Will Microtransactions Ruin ‘Assassin’s Creed Unity’?

Ubisoft recently announced that Assassin's Creed Unity , the first fully next-gen chapter of the Assassin's Creed series, will include in-game microtransactions. Early reports indicate that real-money transactions will allow players to obtain higher-level items earlier in the game.

"King Washington" in DLC. Source: Ubisoft.

"King Washington" in Assassin's Creed III's DLC. Source: Ubisoft.

Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag continued the tradition of Season Passes, which included access to seven single player and multiplayer DLC packs. An eighth add-on, which was exclusive to the PS3, PS4, and digital deluxe and gold versions on the PC, allowed the player to play new missions starring Aveline, the main character from Assassin's Creed III: Liberation .

While the change over six games was gradual, the "full" Assassin's Creed experience in one game now costs nearly twice the price of the original game.

The business of balancing blockbuster budgets

Those changes were necessary because the Assassin's Creed games were getting increasingly expensive with every new chapter. The first game reportedly cost $24 million to produce, but Black Flag had a rumored budget of $100 million. Unfortunately, Ubisoft sold 2 million fewer copies of Black Flag than the original Assassin's Creed -- a bad deal considering that it cost more than four times as much to develop.

Whereas the first game was developed by a single studio, Black Flag required the combined efforts of around 900 people at nine studios. Assassin's Creed Unity will also be developed by nine studios, while its last-gen counterpart, Assassin's Creed Rogue , will only be developed by one -- Ubisoft Sofia.

The problem with Assassin's Creed is that while production costs are soaring, sales aren't. Sales of all six main Assassin's Creed games have remained between 6.5 million to 12.5 million. That's a lot weaker than Activision Blizzard 's Call of Duty: Ghosts , which sold 22 million copies, and Take-Two 's GTA V , which sold 36 million copies.

This means that to make the same amount of money that it did with the first Assassin's Creed , Ubisoft has to repeatedly pile on more DLCs and paid extras to balance out the costs. Ubisoft can't simply stop making Assassin's Creed games, either -- Black Flag accounted for nearly half of the company's top line last year.

Why microtransactions could be a problem

The problem with microtransactions is that they are generally associated with free-to-play games like Candy Crush Saga or subscription-based MMOs, not full-priced triple A games like Assassin's Creed Unity .

The system of DLCs worked for the series in the past because it didn't affect the main single player experience. In Assassin's Creed III , the King Washington chapters were distinctly separate from the main campaign, as were Adewale's side missions in Black Flag'sFreedom Cry . Advanced gear was earned by collecting various items or completing missions in single player mode, and leveling up in multiplayer mode.

Letting players buy better armor and weapons in the single player mode breaks the tradition that started back in Assassin's Creed II , which allowed the player to unlock top-tier items by gathering various keys or tokens across the game world.

Players had to complete puzzles like these to get the final armor in . Source: Ubisoft.

Players had to complete puzzles like these to get the final armor in Black Flag . Source: Ubisoft.

The same problems apply to multiplayer mode as well. The multiplayer mode in Assassin's Creed is characterized by leveling up to get more powerful weapons like guns. In Black Flag , Ubisoft prevents higher level players from completely dominating matches by giving lower level players an option to temporarily "clone" their advanced loadouts to briefly gain access to better weapons.

If Ubisoft starts selling better items for real money in both modes, it could turn a challenging, balanced experience of Assassin's Creed into a "pay to win" experience. Endgame gear could become frustratingly hard to obtain, or overpowered weapons in multiplayer mode -- like the DLC-only Ripper and Maverick guns from Call of Duty: Ghosts -- could completely break the game.

The Foolish takeaway

In conclusion, it's still too early to say how far Ubisoft will go with its microtransactions strategy in Assassin's Creed Unity . But considering Ubisoft's issues with rising production costs and stagnant series sales, it's clear that the company needs to add more optional purchases to keep the series profitable.

Despite the massive success of the Assassin's Creed series, Ubisoft finished 2013 with a net loss of €49.3 million ($66 million) -- down from a profit of €69.2 million ($93 million) in 2012. Therefore, it will be interesting to see how many microtransactions Ubisoft will squeeze into Unity to boost its bottom line, and whether or not they will tarnish the reputation of the franchise.

Leaked: Apple's next smart device (warning, it may shock you)

Apple recently recruited a secret-development "dream team" to guarantee its newest smart device was kept hidden from the public for as long as possible. But the secret is out, and some early viewers are claiming its everyday impact could trump the iPod, iPhone, and the iPad. In fact, ABI Research predicts 485 million of this type of device will be sold per year. But one small company makes Apple's gadget possible. And its stock price has nearly unlimited room to run for early in-the-know investors. To be one of them, and see Apple's newest smart gizmo, just click here !

The article Will Microtransactions Ruin 'Assassin's Creed Unity'? originally appeared on

Leo Sun has no position in any stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool recommends Activision Blizzard and Take-Two Interactive. The Motley Fool owns shares of Activision Blizzard. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days . We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy .

Copyright © 1995 - 2014 The Motley Fool, LLC. All rights reserved. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy .

The views and opinions expressed herein are the views and opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Nasdaq, Inc.

The views and opinions expressed herein are the views and opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Nasdaq, Inc.

In This Story


Other Topics


Latest Markets Videos

    The Motley Fool

    Founded in 1993 in Alexandria, VA., by brothers David and Tom Gardner, The Motley Fool is a multimedia financial-services company dedicated to building the world's greatest investment community. Reaching millions of people each month through its website, books, newspaper column, radio show, television appearances, and subscription newsletter services, The Motley Fool champions shareholder values and advocates tirelessly for the individual investor. The company's name was taken from Shakespeare, whose wise fools both instructed and amused, and could speak the truth to the king -- without getting their heads lopped off.

    Learn More