Where angels fear to tread, UbiSoft Romania have been camping out for years…
The first thing to say on the Wii U version of WatchDogs is simple; I don’t believe it will ever make its money back.
After around three years in the hands of UbiSoft Romania, and an overall project budget for the game which has swelled far and away beyond the original expectations, even UbiSoft themselves will have to face up to the cold, painful reality that no matter how many consoles are sold between now and April 2015, they can never sell enough copies of WatchDogs to make the project break even for them. Most third-party games do well to sell to 5% of a consoles audience; there are exceptions, and maybe WatchDogs will be one of them, but it would have to sell to one in every three or four Wii U owners; a tall order that WatchDogs is extremely unlikely to achieve.
So why is UbiSoft still talking about a Wii U version? Well, partly because they are committed; monetarily speaking, they’ve blown millions on this. To write off those millions spent as a waste of time, at a time when the company is hurting after a rough financial year, would be professional suicide – shareholders would get up in arms, CEO’s would have their jobs on the line and a full investigation is likely to end up uncovering harsh truths about the excessive overspend on the project. UbiSoft can’t afford to be shown up in such a manner; halfway across the lake, the only other option is to keep swimming to the other side and hope that when you get there, something good happens. To go back would be to admit fault; and not just for the Wii U version either. There are no half-measures when you get into a project this deep. Everything becomes entangled in everything else going on.
I suspect also partly because UbiSoft have to fulfil a contractual obligation to Nintendo; it’s not often that we can admit that Nintendo is smart legally, because this is a company that puts more emphasis on a handshake than a legal document (which is one of its continued failings, sad to say – if only the industry was still like that…), however UbiSoft could have pulled out months ago. And yet it hasn’t. It is still committed to a Wii U version, when admittedly logic would dictate that you abandon ship and hope the raft gets you away in time. I suspect Nintendo has UbiSoft bang to rights on this game; a document that ensures its release, so UbiSoft cannot get away. Between this and the amount of money and time already invested in the project, you’d be hard pressed to see any light at the end of the tunnel.
And yet, look extremely closely and there is plenty to still be excited about.
Admittedly, WatchDogs is unlikely to hit the Wii U until early 2015; over eight months after the PlayStation and XBox versions have saturated the market with second-hand copies, no less. But in a modern age, bugs happen – with an alarming regularity. The Wii U version may be pitched just long enough after the release of the game to escape any sour notes, and give UbiSoft Romania just enough time to fix up the Wii U version, so it doesn’t release with those same bugs. We’ve already seen the recent ‘new’ trailers, which have already exposed some serious problems; this is a game that’s practically finished now, and one that is unlikely to see another delay now they are committed to printing the copies. Many will take solace in the thought that the Wii U version will likely not suffer the same fate.
Indeed, there’s plenty of cause to believe the Wii U version could even be the definitive version; UbiSoft Romania have been given an ‘unprecedented’ amount of autonomous freedom with the Wii U version; whilst this may not include exclusive content (because that’s already been sold to Sony), it will include functions and features that simply cannot be achieved on other platforms. UbiSoft has demonstrated multiple times now that it perfectly understands the U-Pad; from the complexities of Zombi-U to the simple mapping of Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag, and not forgetting Rayman Legends, this is a company that does good work with the U-Pad, whatever the relations with Nintendo are like. Both UbiSoft and Nintendo must be acutely aware that the symbiotic relationship between them is one that cannot be so idly thrown aside, and that has probably been the driving force behind this project (although beginning back before the Wii U launch might also have helped in this).
Not to mention that UbiSoft Romania are considered the ‘Crack Squad’, the AMG in the depths of UbiSoft. It’s a studio that revels in technical challenges; the impossible, made possible. There’s already some suggestion that the Wii U version of WatchDogs suffered none of the critical errors and bugs that plagued the other platforms just before it was meant to be released – the Wii U delay was because they had to pull the AMG of UbiSoft Romania into fixing up what is increasingly looking like a bit of a botched-job; no doubt the game will be cracking, but within the space of a year the trailers have lost a considerable amount of visual fidelity and this can only be attributed to UbiSoft Montreal; the primary team who admittedly stretched themselves very thin, making their project work on five very different, very specialised machines (XBox 360, PS3, PS4, XBox One, PC), where UbiSoft Romania have been allowed to spend the lions share of their time entirely dedicated to one platform. Now they can get back to the Wii U version, it’s unlikely they’ll settle for anything less than perfection. It’s already been delayed well outside the window of any normal title release; the pressure is off, and they’ll now have the space to finish their version on their own terms.
