E3 2017 - Like all of Ubisoft's new games, the publisher's new massive ancient Egypt-based Assassin's Creed: Origins will be based around live services to monetize the game and ensure a long tail for revenues.
Ubisoft is no stranger to microtransactions. The publisher has dramatically shifted towards digital online content with games like For Honor, Rainbow Six: Siege, The Division and Ghost Recon: Wildlands, which have all significantly boosted PRI (player recurring revenue) spend across the board. In fact, PRI spend on microtransactions and add-on content made up 17% of Ubisoft's total revenue in 2016, or $273.7 million. By 2020, Ubisoft expects PRI to make up a whopping 25% of total yearly revenues, or $584.1 million. That's a 113% increase in PRI from fiscal year 2017 to fiscal year 2020.
This forecast frames key insights for FY2018 releases like Assassin's Creed: Origins and Far Cry 5, both of which should be monetized in key ways to facilitate substantial PRI growth. Today we'll be focusing on Assassin's Creed: Origins--Far Cry 5 will come at another time. Ubisoft Montreal game director Ashraf Ismail has confirmed that Assassin's Creed: Origins wont' have an online multiplayer mode, but will instead feature online features that will enhance the player experience. This is prime lingo for microtransactions.
"Assassin's Creed: Origins is primarily a singleplayer experience. We do have online features that are there to enhance that experience for sure. Again, later in the campaign we'll get into more detail about those online features but it's primarily a singleplayer experience," Ubisoft Montreal game director Ashraf Ismail said in a recent E3 2017 Coliseum panel showcase.
While Ubisoft has not officially confirmed Assassin's Creed: Origins will allow users to buy in-game items via microtransactions, there is an apparent monetization path outlined by the game's mechanics. The game will also be accompanied by a $20 season pass.
Assassin's Creed: Origins is a loot-based action RPG that features quite a bit of monetization depth. Thanks to the game's RPG progression system and massive array of loot item combinations that are freely peppered across the staggering map, players are offered many opportunities to find randomized items: this is the root of this game's PRI potential.
Weapons and armors found in the game all have randomized stats, and are leveled based on player level and enemy level. Items can have a wide variety of statistics, including passive bonuses, attributes, and properties. Weapons and items are also classified by rarity from Common to Legendary, with Legendary offering more damage/defense and stronger passive boosts.
"Gear really matters, the level of the gear, the types of gear. The gear have stats, they have attributes and properties, and they have rarities," Ismail said.
"So the more rare the weapon, the legendary weapons, they have more attributes, more properties. Fighting with a Khopesh Sword that does bleeding damage is drastically different than a spear that has a poison tip. This really matters as you start getting deeper into the combat of the game."
Ismail confirms that there are eight categories of melee weapons and four categories of ranged weapons in the game, all of which can come in different levels with randomized properties, attributes, and rarities. This mixed combination of loot is prime for monetization via loot bags.
"Weapons don't have durability or destructibility. We wanted to focus instead on finding new loot and new levels of loot. There's many different kinds of loot and weapons," Ismail said at the showcase, answering a fan's question.
"There's eight categories for melee weapons and four categories for ranged weapons and each one has a drastically different playstyle. What we want players to do is that every time they find a new type of weapon, they start understanding how it works and understand the combos you can do with them and find the playstyle you prefer. "
This is the key to Assassin's Creed: Origins' monetization.
The game could allow players to buy premium virtual currency to spend on randomized item packs for the chance of better gear. Since the game is heavily based on balance, these loot packs would need to match a player's level so as to not provide too big of a shortcut. Like most monetization paths, users would be spending money instead of time for the chance to unlock higher-tier items and gear.
These randomized loot packs would be tiered in blocks, ie Bronze, Silver, Gold and Platinum packs, each with greater chances of better rewards.
"Eventually you're going to start getting rare weapons, and at that point you're going to start seeing 'okay, a poison-tipped spear is even more different, or a weapon that does bleeding damage, or a weapon that you can light on fire," Ismail explains, highlighting some of the properties that various weapons can have.
It's also possible Ubisoft could offer cosmetic microtransactions to change the appearance of Bayek, the player-character.
From my extensive experience with random loot-based gaming experiences, I can say that Ubisoft is far more likely to monetize gear, whether in blind loot packs or actual singular purchases as in Assassin's Creed: Unity.
Other monetization options include unlockables that allow players to re-allocate spent skill points. Assassin's Creed: Origins is heavily based on an RPG skill progression tree called the "ability graph." Players can select nodes on the graph to fortify Bayek's abilities across four different archetypes.
Offering a paid "respec" ability would be one path to fortify PRI within AC: Origins.
Last but not least, Ubisoft could let players buy crafting materials with virtual currency.
Finding good loot is only half of the formula in Assassin's Creed: Origins - the other half is fortifying it with crafting materials. These materials, or "mats", can be found by killing certain creatures and can likely be bought in-game or earned in other ways. Players will have to "grind" for materials to fortify their equipment to defeat harder enemies.
It's possible that Ubisoft will sell packs of crafting materials to speed up this process.
To re-iterate, here are my predictions of how Ubisoft Montreal will monetize its new Egyptian Assassin's Creed game and drive up PRI for the publisher:
Possible mTX monetization paths in Assassin's Creed: Origins
- Loot packs purchased with premium virtual currency that unlock random weapons, armor and gear; packs would be sold in "tiers" of higher cost and greater chances of higher-end gear
- Allow players to buy weapons, armor and gear directly with premium virtual currency
- Offer cosmetic microtransactions that are purchased with premium virtual currency
- Sell crafting materials to speed up the gear fortification process, which will also be purchased with the same premium virtual currency
It'll be interesting to see what the game offers when it ships October 27, 2017 on PS4, Xbox One and PC. Click here for a massive list of info about the game.