Skull and Bones: almost four years of silence for Ubisoft’s pirate game, why?

Ubisoft’s Arlesian is no longer Arlesian. The multiplayer pirate game that had been almost forgotten all this time resurfaced this week to finally reveal gameplay, information and above all a release date. The end of the tunnel finally appears to be drawing near for Ubisoft Singapore’s first new IP, announced five years ago anyway. But then, what happened during all these years?

Summary

  • Skull and Bones: a pirate story that started well
  • 2018-2022: Radio silence on Ubisoft’s side
  • Blurred vision, technical limits… Corridor noises

Skull and Bones: a pirate story that started well

It all starts in June 2017. E3 is in full swing and Ubisoft gives us its usual conference. In addition to the announcement of newcomers to these flagship licenses, namely Origins of Assassin’s Creed Y far away 5, unprecedented IP manages to impress: skull and bones. Pirate game and sea battles, inevitably remember Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flagthis work that allowed you to discover the life of a pirate and sail on the waves.

We quickly learned that it was during the development of the latter that the project was born. During 2013, while the teams at Ubisoft Singapore were finalizing the title, they embarked on some experiments with a view to producing a new game. During these, the idea of ​​offering a pirate game to discover with friends arises. Particularly inspired by this new proposal (sea ​​of ​​thieves was not released then), the developers are embarking on this great and long journey that will be the development of Skull and Bones.

Little by little, the concept becomes clearer. The game will certainly be multiplayer, but it will also have to offer new content on a regular basis. In terms of substance, the developers want us to participate on the waves of the Indian Ocean, story to stand out from the Caribbean story that we are usually told about pirates. Add to that gameplay focused on loot hunting, sea battles, and heavy customization and you have the Skull and Bones that was shown in 2017.

From the announcement a strong community is created around the Ubisoft game, which aims to give them an important place in the creation process. Based on the participatory aspect of the development of Ghost Recon Ghosts (beta and other fan contributions), Ubisoft Singapore had even already invited a group of gamers, the keepers of the codeto come test the game and give feedback during a dedicated workshop. A closed beta is also launched and, according to the study, reaches a record level of participation for a new Ubisoft license.

Thanks to these types of initiatives, with more force than ever, Skull and Bones returns to E3 2018. During the event, we were even able to play it and the game had many advantages, almost acting as a technical showcase for Ubisoft. But now, if the game showed more this time, was also postponed to 2019, much to the annoyance of the fans. Unfortunately for them, this is just the first in a long list of postponements. Because if everything seemed to be going well on the side of Skull and Bones, the game is about to begin a long journey through the desert.


2018-2022: Radio silence on Ubisoft’s side

At the end of 2018, Justin Farren, creative director of Skull and Bones, jumped ship. If we have little information on the subject, the survey carried out by Gamasutra and revealed in 2020 suggests that the environment was not really good in the studies. In fact, the man is quoted in the numerous testimonies pointing the finger at a work environment that would be toxic and full of more than inappropriate comments. Impossible to say if this caused his departure, but we suspect that the situation could not play in favor of a calm development for the title. This investigation even led Ubisoft to remove another member from the study in 2020: Hugues Ricour, director of Ubisoft Singapore and participant in the production of Skull and Bones.

Skull and Bones: almost four years of silence for Ubisoft's pirate game, why?

These games inevitably had an impact on the development of the game. Changing teams and management in the middle of a project is never easy. In the end, the announcement of a new postponement during the year 2019 is therefore not really a surprise. What’s more, however, is the radio silence that followed. For almost a year we have no news of the title. To reassure players, Elisabeth Pellen finally speaks on the Ubisoft site to explain the postponement. It would be so due to the great ambitions of the title as well as a new vision that would have been emerging over the months.

Many of you are wondering why we had to postpone our launch. The answer is that we simply needed more time. We dreamed of something bigger for Skull & Bones, and those ambitions naturally came with bigger challenges. These difficulties have resulted in necessary delays for our game. Crucial questions have had to be addressed in recent months, such as: how to modernize the classic pirate game? How to ensure a more immersive and visceral experience? How can we create great and memorable moments in the game? To answer most of these questions, it was clear that we needed more development time.

