Ubisoft Sails into a Rough Storm It May Not Survive

French publisher Ubisoft had a really bad week, with no one to blame but itself. Between game delays, cancellations, and ill-advised remarks from leadership, Europe’s largest game publisher has sailed itself into dire straits.

More Delays and Cancellations for Ubisoft Games

Ubisoft announced during its most recent investor call its Skull & Bones game is once again being delayed. If that sounds familiar, it would be because the game was originally to release in 2019 after starting development in 2013. While not quite a case of Duke Nukem: Forever (a legendary flop that spent almost 15 years in development), the seemingly never ending delays don’t inspire confidence that Ubisoft has a hit on its hands.

At this point, Ubisoft doesn’t just need a home run, it needs a grand slam. The publisher announced it’s canceling three partly-developed games and projecting over a $500 million loss for its fiscal year ending in March. Years of complacent releases and a modern market that demands live service revenue have left Ubisoft in a lurch, waiting for its next big AAA hit but without the live service income to tide itself over.

Abandoning Ship

The worst damage, however, was inflicted by CEO Yves Buillemot. “The ball is in your court to deliver this line-up on time and at the expected level of quality, and show everyone what we are capable of achieving,” he wrote in a company-wide email (courtesy of Kotaku). “I am also asking that each of you be especially careful and strategic with your spending and initiatives, to ensure we’re being as efficient and lean as possible.”

Buillemot then belatedly apologized this week, telling employees, “I heard your feedback and I’m sorry this was perceived that way. When saying ‘the ball is in your court’ to deliver our lineup on time and at the expected level of quality, I wanted to convey the idea that more than ever I need your talent and energy to make it happen. This is a collective journey that starts of course with myself and with the leadership team to create the conditions for all of us to succeed together.”

The damage is already done, however. Ubisoft already struggled with high turnover amid a toxic workplace culture before Buillemot’s gaffe, and being told “you’re on your own” won't play well with a demoralized workforce facing layoffs.

What’s Next?

Ubisoft still has some time to right the ship. Skull & Bones should (knock on wood) release this year, and the free-to-play Tom Clancy’s The Division Heartland and Assassin’s Creed Mirage may too arrive in 2023. The company also started selling its games through Steam again, which should widen its customer base. But between the delays, the uneven quality of recent Ubisoft games, and financial struggles, it's far from clear if upcoming Ubisoft games will get gamers to open their wallets.

What we said about Assassin's Creed Mirage...

"For Ubisoft, these moves make sense on several levels. They may not be very original, but one can’t fault the company for at least iterating on success. "

There were reports last year that private equity was scoping out a purchase of Ubisoft, and these recent developments only increase the likelihood of a change in ownership and/or leadership. The company is already worse positioned to weather a recession than larger publishers like Take-Two, not to mention Ubisoft stock has taken a beating. If there’s a difference now, it’s that economic headwinds have reduced spending from private equity. This could be a chance for a larger publisher – like Tencent, which already has a minority stake in Ubisoft – to acquire the struggling French company.

Featured image courtesy of Ubisoft