French video game company Ubisoft has been quietly building up its presence on Facebook over the past few months. This morning it’s announcing its biggest move yet, with the release of several branded social games that tie back to existing game franchises.
Ubisoft is readying Facebook launches for four particularly significant brands: Assassin’s Creed, Petz, the Settlers, and a game that will be announced later this month.
Each Facebook version will tie back to the original in some way. For example, in the Assassin’s Creed game, which will be called Project Legacy, Facebook users will be able to search out items that will complete item sets within the console or PC version of the game.
Large game publishers like EA, THQ and Ubisoft itself have long toyed with the idea of tying together different versions of games, creating what Ubisoft’s head of digital publishing, Chris Early, calls a “virtuous cycle” of gameplay.
However, efforts so far have been limited, even in the major EA franchises released by Playfish. Facebook games like Dante’s Inferno and Madden NFL Superstars arguably assist their creators as marketing vehicles or make money as stand-alone products, but they don’t confer benefits within versions on other platforms. Ubisoft, by contrast, is going for a fairly deep integration, with an eye to encouraging players to use multiple platforms.
The most interesting example of this tie-in may actually be Petz, which is one of Ubisoft’s most successful (if not terribly well-recognized) franchises with titles like Catz and Dolphinz. Ubisoft plans to launch Petz World, a free-to-play MMO, online this year with links back to a Nintendo DS title, with each version unlocking special breeds in the other.
Hamsterz Worldwide, the Facebook version, comes in as the third point of a triad, but with a significant spin: while the other Petz games are for kids, Early says that Hamsterz is made for adults.
The idea is that the parent on Hamsterz will have fun while also monitoring what their kids are doing, which is usually done through a parental monitoring account in games like Club Penguin. Meanwhile, both child and parent can unlock more items for each other.
Ubisoft is making a significant assumption here. Both its traditional games and Facebook games are likely to accumulate large numbers of users, but there may only be a small overlap between the users of different platforms.
Where other game companies have been hesitant to be seen as forcing players to cross-platform — especially negative views of social titles lingering for many gamers — Ubisoft is jumping in with multiple titles, seemingly trusting players to go along with the plan. (Besides the Facebook titles named above, it will also release an iDevice version of its Heroes of Might and Magic franchise.)
From here, we can’t say whether Ubisoft will be successful or not, but watching the attempt should be instructive.
That’s not where Ubisoft’s news ends. The company also formally announced Vineyard Country, which we first reviewed back in June, and Party Central, a music app that sounds a bit like Nightclub City. Settlers: My City has also been around since June (our review is here), but Ubisoft has just begun publicly talking about the game.
We’ll circle back with more in-depth previews of the other games soon.