Some may balk at the idea; but it has already worked out for one game. Take a moment to look at Deus Ex: Human Revolution – Director’s Cut.
Deus Ex: Human Revolution was always a flawed gem; a game that one assumes was rushed to completion and lacked the polish and care it so desperately needed in the final stages. It wasn’t until the Wii U version that we saw most of the issues addressed; bosses changed, balancing issues touched up, some visual bugs painted over. In fact, so popular were these upgrades that the call sounded loudly for them to be implemented on other platforms, and they were – but you couldn’t take away the sublime gamepad integration that just made it a joy to go through, even if you had already finished the game before elsewhere.
Couple this with a lower pricing point on digital release, and excellent commentary, and you had a game that could very rightly proclaim to have its BEST version on the Wii U. And that’s certainly what the console needs right now.
Now, yes, there are differences. The first is that the Deus Ex: Human Revolution upgrade was likely far less expensive than WatchDogs, as the game had already been long released and almost forgotten about by the time the Wii U version began to do the press rounds. But on the positive side; they had far less time to do the Wii U version in comparison, which means that there’s a chance that WatchDogs Wii U could still very much walk tall above other consoles.
Nintendo and UbiSoft must both be hoping for this to work; UbiSoft will obviously want the press to be kind, and for them and us as consumers to soften our attitudes as we come closer to release and hopefully see a version that is technically more accomplished. Nintendo will be hoping it ends up one in the eye to Sony and Microsoft; not just to get a great version of a game, but to have one that is comparatively superior, also one which perhaps shows up the flaws deep at the heart of their business model. When you consider how brutal the press has been in proclaiming the weakness of the Wii U, having a counter-argument in such a form would be a monumental leap forward and may even start to soften the staunch opposition, who feel Nintendo held back technologically.
Of course, there is still the off-chance that WatchDogs on the Wii U could be a total disaster. We simply don’t know enough yet; with no corroborated Wii U footage to go on, we can only extrapolate from current trailers and of course Deus Ex: Human Revolution. Many have, however, already written off the Wii U version. Too late, is the reasoning. It will come when no-one cares anymore, when we’ve moved onto other games. There’s an element of truth in that, of course; but as Deus Ex and even the recent update of Tomb Raider have demonstrated, there is still merit in releasing a superior version down the road for people; give people the chance and they will, unsurprisingly, fork out the money in order to proclaim they have the “best one”.
Will they buy a Wii U for it though? Maybe. Maybe not. Stranger things have happened though. UbiSoft clearly aren’t stupid either; a tantalising Q1 2015 date would put it well after Mario Kart 8 (which, incidentally, is out the same week as WatchDogs hits other platforms!), Super Smash Bros. and Bayonetta 2, and perhaps also beyond Hyrule Warriors and possibly X as well (although let’s be honest, that last one is a bit of a stretch!). With key Nintendo titles also yet to be revealed for the Christmas market, UbiSoft are placing some serious faith in Wii U sales picking up in the next year; even if only by a few million units, every little will help create a larger audience.
It’s a complex situation; people hate complex. They like simplicity. “Nintendo is doomed” is a simple line – regardless of the lack of truth in it, the simplicity is what makes it so easy to roll out in every instance of something happening with/at/for/in Nintendo (delete where applicable). WatchDogs Wii U delayed into 2015? “DOOMED! DOOMED!”
Except, it does sometimes work. Even if UbiSoft won’t make any money on it, this is probably no longer about money, but pride. A studio has spent years on this one version; this has been their baby, and UbiSoft knows pulling the plug on it won’t go down well. Where will those disgruntled staff go, I wonder? After so many years working to Wii U hardware – you don’t have to be a genius to work this one out, and when you’re calling them your engineering powerhouse, chances are regardless of the overall outcome; you’ll want to keep such a studio placated, or risk losing a hugely beneficial asset.
Chances are, the Wii U version is probably the one to wait for. The question is; will people wait?
It’s unlikely. But then, the Wii U has surprised us many times already; what’s a year, when you’ve got so much to enjoy already this year? By the time WatchDogs does release on Wii U, sales will likely be up and the market will be quiet enough that it will be the biggest release at the time.
Until then, I might just rent the PS4 version for a week or two, and keep my Wii U pre-order in. ‘Sides, between Dark Souls 2 and Mario Kart 8, not even the Grim Reaper himself would dare enter my home – not unless he wants to be shown a hundred new and innovative uses for his scythe, that is.
He will be a changed creature for the rest of eternity…