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What AAA games can learn from the six-month Watch Dogs delay

Watch Dogs was originally due to be a launch title for next-gen, but Ubisoft delayed the game last October. The reasons given revolved around a need to ‘polish’ the final game; to make it a better experience. All very applause-worthy. A recent story by CVG explains that the delay allowed the team at Ubi Montreal to include gameplay elements and systems that would've otherwise been cut and added to a hypothetical sequel. It’s worded to make this delay seem like a luxury--but I’d argue it was a necessity.

This whole story perfectly sums up the advantages and drawbacks of modern, AAA game development. On the one hand, it’s great that Ubisoft took the time to make Watch Dogs all it can be. While players will undoubtedly benefit from this, we shouldn’t be fooled into thinking it’s an act of benevolence from the publisher. 

With the gap between success and failure now vaster than ever, new video games need to be given every possible chance to succeed financially, and spark enough player interest to create demand for a sequel. Releasing a half-baked Watch Dogs simply wasn’t an option for Ubisoft. So the cost of a six-month delay vastly outweighs the cost of a brand new franchise failing at the start of a fresh console generation.

On the other hand, it shows a worrying reliance on the notion of creating sequels. The fact that Ubisoft considered holding ideas back--while sensible--could be construed as a lack of ambition. If there’s an acceptance that a sequel will happen, it could mean that the best concepts are spread over several games, leading to the kind of sequel fatigue we’ve seen in franchises like Call of Duty and Assassin’s Creed. 

If ideas keep getting banked for later, there’s less chance of those concepts feeling genuinely fresh and innovative by the time a sequel rolls around. That’s potentially as damaging as releasing a game that isn’t quite up to scratch from the get-go. Given that Watch Dogs is a cross-generation release, I’d expect Ubi to be aiming much, much higher with a Watch Dogs sequel, since the developers won’t need to consider consoles with less power for future projects. It should prove liberating.

The net result of all this extra pressure on developers, who essentially need to get things right first time, will likely manifest in either one of two ways during this new generation. We’ll likely see more substantial, last-minute delays as publishers refuse to release games that aren’t given the best chance to succeed. The alternative is to announce late--when games are largely feature-complete--to create more realistic timescales for development and rein in any grand expectations. The drawback here is that you lose time to hype up the game. Realistically, I think we’ll see a mixture of both.

If everything goes the way I hope, they'll be fewer AAA games to sift through, and each one will benefit from an increase in quality. Plus, once devs are familiar with the new hardware, the focus on polish should also mean fewer bugs at launch, and less patches to correct errors. (Yeah, I'm looking at you, Battlefield.) So while this has been a painful lesson for Ubisoft to learn with Watch Dogs, it’s encouraging to see the focus being firmly fixed on quality. Quite simply: If a game doesn't meet AAA standards, then no publisher--no matter how cash-rich--will be content to put out a AAA-budget failure

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11 comments

  • Radarmasse - March 28, 2014 2:10 p.m.

    I just preordered the game and got a new release date Cut from order confirmation mail. Produktnamn: Watch_Dogs Uplay Digital Deluxe Edition Plattform: PC (Pre-Ordered) pre-ordered release date: Fri Nov 21 00:00:00 CST 2014 Antal som beställts: 1 Pris: kr503,48
  • Shigeruken - March 28, 2014 8:40 a.m.

    I wonder if fans would have reacted more negatively to the delay if Black Flag didn't turn out to be so great? Either way I'm happy to wait a few months if it means the game is better off. Fingers crossed that Watch Dogs can live up to the hype!
  • Waldo - March 28, 2014 6:34 a.m.

    I plan on testing this game on both my Wii U and Xbone. I did that with AC Black Flag and saw no difference between the versions. I actually enjoyed the Wii U version more by using the gamepad as a large, dedicated, touch enabled map. The Kenway Fleet minigame was more convenient to use on the pad too. So, if they made some small but useful improvements for the gamepad in a game (mostly) about pirates, I am looking forward to seeing what they encourage me to do in a game (mostly?) about hacking.
  • deedob2 - March 28, 2014 4:49 a.m.

    Or... you know... the game was delayed because it was releasing the exact same day as Assassin's creed 4. - Which is in the same sub-category of games as Watch Dogs (open-world adventuring) - And which is done by the same studio (both by Ubisoft Montréal). Why would you ever want to release a game when it's main competitor is yourself? So you wait 6 months for the newer franchise, once the dust has settled for the older franchise. Why do people equate delays automatically with unfinished and/or buggy and/or unfun product? Sometimes it's just for marketting reasons that there are delays.
  • SirManguydude - March 29, 2014 4:19 p.m.

    But Ubisoft is known for this. "Why isn't Rayman Origins selling?" I don't know, maybe because you decided you were going to launch it the same day as Assassin's Creed Revelations.
  • shawksta - March 27, 2014 8:41 p.m.

    Ubisoft definitely wants it to be polished. Curious about the Wii U version, its delayed even more but if it makes great use of the Wii U gamepad then why the heck not? I rather enjoyed playing Rayman Legends Multiplayer with my Brother on Wii U, Murphy was pretty neat to use.
  • winner2 - March 27, 2014 12:48 p.m.

    Interesting article. I sure hope we start seeing a progression towards hitting hard the first time. There's just this balance between a sense of urgency for planned profit and the idea of giving a game the time it really needs to be great that these companies see through a more business focused lens than most gamers I think.
  • Vonter - March 27, 2014 10:45 a.m.

    I suppose if the game gets good reviews, the delay and graphic downgrade would not matter that much. Still Ubisoft made a bad call at hyping the presentation when this game tries to be more than another shooter (mainly a modern day wizard using a phone instead of a wand). But I don't think they've learned their lesson since they're hyping The Division in the same fashion. Anyway I hope history doesn't repeat itself but, Ubisoft has had bad sales whenever they delay a game, either putting BG&E against Prince of Persia, or Rayman Legends against GTA V.
  • Divine Paladin - March 27, 2014 1:15 p.m.

    Legends vs. GTA was always gonna be a trainwreck lol. But the game still provided a sense of trust in the franchise to fans, and that in itself speaks volumes. (Problem is, nobody wants to shell out money on a platformer they can pick up a few weeks later for half the cost.)
  • Vonter - March 27, 2014 1:19 p.m.

    Except it sold better on Wii U and also DKC:TF. But still my points stand that you have to be careful with who you go against. (Also come to think of it, The Wonderful 101 also came that month, I guess that one got the end short of the stick).
  • shawksta - March 27, 2014 8:42 p.m.

    Hard to tell, first of all yeah GTA, thats a massive wrong thing to go against, second of all, Platinum Games barely make profits in their game, though against a behemoth of GTA, it did pretty decent, it couldve been worse. God i love that game, this is probably the best game where you actually feel like a Super Hero instead of playing one.

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