In a new interview, Ubisoft marketing executive Tony Key recalls the publisher's decision to delay its high-profile open-world game Watch Dogs and explains what impact it had on the company. The delay caused financial hardship for Ubisoft, but it was the only possible course of action, Key says.
"This is not an easy decision to make for any company. On the day we announced that, I think our stock dropped 40 percent or some ridiculous number," Key told the [a]list daily. "We've recovered since because people are seeing the rest of our lineup and it turns out maybe it was a good idea."
"We had no choice. We knew it was the right thing to do, but it doesn't make it hurt any less" -- Ubisoft's Tony Key on the Watch Dogs delay
"We had no choice, despite the fact that it put us in a tough financial position in the short term. We're a long-term company, with a long-term vision, and Watch Dogs for us is a long-term play," he added. "We had no choice. We knew it was the right thing to do, but it doesn't make it hurt any less."
Key went on to say that games have their own unique sets of challenges, because they are a mix between technology and art. Compounding this is the fact that Watch Dogs is an all-new brand running on new technology--the Xbox One and PlayStation 4. Ubisoft's other tentpole franchise, Assassin's Creed, has been annualized since 2009, so the publisher has experience bringing this product to market every fall. The same can't be said for Watch Dogs.
"The Assassin's Creed team has gotten so much experience now in working on a schedule that they've found that delicate balance of being able to put their heart and soul into the game and still making a schedule work," Key said. "But a new brand, as you've seen time and time again from publishers everywhere, it's very difficult to make that work."
Watch Dogs' delay came just one month before its then-release date of November 18. Delaying the title this late in the game led to numerous marketing challenges, Key said.
"The decision was made very late, and we were rolling along in a lot of areas on the marketing side. Any time a game slips, there are marketing inefficiencies," Key said. "We are still executing, for the most part, the plan that we had had. It was a lot of late nights and crazy reactions to putting everything on hold at the last minute. It's the least of our problems to put marketing on hold, compared to getting the game right, but it's a lot of work for a marketing team when something like that moves. You have to reallocate all your resources on a new schedule, you've got your retailers to deal with, who are already running marketing for your game in some cases. Slips like that are incredibly inefficient."
Had Watch Dogs met its original November 2013 date, the game's Xbox One and PS4 versions would have benefited from the buzz of the new consoles, Key said. But at the same time, the extra six months has also meant that more people have become aware of the game, and this is evidenced in the fact that preorders are up, Key said.