Another big Ubisoft game has been delayed. Avatar: Frontiers of Pandora won’t arrive in time for the release of James Cameron’s feature film Avatar: The Way of Water this December and is now launching sometime after March 2023 at the earliest. CEO Yves Guillemot also told staff on Thursday that some projects have been canceled, and that the publisher will have to cut back expenses to only “what is essential” as it searches for its next blockbuster hit.
“We have also decided to stop the development of certain games so that these talents can focus on other projects that have higher priority,” Guillemot wrote in a company-wide email viewed by Kotaku. It continued:
In the current economic context, carefully and strategically managing our investments is critical now more than ever. We must therefore succeed in strongly limiting our spending to what is essential by questioning some of our habits and reflexes, and by reinventing ourselves together to make gains in terms of cost, agility, and efficiency.
Guillemot reiterated that despite these issues, the company is still aiming for over $400 million in operating profits this year.
In addition to Avatar, Ubisoft announced today during its first-quarter earnings report that another “smaller unannounced premium game” originally planned for this fiscal year was delayed as well. It’s possible this was a reference to Project Rift, an Assassin’s Creed Valhalla DLC turned standalone game. Bloomberg reported that the game was aiming to fill holes in Ubisoft’s upcoming release calendar, though two sources familiar with Ubisoft’s plans recently told Kotaku that the game was facing new challenges despite the rush to finish it (Update 7/22/22, 1:23 p.m. ET: It is Rift, according to Bloomberg).
As far as which projects have been canceled, Guillemot confirmed during today’s call that at least two of them were Splinter Cell VR and Ghost Recon Frontline. The latter was a battle royale-influenced multiplayer shooter which was panned upon its announcement last year and went back to the drawing board earlier in 2022 after playtests accused it of feeling too much like a Call of Duty: Warzone rip-off.
For the rest of 2021, then, Ubisoft has pinned its hopes on a new Mario + Rabbids strategy game and its multi-year development headache Skull and Bones. But while the latter has cost as much as any big blockbuster game, people who have worked on it remain skeptical it will be anywhere near the hit the company needs. According to one developer, there is little to the pirate-ship game beyond what was already shown when it reemerged in a showcase livestream earlier this month. Despite a bevy of resource-gathering survival sim mechanics, they said each individual part of the game lacked depth.
In today’s call, Guillemot blamed Avatar’s delay on broader covid-related production challenges, and a desire to make the game a strong start to a new series for the publisher. Kotaku understands that at least one producer was recently pulled off of another major project to pitch in. Guillemot also tried to assuage investor skepticism by cryptically pointing to a new “high-value licensing partnership on mobile for one of our AAA brands,” though he wouldn’t share any more details when pressed by analysts.
Assassin’s Creed has remained one of the few big bright spots for the company, and Kotaku understands that in addition to the live-service project Assassin’s Creed Infinity, Ubisoft is also still planning another new open-world Assassin’s Creed game called Project Red (Update 2:10 p.m. ET, 7/21/22: Bloomberg’s Jason Schreier reports Red is actually part of Infinity, rather than a separate game). According to two sources familiar with its development, it will be set in Asia. VentureBeat’s Jeff Grubb previously reported that the game might be set in Japan, and while Kotaku can’t yet confirm that, sources said that setting, in addition to being long requested by fans, has long been discussed internally.
In the meantime, multiple employees tell Kotaku different Ubisoft studios are facing fewer and smaller raises for staff, less hiring, and various budget freezes. This new wave of austerity comes as many major tech companies prepare for a potential recession. Ubisoft’s problems go beyond that, however, with beleaguered ambitious projects like Beyond Good and Evil 2, the sequel to a beloved cult-classic action-RPG, still completely MIA and senior developers on some core franchises jumping ship.
Ubisoft’s next Forward gaming showcase will air on September 10. The company did not respond to a request for comment.