Ubisoft surprised observers last week when they announced that they would be delaying pretty much their entire slate of upcoming games, Watch Dogs: Legion, Gods and Monstersand Rainbow Six Quarantine, joining the already delayed Skull and Bones, all which will now arrive either in the back half of 2020 or early 2021.
The reason Ubisoft gave was that they wanted to make sure each title lived up to its potential, and they seemed particularly jarred by the overt failure of their “big” fall game, Ghost Recon: Breakpoint, which dramatically underperformed both their financial and critical expectations.
Today, Ubisoft is reporting their first half 2019-2020 earnings, and their headline being that they’re being “led by a strong back catalogue” should give you some indication of how things went in this period.
Ubisoft touts record players for Rainbow Six Siege, its never-ending success story, and solid numbers for Assassin’s Creed Odyssey well after launch. In their entire 13 page laundry list of facts and figures, there is no mention of The Division 2 or its attempts at ongoing monetization. Ghost Recon: Breakpoint is highlighted only as an explanation for “operating income impairment,” which is down a massive 93.8% year over year. Net bookings are down 11.4% over the same period, with Q2 sales down 9% over last year.
Ubisoft is predicting a rather vacant Q3 as well, as it does not have any major releases besides Ghost Recon: Breakpoint in early October, and then things like the Stadia version of AC: Odyssey or free content updates like The Division’s Last Castle expansion. As such, Ubisoft is forecasting Q3 income to be down 32% over last year, and with all the upcoming delays, expect the following few quarters to be similarly empty with nothing truly major launching until the second half of 2020, closer to the new console generation.
Previously, Ubisoft had been praised for a number of success stories, including the miraculous, endless growth of Rainbow Six Siege, and the revitalization of the Assassin’s Creed franchise with Origins and Odyssey. But they are still trying to ride on those successes today, with newer entries making less of a splash. The Division 2 was fine, but it has not cultivated the explosive sales and sprawling fanbases of rival loot shooters like Destiny and Borderlands. Ghost Recon: Breakpoint was always a bad call for a signature fall release as it was a sequel that no one was asking for, with no real improvements over Wildlands, or even changes for the worse in many aspects.
It’s unclear where Ubisoft goes immediately from here, even when its slate of upcoming releases arrive after their delays. Gods and Monsters is an untested IP. Rainbow Six Quarantine is an interesting idea, but there’s no reason to assume it will emulate Siege’s success. Watch Dogs has always been a franchise on a knife’s edge for Ubisoft, and there are some concerns Legion’s central “play as anyone” concept could fall flat. And at this point I feel like we’ve been talking about Skull and Bones for so long that it will frankly be amazing if it ever comes out, and it’s still only half the pirate game Assassin’s Creed: Black Flag fans wanted in the first place. There are supposedly two more AAA games coming out in the 2020-21 fiscal year, presumably an Assassin’s Creed and a Far Cry, though no details are known about either yet. Ubisoft would be wise to make a new AC game a next generation staple as those consoles launch, which may happen with the rumored Vikings-based title that hasn’t been unveiled yet.
Ubisoft is spinning all this positively, though and still sees a bright future:
"Ubisoft's prospects are particularly promising,” said CEO Yves Guillemot.” Our numerous growth vectors going forward include the arrival of the next generation of consoles, the opening up of the Asian market and our partnership with Tencent for launching our franchises on mobile. All of these are strong value creation drivers for the medium term."
More to come, but for now, it’s going to be a lot of silence from Ubisoft for a while.