And then the studio immediately resumes its silence. In 2021, the official Skull and Bones account does not post a single tweet. The game page is gradually being emptied of all information. Until this week’s presentation, the official site was content to redirect players to the Insider Program, without giving details about the title itself. When Ubisoft’s 2021 financial report is released, we even learn that the game has been postponed again, without even an official announcement being made.

Skull and Bones: almost four years of silence for Ubisoft's pirate game, why?

Little by little, the hope of seeing this title one day come out is fading. Skull and Bones gets the Arlesian title and the hype around the game is dwindling. After four years without new images and only one release in three years, the title, against all odds, has decided to return this year. With some data from a few months ago and, above all, this week’s Ubisoft Forward, Skull and Bones showed us that it is not dead, far from it. In fact, the game is almost finished and it will finally be released this year, on November 8, 2022 to be precise. But then, if indeed the development has progressed during all this time and the project has not been abandoned as some thought, How come Ubisoft was so quiet about it?

Skull and Bones: almost four years of silence for Ubisoft's pirate game, why?

Blurred vision, technical limits… Corridor noises

If we do not have official information at this level, there are still some points that explain the strange silence around Skull and Bones, starting with the chaotic situation in the studio. As mentioned above, Ubisoft Singapore was at the center of the charges brought against the French video game giant. So much so that in the summer of 2021, the TAFEP (Tripartite Alliance for Progressive and Fair Labor Practices) launched an investigation into the working conditions of employees. Again, difficult to develop a game serenely under the reported conditions, but also in the midst of such an investigation.

Skull and Bones: almost four years of silence for Ubisoft's pirate game, why?

Note that a few days before that, a completely different type of survey had been published. by Kotaku. Claiming to have collected the testimony of twenty people who work or have worked on the project, the online magazine provides a chaotic inventory of the development process. Judging by its lines, Skull and Bones has not only changed its vision over the years, but has had the most difficulty finding one and sticking with it.

Skull and Bones: almost four years of silence for Ubisoft's pirate game, why?

We are told about a game that could have happened in a fantastic world to finally invade the Indian Ocean. We talked about the many points that would have remained unresolved for years, such as controlling only the ship or its captain, or the size and operation of the card. Others, less fundamental, would have monopolized the members of the team for several months, to finally be purely and simply retired.

Lack of clarity in decision-making, perpetual changes of opinion, very different game systems that build on top of each other… The Kotaku article reports a confusing and frustrating development. In any case, we note that certain testimonies contradict each other and that it is therefore difficult to fully understand the reality of this development process. But the truth, however, is that it was not the clearest and most relaxing.

Skull and Bones: almost four years of silence for Ubisoft's pirate game, why?

Additionally, the various reports have put Ubisoft Singapore in the face of more technical issues. We are now in 2022 and the latest consoles to date are PS5 and Xbox Series. Skull and Bones will also be a next-gen game as it is planned, on the console side, only on the latter. But to get there, we had to work hard and above all start from scratch many times. When the project was born, it was the era of PS3 and Xbox One. Gradually, the teams at Ubisoft Singapore were forced to go back to their initial work to meet the technical standards of the PS4/Xbox One era, and now the PS5/Xbox series. Suffice it to say that the time lost in constantly updating the game must have been substantial.

If Skull and Bones were in a competing studio, it would have been released a dozen times by now.

But then, if development was so chaotic, why is the game still running? Some claim it’s because Ubisoft has already put a lot of money on the table. (almost 120 million dollars according to Kotaku) and that, therefore, the project cannot afford to be abandoned. Others raise an alleged contract with the state of Singapore, which would have authorized Ubisoft to open a studio in the country in exchange for the development of a new triple A IP made in Singapore.

Skull and Bones: almost four years of silence for Ubisoft's pirate game, why?

Whether for the first or second reason, Skull and Bones has stayed the course. See you on November 8 to see if the game will have been worth it. Unfortunately, the tide isn’t really turning in your favor. Because if some were reassured by this week’s presentation, the release date will be a real handicap. In fact, Skull and Bones should be released a day before one of the most anticipated games of the year: God of War Ragnarok. To stay on course, the pirate game has an interest in having a solid back.

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