles also performed poorly in both reviews and sales relative to expectations.
Although Ubisoft’s unilateral sales and stock prices remain high, it is fair to say that the France-based company is running low on consumer goodwill.
They faced heavy criticism for apparently mismarketing Watch Dogs, another game which reviewed very poorly after a lot of preceding hype, as well as their hyperbolic marketing, ridiculous pre-order bonuses, and employment of microtransactions, which seem transparent attempts to make some extra profit off already premium priced games.
For Honor was the most shameless example of this: Reddit user bystander007 calculated that all its DLC would cost $730 (£541.50) to purchase, or else take two and a half years of constant playing to fully unlock.
Perhaps most frustrating, though — especially for those who genuinely enjoyed the early Assassin’s Creed games — is Ubisoft’s tendency to churn out games rapidly and with little respect for the product itself. When Assassin’s Creed: Origins releases, we will have seen ten games from the series in as many years.
Far Cry 5 will mark the seventh major instalment of the series, while Tom Clancy games are almost as abundant as they are forgotten. These are just the major releases: spin-offs, downloadable content, and in-game microtransactions are also plentiful.
This attitude was best exemplified by Ubisoft’s half-baked way of announcing Origins, Far Cry 5, The Crew 2 and South Park: The Fractured but Whole: The four were announced simultaneously in a trite statement that read: “In 2017-18 we will see the exciting returns of Assassin’s Creed, Far Cry, The Crew and South Park”.
Ubisoft, though, are starting to feel the consequences of a business model which prioritises aggressive marketing and corporate greed over game design. This came to a head with Watch Dogs 2; the slightly anticipated sequel of the much-maligned Watch Dogs. The sequel reviewed reasonably well but sold fewer copies than the original, which, in a ‘grow or die’ market is catastrophic.
Unfortunately, Ubisoft seem to have cashed in the trust consumers once had in them, and now face the task of rebuilding it. The rebrand, then, may not be as superficial as it appears, but a statement of renewed intent and a willingness to improve.
Some early signs of progress are already being made: Assassin’s Creed: Origins has been given two years in development, whilst For Honor’s online mode has been upgraded from peer-to-peer networking to having dedicated servers.
Old habits die hard, though, and Ubisoft attracted ridicule by announcing an $800 (£589.52) ‘gold edition’ of Origins made up of mainly tat and pointless collectables in line with Ubisoft’s tradition of calling something a ‘collectible’ in the hope that it creates the illusion of future value.
Nonetheless, Ubisoft’s rebrand is one that should inspire hope rather than disdain. Although it came out with the usual corporate spiel — “The swirl and the letter O are both deliberately created to be reminiscent of hand-drawn shapes and represent our human qualities of enthusiasm, curiosity and the grain de folie that Ubisoft is known for” — it marks, at the very least, an acknowledgement that something has to change, even if that something is a simple step of detaching future titles from the errors of the past.
One might reasonably hope, then, that this detachment begets the eradication of the decisions that have landed Ubisoft at this crossroads in the first place.
Perhaps most significant is that the latest rebrand coincided with the announcement of Beyond Good and Evil II, just as the previous one coincided with the first game. Ubisoft, then, will be hoping the new logo brings a new renaissance just as it did fourteen years ago. Whilst this depends heavily on the eventual quality of Origins, Far Cry 5 and Beyond Good and Evil II, the rebrand is cause for cautious optimism. Or, at the very least, a sign that Ubisoft have finally got the message.