Ubisoft prioritizes free-to-play development, but isn’t abandoning big-budget launches

Ubisoft’s top leadership says the company is prioritizing persistent, free-to-play adaptations of the video game franchises and licenses the company develops, even as its subsidiaries build standalone releases to meet blockbuster expectations in the February, fall, or holiday release windows.

That’s the advice Frederick Duguet, Ubisoft’s chief financial officer, gave to investors on Tuesday alongside the company’s earnings report for the fiscal year it just completed. Ubisoft quickly supplemented those statements with others saying the company is not abandoning a product roadmap that includes tentpole titles like Far Cry 6 and Rainbow Six Quarantine. But Duguet did say that the traditional calendar of three or four AAA-caliber video games is no longer “a proper indication of our value creation dynamics.”

Duguet’s comments follow last week’s announcement of Tom Clancy’s The Division Heartland, a free-to-play chapter of the loot-shooter franchise Ubisoft launched in 2016. That game, expected later this year or in 2022, appears to match Epic Games’ and Activision’s programming strategy with Fortnite and Call of Duty.

But Ubisoft still has a lot of announced games to move onto store shelves meantime. That includes Skull and Bones, the open-world pirate adventure that Ubisoft announced at E3 2017, arriving between April 1, 2022 and March 31, 2023. It will be joined by Far Cry 6, Rainbow Six Quarantine, and the mountain-bike racing title Riders Republic in the company’s 2022-2023 fiscal year.

Those three games were announced in 2019 and 2020, then pushed into the future due to pandemic-related development delays.

Ubisoft’s earnings report on Tuesday also mentioned, but did not include a specific launch date for the Star Wars game being built by Massive Entertainment, the studio in charge of The Division. That title was mentioned only as an aside comment referencing “significant portfolio expansion to come,” as well as the long-long-long awaited Beyond Good & Evil sequel also confirmed with an E3 2017 splash.

A statement from Ubisoft chief executive Yves Guillemot praised Ubisoft developers’ performance in a year fraught with pandemic, and said the company’s back catalog of games “outperformed our expectations,” in the absence of new titles. “Our assets have never been so strong,” Guillemot said.

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