Long voyage for pirate game that was supposed to make a splash, Tech News News & Top Stories

It was meant to be the blockbuster game that would put Singapore on the world map for video game development, and it was hailed by industry observers here when announced in 2017.

But a recent report suggests trouble in the development of Skull & Bones – a pirate game by the Singapore office of French game giant Ubisoft of Assassin’s Creed fame.

The game has been in development since 2013 – which is unusually long – and is said to have cost more than US$120 million (S$163 million) to date, which is unusually expensive.

Big-budget AAA games can take two to five years to make, with some development budgets hitting US$50 million or more.

Ubisoft said the game is now slated for release between April 1 next year and March 31, 2023, after the initially announced 2018 launch was delayed multiple times.

The game has also passed an internal testing milestone known as « alpha », which usually precedes a public testing phase called « beta ».

Ubisoft Singapore managing director Darryl Long said at a media event on Aug 6 that « it was a huge accomplishment to pass alpha ».

An article by video game news site Kotaku last month suggested a requirement by the Singapore Government could have, in part, prevented the game from being cancelled.

Other firms reportedly might have cancelled the title if they were developing it.

In exchange for « generous subsidies », Kotaku said Ubisoft Singapore had to release new original game intellectual properties (IPs) in the next few years and hire workers for its studio here.

When asked about this, Digital Industry Singapore told The Straits Times that a grant was given to Ubisoft Singapore by the Economic Development Board (EDB) in 2016 to develop an AAA game title from Singapore and to support the hiring of locals. It did not specify whether the game was Skull & Bones.

Digital Industry Singapore is the joint office of EDB, Enterprise Singapore and the Infocomm Media Development Authority that engages with the technology sector.

« The objective was to enable our local talent to work alongside and learn from Ubisoft’s experienced game developers from their studios around the world, so that our local developers can build their skill sets and continue to take on exciting projects in the future, » said Digital Industry Singapore.

It added that there have been no significant delays to the original timeline projected by Ubisoft Singapore, other than those caused by the Covid-19 pandemic.

Skull & Bones was said to have undergone multiple revisions and shifts in direction. For example, questions like whether gamers played as a pirate or a ship, which could affect game mechanics, were revisited time and again.

Before becoming its own game, the title was planned as a multiplayer expansion for 2013’s Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag. Ubisoft Singapore worked on the naval combat section for that game.

When contacted, the Singapore studio said Skull & Bones will use « cutting-edge technology and is built using the latest edition of Ubisoft’s proprietary Anvil engine ».

« The team is proud of what they have accomplished so far and excited to share more about this new, original IP with players when the time is right, » it added.

On Skull & Bones, Ubisoft’s Mr Long said: « It’s faced many of the challenges that any new IP will face and we see many examples of that in video games and even movies. »