The "play as anyone" conceit of the next entry in Ubisoft's open-world franchise seems tailor-made for content creators. Let's talk about how it's leveraging the world of streaming and gaming communities to create something special.
E3 2019 is finally wrapping up, and the annual look at gaming’s collective future featured a veritable smorgasbord of new and upcoming games, hardware, and services. There was a lot to digest, from the release date and details for Google Stadia to the initial unveiling of the next console from Xbox, currently called Project Skarlett. We’ll be working over the coming weeks to break down just what these big reveals mean for all of gaming moving forward, but today, we’d like to narrow our focus on one of the individual titles revealed during this year’s Ubisoft press conference: Watch Dogs Legion.
Earlier this week, we talked about the future of the Doom and Wolfenstein franchises, explaining how the ways id Software is tweaking their successful formulas shows a desire to expand the ability for each series to not just sell well, but carve out stable online communities that have longer shelf lives, applying lessons learned from many of the biggest games on Twitch, titles like Fortnite and League of Legends. You can read the entire piece by clicking here, but to summarize, both Doom Eternal and Wolfenstein Youngblood are embracing different types of multiplayer to help them last longer in the world of streaming than their predecessors. The games won’t sacrifice their already strong identities to do so, still embracing the strong story and gameplay elements that have made each series a hit, but each team is definitely endeavoring to find the kind of multiplayer that works for them and their games, and how they can offer something unique and long lasting.
Watch Dogs Legion is not doing the same thing. Multiplayer has never been the core of the franchise, but has always been present, in some way. In the first game of the series, other players could “hack” your character’s systems, engaging in anonymous games of hide-and-seek, while also offering an online cooperative free-roam mode, where friends could engage in hacking contracts or races. In the second game of the series, these options were expanded to a more full-featured cooperative and competitive mode, introducing cooperative missions, an emote system, and a collection of multiplayer-only competitive activities. Legion will, again, feature the ability to team up with others, featuring up to four-player co-op and sharing of progress between single and multiplayer modes. But, this isn’t the change I want to talk about today. The latest entry in the series does boast a set of new features that seem tailor made for community building through Twitch, but it has nothing to do with multiplayer. Rather, it’s the game’s most advertised feature, that you can play as literally any inhabitant of the world’s incredibly drawn future-London, that makes it perfect for where the gaming space is right now.
Ubisoft is completely serious: there are no NPCs in Legion. Every character, every random person you pass in the street, every coffee shop barista, construction worker, and grandma, can be recruited into Dedsec and become playable, with full voice-work and a unique backstory. From a purely technical standpoint, this is super-impressive. It’s difficult to overstate the incredible amount of work that must go into making this possible. But, for streamers, it also reveals a game filled with seemingly limitless possibilities to make play sessions unique, to make they and their audience’s particular journey through the title truly their story, different from that of every other creator. Every title wants to be able to provide that kind of flexibility to its players, but few are able to offer literally thousands of different options in regards to your chosen protagonist. In many ways, this puts Watch Dogs almost in the same space as role playing games like Skyrim, where you create your own unique character, letting you tackle things in entirely different ways based on your progress, your traits, and how you’ve developed. It’s not quite the same, but the experience will be somewhat similar: every streamer will be playing, likely, as a different character, with different skills, tackling missions, and the open world, in different ways.
There’s a ton of additional potential in this concept, as well. With the GTA: Roleplay mod becoming so successful over the last few months, it wouldn’t surprise me to see streamers or communities bring that sensibility to Watch Dogs. Cooperative play is limited to only four players at a time, but that incredible excess of characters with wildly different backgrounds should provide a lot of opportunity to create similar content, finding unique citizens with which to create and take on new, fun personas, and sharing them with audiences and other players, both friends and strangers. There’s also a lot of fun ways this system can be used to engage directly with content creators. It’s not hard to imagine the team at Ubisoft Toronto talking directly to major streamers and content creators and then, say, putting them into the game as playable characters, complete with backstory and in-jokes. This would be a relatively simple way to get streamers involved, and their audiences excited to get their hands on the game as well. Or, perhaps they hide special characters within the game, parodies of real public figures or references to characters from other popular media. Perhaps they’ll sneak Ezio into future-London! Who knows, really. The point is that the possibilities are diverse.
Content creation is an art form, and the games streamers play are the media in which they work. New, innovative titles are so exciting in this space because they open up entirely new possibilities, new canvases on which to paint. Watch Dogs Legion looks like it will provide that opportunity to every streamer who plays it, a chance to play through the game in entirely your own way, and tell your own unique story in the process. We’re excited to see what creators make once they get their hands on it.
Be sure to check out what's rising and falling in the world of streaming in our weekly #Top5OnTwitch, and to read our breakdown of how Phoenix Point is evolving the XCom-like genre and creating something perfect for streams. You can also follow us on Twitter and LinkedIn for all the latest blogs, announcements, and game marketing news from the team at GAMESIGHT!