After quite the awkward silence, Ubisoft is now confident that its former next-gen launch title, Watch Dogs, will be shipping soon--on May 27 for the PC, PS4, Xbox One, PS3, and Xbox 360, to be exact. But Ubisoft curiously left a specific detail out of today’s announcement: The Wii U version of the game, which supposedly is still on the way, was not given a date.
It’s not a huge surprise: Ubisoft CEO Yves Guillemot said last month that Watch Dogs Wii U would be launching after the other versions, but he didn’t give a clear idea of the timeline. The quote that Watch Dogs senior producer Dominic Guay gave Polygon puts it into sharper focus, and it doesn’t exactly inspire confidence: “Yeah, it’s still alive,” says Guay, adding “we don't have a specific ship date for it yet, so it's considered within the year.” That means that, according to Ubisoft, Watch Dogs Wii U is still in active development, and a 2014 release is a possibility. But it doesn’t quite appear to be a likelihood.
So why isn’t the Wii U version being treated the same as all the others? As Polygon points out, the Wii U version is the only one not being developed by Ubisoft’s Montreal studio; instead, it’s being handled by Ubisoft Bucharest. The reason given is two-fold: For one, Ubisoft wanted to take full advantage of the Wii U’s unique control scheme, something which Montreal wouldn’t be able to commit resources to. And secondly, the Montreal team had a tough time getting the game engine to work with Wii U hardware, and felt it necessary to hand it off to a dedicated group to get it done.
These reasons certainly sound believable, but they may not paint a complete picture of the current status for Watch Dogs on Wii U. The fact that the Wii U version changed development hands is understandable, but candidly characterizing it as 2014-maybe-I-don’t-know seems to indicate that the Wii U version just isn’t a priority for Ubisoft. And if that’s the case, Ubisoft can’t really be faulted for it. In fact, it’s not much of a surprise at all, given how other third-party releases on the Wii U have been given a similarly short end of the stick.
Take a look at last year’s Batman: Arkham Origins, for example. In addition to technically performing markedly worse than its Xbox 360 and PS3 counterparts, it also shipped with no multiplayer component, and Warner Bros. later rescinded their DLC plans for the platform, pointing to a lack of demand. Ubisoft’s own Assassin’s Creed 4: Black Flag was a similar case, with the publisher announcing before the game’s release that there would be no DLC for the Wii U version.
These could just be one-off, isolated cases, but they seem to be forming a trend. Publishers seem increasingly less willing to invest in Wii U versions of their big-budget games, and given how poor Wii U console sales are in general, they can’t be blamed for taking their focus off of the platform. The games in question here started development when a Wii U port would've made sense--that is, before the Wii U actually came out and made a name for itself as a non-starter. As third-party developers become more aware of the Wii U’s real-world standing, it seems reasonable to expect that most of them could start disregarding the console entirely.