Despite being over-budget and lacking a clear gameplay direction, Ubisoft has reason to make sure the online multiplayer pirate game ships.
Although it has appeared at multiple E3s and been in development for years, Ubisoft’s Skull & Bones remains a game without a release date. A new report sheds some light on why Ubisoft is so determined this pirate game see the light of day, even though it appears to be floundering without a clear direction.
Skull & Bones was first revealed to the public at E3 2017. It featured naval pirate combat heavily inspired by the 2013 Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag. That inspiration was for good reason, as Ubisoft Singapore, the studio that worked on most of ship combat for that game, had been put in charge of fleshing that mechanic out into its own standalone game. But although Ubisoft insists progress continues on the game, reports have indicated the game is in troubled waters. In September 2020, it was reported that Skull & Bones was being completely rebooted, even after several years of development.
Kotaku has published an extensive investigation into the development woes of Skull & Bones. According to multiple sources, the game has gone in several different directions over the years, and cost well over $120 million, exceeding its proposed budget. The refusal to give up on the game amounts to a few factors, one of which appears to simply be that none of Skull & Bones’ many executives want to take the blame for such a massive project failing. But it appears that tax reasons may also factor into the decision to keep pursuing the game. According to Kotaku, Ubisoft Singapore receives subsidies from the government. In return, Ubisoft Singapore agreed to hire a certain number of local workers, but also to produce “original band new IPs in the next few years.” If that’s the case, Ubisoft needs Skull & Bones to succeed to help fulfill their end of the deal. Given the length of development cycles, turning Skull & Bones into a game Ubisoft can ship is likely easier than starting a brand new game from scratch.
Why Skull & Bones Development is Taking So Long
A large reason Skull & Bones has taken so long to develop is that the vision for what the game even is has constantly changed. Key mechanics such as whether players control an individual pirate or an entire boat have been endlessly debated. One anonymous developer cited in the article pointed out the ripple effects such changes have. A game that is primarily about combat focuses on mechanics like ammunition and turning radiuses, while a survival game might worry more about storage capacity. At one point, Skull & Bones was to take place entirely at sea, but a few years ago it was decided players should be able to go ashore, requiring the development of land-based mechanics. It seems the only true constant in the development process was that Skull & Bones was to be a multiplayer game, which fits with Ubisoft’s increasing interest in live-service games.
With nothing ever truly settled on, it’s not surprising that Skull & Bones seems to be stuck in endless development. Ubisoft however, claims that the game is making progress. It recently announced Skull & Bones had finally left the alpha stage of development, putting it one step closer to an actual release date. Whether that means Skull & Bones will release in one year or three is still anybody’s guess.
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