A year ago it looked like Ubisoft's ardor for NFTs was cooling, but now it seems that the heat is back on. The Assassin's Creed publisher has entered into a new partnership with blockchain gaming platform Immutable "to create a new gaming experience that will further unlock the potential of Web3."
Ubisoft's history with NFTs has not been an especially good one. Bullish rhetoric and half-assed efforts like numbered helmets in Ghost Recon: Breakpoint didn't impress anyone, Ubisoft employees included, and in September 2022 the company seemed to change tack, saying (not entirely convincingly) that it was really all just for research, and that "when we have something that gives you a real benefit, we'll bring it to you."
It didn't take Ubisoft long to find the "benefits" it was looking for. In May of this year, Ubi teamed up with a company called Integrated Reality Labs to create a series of Assassin's Creed-themed "Smart Collectibles," which are essentially little figurines encased in plastic with companion NFTs. And now it's taking aim again at full-on games in this deal with Immutable.
"As the platform of choice for many leaders within the Web3 community, Immutable offers both cutting-edge technology and a unique expertise in seamlessly integrating decentralized technologies into games," Ubisoft’s Strategic Innovation Lab vice president and Blockchain Initiative head Nicolas Pouard said. "We’re excited to partner with them and look forward to bringing that level of fluidness within a full-fledged game, so players only have to focus on the fun of the experience."
Immutable's current game lineup includes Metalcore, an open-world mech shooter; Shardbound, a multiplayer "collectible tactics game"; Infinite Victory, an arcade-style basketball game; and Guild of Guardians, the nature of which isn't really clear. All of them have a focus on NFT ownership: Metalcore, for instance, is "built around NFTs and [is] on the blockchain so that players can evolve with the technology and become not just players but owners and investors in the game and its in-game assets."
There's no indication as to what sort of game Ubisoft has in mind with the Immutable partnership, but that idea of 'owning' elements of the game is clearly central to the concept.
"We couldn’t be more excited to explore with Ubisoft the benefits of Web3 and digital ownership for players," Immutable co-founder and CEO James Ferguson said. "We plan to bring the full weight of our ecosystem to bear to ensure the partnership’s success. We are confident that we will bring to life a fresh new experience that players will love."
Maybe the most interesting thing about the Immutable deal at this point is what it might mean for Quartz, Ubisoft's own NFT initiative. Quartz didn't go over particularly well when it was announced, and Pouard didn't smooth those waters when he said in January 2022 that the problem isn't NFTs, but that gamers don't understand them. Things have been quiet on the Quartz front since Ubisoft pulled the plug on the Ghost Recon: Breakpoint NFTs in April 2022, and given the previous deal with Integrated Reality Labs, it looks like Ubisoft may be leaning toward external partnerships with established NFT platforms rather than building its own.
In a statement provided to PC Gamer, Ubisoft said the Quartz program remains active as "underlying infrastructure."
"Ubisoft Quartz is a platform launched by our Strategic Innovation Lab for players to acquire Digits, free digital collectibles that are playable in Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon Breakpoint," a Ubisoft representative said. "The last Digit for Ghost Recon Breakpoint was released on March 17, 2022. We learned a lot from this experiment, from both a technical perspective as well as from community feedback.
"Ubisoft Quartz remains an underlying infrastructure for us and we're continuing to work with partners in the industry to offer the best possible experiences to players interested in these features."
Most major game companies have eased off their initial enthusiasm for NFTs, leaving Ubisoft the only major players that's still really leaning into them. I'm not sure why, but it makes me think that maybe the internet's bullying wasn't quite as effective as we thought. It's possible that a good game (or at least an interesting one) could emerge from this partnership—but maybe what's really needed are a few more online swirlies and wedgies to really get the message across.