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Ghost Recon Breakpoint’s spectacular bomb blows up Ubisoft’s plans for 2019

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How did a meat-and-potatoes shooter fall so short of expectations?

A soldier carries a wounded comrade in a ghillie suit back to a helicopter in Ghost Recon: Breakpoint Ubisoft Paris/Ubisoft

Let’s hazard a guess that being called out, in front of investors, by the company president, as both a critical and commercial disappointment, is about the worst place a AAA video game’s makers could find themselves. That’s where Ghost Recon Breakpoint’s developers are today.

In advice to investors before a noon conference call, Ubisoft told them to expect “a sharp downward revision in the revenues expected from Ghost Recon Breakpoint.” This is a $60 video game which has a microtransaction structure — heavy on the cosmetics and flashy gear — that struck me as very close to NBA 2K20’s, one of the biggest rainmakers in video gaming.

When you pull out the numbers Ubisoft provides and revises, it’s clear that the publisher, in a year without an Assassin’s Creed, had banked on its Tom Clancy games opening a cash spigot to get through 2019. Yeah, delaying Watch Dogs: Legion into the next year affected the new numbers Ubisoft gave out on Thursday. But one can easily imagine that leadership looked at the bath they were going to take for the rest of this fiscal year anyway and decided to push Legion and two other AAA games (whose launch dates had not been announced) into sunnier climes.

But that’s just insidery speculation. The real guts of it is in Ubisoft president Yves Guillemot acknowledging that Ghost Recon Breakpoint “has been strongly rejected by a significant portion of the community.” While no fan wants a terrible game in their favorite series, that’s a remarkably empowering statement for Ghost Recon’s, because it means those players aren’t just making empty threats or nitpicky complaints in subreddits and official forums. They’re walking away in numbers that got the chief executive’s attention.

What’s gone wrong with Ghost Recon Breakpoint? I confess a lot of anxiety over this, because I gave the game a lot of benefit of the doubt in my review, and I do find its combat and stealth obligations enjoyable, if laborious. But, personally, I’m in a stage of enjoying long-term, grindy experiences in my action and sports library. Guillemot’s followup remarks speak more clearly to Breakpoint’s anemic reception than my review, or any other, could.

Ghost Recon Breakpoint did not come in with enough differentiation factors, which prevented the game’s intrinsic qualities from standing out,” Guillemot said. In other words, it’s a classic sameness problem that licensed games and annual series face. In this case, it’s worsened by the fact there’s another Tom Clancy’s third-person open-world shooter with all kinds of microtransactions that has already been on the market for six months. The Division 2 is also the newest sub-franchise under that techno-military brand, and it appears to have edged out interest in Breakpoint now that both do largely the same thing.

Ghost Recon Breakpoint launched without AI squadmates — an enormous differentiation for what supposedly should be a more tactical experience than The Division 2’s heroics. The biggest differences between Breakpoint and The Division 2 that I can describe is that you don’t press a button to go into cover, and there are no loot box cosmetics. Co-operative multiplayer in Breakpoint is also a lot harder to organize than in The Division 2.

Maybe Ubisoft Paris gets its act together with Breakpoint and gives us one of those “OK-now-the-game-is-actually-good” redemption arcs that have become so cliché to the live service genre. Fast-tracking AI squadmates would seem to be a top priority. But that’s only going to shore up Ghost Recon Breakpoint’s existing player engagement and retention. For creating new buyers, or finding ones so excited they splurge on cosmetics or player-progression “time-savers,” the damage seems to have been done.