Image: 20th Century Fox
This sure would be a new "Leap of Faith" for the Assassin’s Creed series.
First, the news. Aymar Azaizia, Ubisoft’s "Head of Content" for the popular series, outed the existence of a made-for-TV project set in the Assassin’s universe.
The revelation came from a Reddit AMA session, in response to a question "about the ‘TV Show’ project for AC." Azaizia begged off of sharing any details, but did seem to indicate a TV… something is on its way.
"It’s like the movie guys, we will take our time, to get sure we deliver something we can be proud of, but if you wander [sic] if it’s on our plan… YES."
There are so many questions. When might this series surface? What form would it take? Would it be set in the Assassin’s Creed universe? Incorporate any of the characters introduced in that first movie?
A Ubisoft spokesperson had this to say: "We’re always looking for ways to expand and grow our most loved brands, but we don’t have anything specific to share at this time beyond what Aymar mentioned."
That’s not much. So why not take a moment to ponder the possibilities?
Let’s start with the movie. It didn’t fare well with critics and it was a bust at the U.S. box office. That doesn’t mean it was a failure, however.
For starters, it wasn’t a total trainwreck. The U.S. box office of $54.6 million accounts for only around 20 percent of the movie’s global ticket sales: $240.3 million. It probably came close to breaking even — or even turned a profit — after you add marketing costs to the reported $125 million budget.
The movie was also a creative success on a number of levels. The costuming and production design nailed the look and feel of the historical settings in Assassin’s Creed. The fight choreography — guided in large part by Ubi’s hiring of a parkour wiz with an appreciation for the series — looked right as well.
Its biggest problem? Too much going on. The lore of the Assassin’s Creed series is… complex, and while the movie did a fine job of distilling it for wider audiences, it was uneven and relatively devoid of personality. In many ways, the story felt too large — even with a 140-minute running time.
That’s why I’m cautiously optimistic about this notion of a TV series. Whether it goes to the networks, to cable, or to a streaming service, Ubisoft’s motion pictures group would have the freedom to spend time fleshing out characters and communicating the overarching story’s heftier concepts in ways that the movie couldn’t.
It helps, too, that Ubisoft has shown a commitment in the past to learning from past mistakes. The first Assassin’s Creed game, for example, was a mediocre product with a strong foundation; the series then found its footing in Assassin’s Creed II, which bolstered that foundation with compelling characters and new twists on the gameplay.
The same thing happened with Watch Dogs. Ubi’s hacker adventure debuted in 2014 with a nifty concept for both the near-future universe and the game mechanics, but it was ultimately undone by a nothing story and a dull protagonist. Watch Dogs 2 arrived in late 2016 with a lovable cast of miscreants and cleverly conceived story that riffed on real world issues.
Yes, any business with sense should strive to improve from one product to the next. The key thing to remember here: Ubisoft has proven itself to be adept at doing just that. CEO Yves Guillemot described some of that strategy in a late 2016 interview.
"We feel that we need to climb the stairs. In all industries you need to learn, and it’s only through doing that you learn the best," he said.
"That is exactly the goal: to make sure that — on everything — we improve. We maybe won’t surprise as much next time, because people will know already the Assassin’s Creed universe. We feel there’s a logic in learning that allows us to improve the experience each time."
Would a TV series improve the fortunes of an Assassin’s Creed story that you watch rather than play? It’s hard to say. But given Ubisoft’s demonstrated ability to recognize mistakes and how to fix them, I’m cautiously optimistic when I see the series’ Head of Content out plans for a leap to TV.