Ubisoft are making a big push into free-to-play browser based games, and they're using some classic franchises to do it. They're publishing THREE new games, and we've taken a look at all of them. Check out our previews of Silent Hunter Online, Anno Online and Heroes of Might and Magic Online for the first details.
We sent Dan out to have a chat with Benedikt Grindel, director of live operations at the developer behind all three games, Blue Byte. Grindel suggests that the move is about using the power of a familiar brand to find fresh fans, and argues that the move online doesn't necessarily spell the end for these series' much loved offline iterations.
"We're really targeting new audiences," he says. "I happen to know that, in Germany, the Settlers has 80% brand recognition – but, another browser game may have none and still do well. A brand brings us an audience and the history – but you need a good game. If you deliver the quality that the gamer expects, they'll like it. That's our strategy."
Grindel singles out South America, and Brazil in particular as untapped regions with great potential. "We have a business model that works in those markets. Russia; you can go there, but we have a huge piracy rate. Now, with this business model, we're talking a new market. Then think about Asia. There's lots of room to explore – we just have to be better."
The success of Settlers Online has had a clear influence on Ubi's current thinking, but that doesn't necessarily mean that we'll be seeing browser based versions of all their major series, though Grindel reckons that's down to the business model rather than the limitations of browser browser technology.
"There have to be some changes when we adapt games to the business model – but the browser itself is just a platform," he explains. "Soon there will be no boundaries on the platform – but there may be some boundaries on the business model. I'm sure that people in the future will still go to a virtual store and play €50 for Assassins Creed V because 'Wow, I just want to have it'. Maybe we'll see microtransactions in every game."
The big question is whether these much loved series will find a new home online, and migrate permanently away from the big, expensive single releases we've been used to until now. Ubisoft's experimentation with always-online DRM has stung Anno and Settlers fans over the past year or so and a move to browsers seems like a natural migration. Grindel doesn't think that's the case, as long as those offline titles stay successful.
"Settlers 7 and Settlers Online don't have a big crossover – people play both at the same time and pay money for them. Settlers 7 had a good retention – a low piracy rate – and people play it intensely for one, two hours."
"And Anno 2070 was immensely successful," he says. "As long as that's the case, we'll keep doing them."
What do you think of Ubisoft's move towards free to play, browser based games?