Assassin's Creed co-dev says annual release 'is a boon,' but wants more 'ownership'

By Andrew Yoon, Apr 08, 2013 2:30pm PDT

In order to bring a new Assassin's Creed game to market every year, Ubisoft has employed an incredibly elaborate co-development strategy that has a number of teams working on a single game. For example, although Ubisoft Montreal spearheaded development of Assassin's Creed 3, five other teams worked on different parts of the game. Ubisoft Kiev, Romania, Annecy, Singapore, and Quebec all contributed to AC3 in order to ship the incredibly ambitious game just one year after Revelations.

Marc-Alexis Cote is game director at Ubisoft Quebec, the team responsible for the Homestead of AC3, and the "Tyranny of King Washington" DLC expansion (pictured). At GDC, Cote talked up how the annualized Assassin's Creed franchise has helped the studio--but also warns that the studio cannot continue "forever."

Before working on the Assassin's Creed franchise, Ubisoft Quebec was stuck working on low-profile licensed games, like Open Season and Surf's Up for PSP, and the Wii port of Prince of Persia: The Forgotten Sands. "In 2008, in an effort to consolidate around our biggest licenses, we decided to shift our focus to contributing gameplay to the Assassin's Creed license," Cote explained.

Quebec first started working on Brotherhood in order to build the game's Leonardo missions. They did the same for Revelations, working on "exotic gameplay sequences." While some would lament the ability to work on original titles, becoming an Assassin's Creed co-dev was quite fruitful for the studio. "Working on a popular product is motivating for a team. Having millions of fans instead of a hundred thousand--it has incredible benefits for the motivation of the team," Cote pointed out.

Before working on Assassin's Creed, Quebec made low-profile original games

Co-development allowed Quebec to hone their craft. "Focus brings polish. We often complain as developers that we don't have enough time to polish the features we're working. But when you're a co-dev partner, you will focus on a limited number of features, and those features--you will be able to polish them... and the team will take a lot of pride in the final product because it is polished."

Working with Montreal on Assassin's Creed has also made the team stronger. "Talent rubs off on people," Cotes said, adding that "my Quebec City team has grown faster by working with the top talent from Montreal."

From a co-development perspective, Cotes believes that Assassin's Creed's annualized development is actually a good thing. "Shipping a game every year is a boon rather than a hindrance," he said. "In this industry, you are only as good as the last game that you shipped. You need to be able to make the hard choices that come with shipping a game--that's how we learn, and Assassin's Creed has given us this opportunity."

However, in spite of all the benefits co-development brought to the Quebec studio, Cotes doesn't believe that kind of relationship can be permanent. Eventually, the studio will want to move away from the shadow of the lead studio. "I don't think teams can be co-dev partners forever," he said. "While we do get more ownership with every project we undertake, I think that at one point you want to be able to do it by yourself and show that you can do the whole thing by yourself."

Unfortunately, that opportunity may not come any time soon. The studio is currently working on Assassin's Creed 4, coming later this year.

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