Ubisoft Singapore first rose to prominence with their water tech prowess in the Assassin’s Creed franchise, so it wasn’t surprising news that the studio had been tapped to work on an original title involving pirate ships, sea battles, and of course, water and waves for miles.
But what started out as a pipe dream would soon become the nightmare of developers, as Skull & Bones continues to stumble into its eighth year of development with little to show. Originally slated for launch in late 2018, the game has since undergone four delays in three years – sometime in 2019, after March 2020, before March 2020, and now March 2023 – which is already a huge, huge red flag. The worst part of this development hell? The project has to be completed, courtesy of an agreement with the Singapore government.
According to a report by Kotaku, Skull & Bones cannot be scrapped as part of a deal with the authorities. The company, in exchange for generous subsidies, is required to hit a certain hiring quota and launch original IPs in the next few years, making it imperative that the title gets shipped by hook or by crook – final look notwithstanding. The other reason can be attributed to the game’s shift to a live service approach that proves to be an important and lucrative part of Ubisoft’s portfolio in recent times.
Nothing seems to be headed in the right direction, however. “It’s a classic case of mismanagement for eight years,” said one former developer in the same Kotaku article. “Instead of adding layers of value we kept running around in a loop.” The sentiment is echoed by another ex-developer, who shared, “If Skull & Bones were at a competitor it would have been killed 10 times already.” The most succinct summary, though, comes in the form of this comment by a former developer, “Nobody knew what the f– they were doing.”
The report has shed light on a lot of behind-the-scenes troubles, including the lack of a clear direction from upper management, cultural clashes on the team, the studio’s lack of experience in shipping original heavy hitters, and constant big leadership shakeups. These are on top of existing workplace problems (as listed on Glassdoor) like office politics, a toxic work culture, and wage discrimination, alongside the persistent refusal to listen to feedback from senior managers, who will surround themselves with “yes men”.
In light of the revelations, it’s only understandable that the team is running on fumes and extremely low morale. “It’s one of the only projects I’ve seen where as we were going, the team became more and more junior because all the talent and all the experience would leave constantly,” one former developer said to Kotaku. “People would learn about the project, see how it works and everything around it, and then leave. It was constant.”
The current development of Skull & Bones has finally entered Alpha, but it seems like the finish line is still nowhere in sight. While Ubisoft CFO Frederick Duguet assured during the company’s May investor’s call that production “has been advancing well over the past 12 years, and the promise is better than ever”, it’s difficult to get rid of the lingering apprehension for what appears to be a sinking ship.
Nonetheless, the game is due to come out before March 2023, but hopefully it can release sooner than later, so the developers can finally take a break from this hot mess of a project. Ubisoft Singapore certainly has plenty to learn, and let’s keep our fingers crossed for its future projects moving forward. For those interested in the behind-the-scenes happenings of the Skull & Bones project, Kotaku’s in-depth report is where all the details can be found.