With its new free business plan, Ubisoft is tackling some of gaming’s biggest billion-dollar earners. Can the French game maker differentiate itself enough to win over gamers?
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Ubisoft’s F2P plan is taking shape. Like competitors Activision-Blizzard, Take-Two and Electronic Arts, Ubisoft sees the free-to-play market as a way to expand the reach of its biggest franchises while monetizing over time. The idea is to diversify IPs with standalone, accessible experiences that can generate long-term revenue through microtransactions. The low friction and wide availability of F2P means anyone can play, and in-game purchases on the potential additional revenue from Ubisoft’s main premium titles.
To date, the French publisher has four major F2P projects based on the best-selling franchises:
- Ghost Recon Frontline – (Consoles + PC) Warzone competitor battle royale FPS with 100 players + action
- xDefiant – (Consoles + PC) Class-based 6v6 arena shooter merges Tom Clancy franchises
- The heart of the division – (Consoles + PC) Standalone game with a “new perspective on the universe in a new setting”. May possibly tie into The Division games at some point.
- Mobile Division – (Mobile only) Not much is known about the game, but expect third-person shooter and loot multiplayer elements straight out of The Division / The Division 2
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F2P is not entirely new to the publisher. Ubisoft had moderate, if not fleeting, success with its Hyperscape battle royale at launch, but the community plummeted.
Other F2P games quietly died out, including 2019’s Tom Clancy’s Elite Squad, a mobile RPG starring Sam Fisher and other characters.
Can Ubisoft win back the market with its established IPs? So far, fan sentiment around games like xDefiant and Ghost Recon Frontline has not been positive as players find these projects to be too similar to existing games on the market (Frontline has been compared to a knockoff of Warzone, for example).
This could be a reflection of Ubisoft’s overall investment in F2P, which accounts for approximately 20% of its quarterly revenue. This mix – 80% bonus spend and 20% F2P – is comparatively lower risk than big budget games like Ghost Recon Breakpoint, which fell short of Ubisoft’s expectations.
Ubisoft CEO Yves Guillemot explains in a Q1’21 earnings call:
“80% of spend is used to significantly expand premium offerings in 3 ways,” Guillemot said, noting the following:
- By developing our existing franchises
- Create new IPs with a focus on player engagement and social interactions
- By adding successful entertainment brands to our portfolio
Around 20% of our current investments are targeted at free-to-play to expand our brand universes and bring them to a wider audience on all platforms, including mobile. Each of these premium and free projects is designed to maximize the impact on each respective brand’s universe.”
“We are also convinced of the strategic value of reinvesting part of our highly profitable and cash-generating premium core business in free-to-play. This major segment indeed offers attractive growth and value creation opportunities for Ubisoft with a risk-reward profile.”
Mobile games currently account for less than 15% of Ubisoft’s total net reservations revenue (mobile accounted for 13% of Q1 2021 revenue and 12% a year prior). The company clearly wants to change that, but not at the expense of its main moneymakers like Rainbow Six: Siege, Assassin’s Creed, and The Division.
In summary, Ubisoft’s F2P business model is still new and will likely experience some growing pains as it matures. Ubisoft also views free play as incidental, complementary, and secondary to its primary focus of premium games; F2P will not overtake major franchises and mainline games, sequels and paid releases will still be created and launched worldwide.