Big changes seem to be in the works at Ubisoft, as the publisher has confirmed plans to shift away from the number of AAA releases that it offers per year, and more towards "high-end free-to-play games." The publisher revealed these plans in a full-year earnings call. The announcement comes just a week after the publisher revealed plans to release The Division: Heartland, a free-to-play game based on the popular video game series. While the publisher will continue to produce AAA games, it will not focus on releasing 3-4 per year, instead putting more attention on the growing free-to-play market.
“In line with the evolution of our high-quality line-up that is increasingly diverse, we are moving on from our prior comment regarding releasing 3-4 premium AAAs per year,” said Ubisoft CFO Frederick Duguet. "It is indeed no longer a proper indication of our value creation dynamics. For example, our expectation for Just Dance and Riders Republic are consistent with some of the industry’s AAA performers. Additionally, we are building high-end free-to-play games to be trending towards AAA ambitions over the long-term. This is purely a financial communication evolution and doesn’t change the fact that we continue to expect a high cadence of content delivery including powerful premium and free-to-play new releases.”
There already seems to be some debate regarding the interpretation of Ubisoft's comments. Niko Partners analyst Daniel Ahmad believes that Ubisoft is merely elevating other parts of its business, while independent analyst @BenjiSales has argued that this is Ubisoft moving away from one direction to support another. @Benji-Sales also stated that some investors seemed to show concern about the new direction.
At the end of the day, it's difficult to say which interpretation is the correct one. Time will tell how beneficial the free-to-play model will be for Ubisoft, and how much the publisher actually puts into it. Free-to-play games like Fortnite and Call of Duty: Warzone have proven incredibly successful for their publishers, but not all free-to-play games are going to find a similar level of success. If Ubisoft truly is planning to put the same effort into its free-to-play offerings as its AAA offerings, that could bode well for the future.
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