I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but Far Cry could be the next Assassin’s Creed.
“Annual franchise” has become a bit of dirty word for gamers. For many, it represents a cynical drive from publishers to release as much of a popular series as possible, even at the cost of quality. For years, the term was largely only associated with sports games like Madden, but now megahit franchises like Call of Duty and Assassin’s Creed see yearly releases as well.
Ubisoft is the publisher behind Assassin’s Creed, and it hasn’t been shy about its desire to milk its popular franchises. “We will be able to release our franchises more and more regularly, providing solid visibility on our future revenue and profitability streams,” said Ubisoft chief executive Yves Guillemot said in a recent statement regarding its annual financial report.
Some claim that you can hurt the demand for a franchise by oversaturating the market with it. Of course, not all of the evidence supports that argument. Last year’s Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag, the fifth in a string of year-to-year releases for the series, sold a massive 11 million copies.
Outside of Assassin’s Creed, Ubisoft had a huge hit with 2012’s Far Cry 3, which sold 9 million units. It was such a success that Ubisoft quickly capitalized in 2013 with Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon, a standalone expansion with an ’80s action-movie vibe. Now, we have Far Cry 4 coming later this year.
See the pattern? Before Far Cry 3’s 2012 release, the last entry in the series was Far Cry 2 in 2008. Now, we’re getting new installments in the franchise every year. Ubisoft has managed to make Far Cry an annual franchise without ever branding it as one. And interestingly, no one seems to mind.
A lot of that has to do with good will. Fans were very receptive to Far Cry 3, and Blood Dragon, while mechanically very similar, really stood out as a unique experience. While gamers complain that Call of Duty has gotten stale (the latest entry, Ghosts, was the worst reviewed Call of Duty since the series went mainstream with 2007’s Modern Warfare) and that Assassin’s Creed is getting stretched thin (we could be getting two entries this year, one for new-gen systems and a different game for last-gen consoles), Far Cry brings out more excitement than cynicism.
That’s great for Ubisoft, but it better be careful. Sure, people all excited for Far Cry 4, but it won’t take many more familiar, annual sequels before gamers begin to turn on the series. Ubisoft could smartly alternate between the full-blown, numbered installments and smaller, more creative spinoffs like Blood Dragon. That way, you still get your annual games without having to depend on a triple-A release every year. Sure, the spinoff will never sell quite as well, but you’re keeping the franchise fresher.
Of course, Ubisoft can just throw all caution to the wind and give us Far Cry 5 in 2015. I mean, as cynical as gamers are toward Call of Duty and Assassin’s Creed, that negativity hasn’t impacted sales much — yet. Maybe Ubisoft will try to take advantage of this series popularity as much as it can. Of course, that can always backfire, like it did with Guitar Hero and Rock Band, gaming fads that saw a lot of releases before demand for them quickly faded.
Whatever it’s doing, don’t expect Ubisoft to bluntly call Far Cry an annual franchise. Even when we asked the publisher if it was fair to call Far Cry one with three yearly releases in a row, Ubisoft simply told us it had nothing to share with us. Now, that’s a normal response for a journalist asking about a big, upcoming release we don’t know much about like Far Cry 4, but it’s a bit unusual to get such a hard nonresponse when we were just asking how it would classify a release strategy.
It’s likely that Ubisoft knows what it has with Far Cry; a popular, open-world franchise that can drive strong sales and has tons of love from the gaming community. It wants to keep it that way as long as possible, and balancing the financial needs of yearly releases with the cynicism that comes with it can go a long way toward keeping Far Cry relevant long past the days of Call of Duty and Assassin’s Creed.
Far Cry’s star is shining bright in the galaxy of gaming. Let’s see how long it can burn before exploding.