News: Ubisoft CEO Yves Guillemot has revealed a rework of company policy with regards to its games pre-release policies.
In 2014, with the release of Watch Dogs, Ubisoft was on the receiving end of a tidal wave of criticism and accusations of graphical downgrading and a “bait and switch” tactic. Most of these criticisms used preview footage of Watch Dogs from previous press events and demos as the basis for their accusations. Regardless of consumer backlash, Watch Dogs went on to sell over 6 million copies and became a major success for Ubisoft.
While the graphic comparisons are somewhat subjective, the real issues of consumer trust and an expectation of corporate transparency when it comes to marketing a gaming property are still paramount.
Speaking to the Guardian at E3 2015, Guillemot recognized the issues that arose from the game not being playable on their target machines, and admitted that this should have been addressed much sooner.
“With E3 2015 we said, OK, let’s make sure the games are playable, that they’re running on the target machines,” he said. “When we show something, we ask the team, make sure it’s playable, make sure gamers can immediately see exactly what it is. That’s what we learned from the Watch Dogs experience – if it can’t be played on the target machine, it can be a risk”
Opinion: This is a step in the right direction. While many may ask why demo’s aren’t always on their target machines, the reality of the situation is that having a playable demo on a console a year or so before a game’s release isn’t easy and in some situations, may not be possible.
Games are a unique medium. Unlike movies where a scene is shot and done (and awaits post production), games are always going through iterative changes. Being able to grab a chunk of gameplay, and drop it into a demo that will work on a PS4/XB1, before it had a chance to go through a proper QA cycle, optimization, or even be completed is a large task for any developer, and generally has be to started months before any press releases or demos. This becomes easier when a developer can use a debug console or a comparable PC.
This begs the question, are demos like this intentionally deceptive? On the one hand, getting to use a debug console or PC allows fewer resources to be taken from a dev team. On the other hand, does this method present a demo of something that may never match the final release?
Guillemot’s direction to have their games playable on target machines is a great step towards rebuilding consumer confidence and trust. How this impacts marketing, pre-release coverage, etc. remains to be seen, but this is a small step forward to better games and a better gaming community.