Assassin’s Creed, a video game franchise set in huge worlds where each one can take hundreds of hours to complete, is getting even bigger. A new project, which is known inside Ubisoft Entertainment SA by the code name Assassin’s Creed Infinity, sets out to create a massive online platform that evolves over time, according to people familiar with its development.
Whereas previous Assassin’s Creed games each unfolded in specific historical settings such as ancient Greece or Ptolemaic Egypt, Infinity will contain multiple settings with room to expand to others in the months and years following its debut, said the people, who asked not to be identified discussing a project under development. Individual games on the platform might look and feel different, but they will all be connected.
Details surrounding the project, which hasn’t been previously reported, are in flux, and it’s still years away from release. The teams have also been affected by the #MeToo allegations that have swept through the company over the last year.
A spokeswoman for Ubisoft declined to discuss Infinity in detail but acknowledged its existence. Ubisoft aims to “exceed the expectations of fans who have been asking for a more cohesive approach” to the series, the spokeswoman said. As for sexual misconduct claims, she said Ubisoft had investigated every allegation and took appropriate actions.
Since 2007, Ubisoft has released a new game in the popular action-adventure series every year or two. Collectively, the Assassin’s Creed games have sold more than 155 million units, easily making it the biggest franchise for the French publisher. The plan to turn Assassin’s Creed into a so-called service game follows a trend employed by other big publishers.
Inspired by smash hits like Fortnite and Grand Theft Auto V, these living online platforms can keep players engaged for years by frequently adding new content or changing the experience in dramatic ways. The fifth Grand Theft Auto game, which has sold more than 140 million copies largely thanks to its constantly updated multiplayer mode, is approaching its eighth birthday with versions planned for a third generation of game consoles.
Service games generate huge revenue over time by hooking players and pushing them to spend money on special content within the game. GTA V helped drive shares of its publisher, Take-Two Interactive Software Inc., up 42% since the beginning of last year. In the same period, Ubisoft shares were flat. After news of Assassin’s Creed Infinity, the stock jumped to a gain Wednesday in intraday trading.
Development of an Assassin’s Creed game typically involves thousands of employees across a dozen Ubisoft offices, led by teams in Montreal or Quebec City that alternate duties. The Montreal team helmed last year’s Assassin’s Creed Valhalla, while Quebec ran the previous game, Assassin’s Creed Odyssey.
For Assassin’s Creed Infinity, this tradition will also change. In April, Ubisoft unified the Montreal and Quebec teams. Now, they will collaborate on Infinity, and each will have its own creative director, but Quebec will take charge of the franchise. There has long been a rivalry between the two studios that has at times turned acrimonious, according to people familiar with the matter, so this shift may cause some headaches.
The organizational change is designed to help the franchise “evolve in a more integrated and collaborative manner that’s less centered on studios and more focused on talent and leadership, no matter where they are within Ubisoft,” the spokeswoman said.
But the reorganization has rankled some employees at Ubisoft, which is still reeling from last year’s cultural reckoning over widespread sexual misconduct allegations. Dozens of current and former employees accused Ubisoft of facilitating a culture of misconduct and abuse, leading to the ouster of studio heads and the chief creative officer.
However, some managers accused of abusive behavior remain in senior positions after the reorganization, people familiar with the matter said. That has prompted a fresh round of complaints on Ubisoft’s internal message board from employees who were dissatisfied with the company’s response to the allegations, according to people who read the messages, which were written in French. Bloomberg reviewed English translations.
Last month, the French union Solidaires Informatique said at least three Ubisoft managers in Montreal had been accused of “harassment or toxic behavior” and that employees had reported other claims of racism and sexism to human resources “without anything being done.”
The Ubisoft spokeswoman declined to comment on individual cases. “Any employee that had allegations and remain at Ubisoft has had their case rigorously reviewed by a third party and were either exonerated or underwent appropriate disciplinary actions,” she said. “Employees who have been under investigation would not remain at Ubisoft if results of investigations warranted termination.”
Ubisoft Montreal has experienced a rise in attrition over the past two months, said people familiar with the moves. The Ubisoft spokeswoman said the company’s turnover rate in Montreal “is in line with video game industry averages.”
A variety of factors contributed to the recent departures. In addition to the #MeToo scandal and the reorg, Ubisoft is facing new competition from other video game companies in Montreal. And some employees, tired of working on massive productions, balked at the idea of Assassin’s Creed Infinity, which may be the most ambitious one yet.
(Updates with additional company comment in the penultimate paragraph.)
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