After a reported eight years in development, Ubisoft’s Skull & Bones has reached Alpha (a term generally used to denote when the game is in a playable state, even if assets aren’t complete). A new report seems to lay bare how many issues it’s faced in getting to that point – from beginning life as an Assassin’s Creed: Black Flag expansion, to only remaining in existence because of a deal with the government of Singapore.
In response to a lengthy report from Kotaku, an Ubisoft spokesperson told the publication that, « The Skull & Bones team are proud of the work they’ve accomplished on the project since their last update with production just passing Alpha, and are excited to share more details when the time is right. »
That project appears to have been a deeply tumultuous one, however. Kotaku’s anonymous developer sources say that the game began life as a planned multiplayer expansion to Assassin’s Creed 4: Black Flag, before morphing into a mooted MMO spin-off called Black Flag Infinite. After that, the project was allegedly turned into a new IP, Skull & Bones – but even Skull & Bones itself appears to have taken multiple different forms since then.
Kotaku’s sources say that it’s been prototyped in multiple settings (the Caribbean, the Indian Ocean, and a fantasy world called Hyperborea), and has seen multiple game structures, including the ship-based multiplayer shooter shown at E3 2017, the PvE experience shown at E3 2018, as well as been tested with more survival-like experiences, roguelike elements, and live service ideas. One idea apparently included a floating base described as a « cathedral on water », and the game has shifted between playing as a pirate and simply controlling a boat. A final shape of the game isn’t yet clear, but moving into Alpha suggests it does now have a final expected form.
The multiple changes have reportedly seen hundreds of employees working to certain goals, and an estimated production cost exceeding $120 million. One Kotaku source explains that any other publisher would have cancelled the game multiple times by this point – but others claim that a deal between Ubisoft and the Singapore government has forced the project to stay alive, with lead studio Ubisoft Singapore required to launch original games in the coming years in return for subsidy payments.
The difficult development process has reportedly led to an « exodus » of staff, and an allegedly toxic working environment at Ubisoft Singapore. Kotaku’s report is very much worth reading, and contains many more details about the situation.
The last we heard officially of Skull & Bones was that it had been delayed once again in June, after it had announced a « new vision » in 2020. Despite the protracted development, in 2019 Ubisoft announced that the game would get a TV show adaptation.
Joe Skrebels is IGN’s Executive Editor of News. Follow him on Twitter. Have a tip for us? Want to discuss a possible story? Please send an email to email@example.com.