If marketing history has taught us anything, it’s that the gaming community is a mighty and fickle beast that shouldn’t be rubbed up the wrong way.
But if you think the PR nightmare that EA (repeatedly) caused with the disastrous Sim City launch was bad, you’ve probably not seen the #PS4NoParity hashtag that has just begun trending in response to Ubisoft’s Assasin’s Creed: Unity console releases.
What follows is a classic lesson in how not to do game development.
Assassin’s Creed: Parity?
For the uninitiated, the idea of console parity is to downplay the performance specs of a game on one platform so that it matches the upper capabilities of the game on another. In other words, we’re talking about making a game look exactly the same on both the Xbox One and the Playstation 4.
Ubisoft have been slammed for doing this with Assassin’s Creed: Unity, a title which previously got them into hot water when it was revealed at E3 that there’d be no playable female characters. The spectacular backlash currently in full swing was sparked by senior producer Vincent Pontbriand stating:
“We decided to lock them at the same specs to avoid all the debates and stuff.”
In translation, the PS4 port of Assassin’s Creed: Unity would be locked at 900p and 30fps, despite suggestions that it could run a lot faster and at a higher resolution than Unity’s Xbox One counterpart.
The #PS4NoParity Rage Begins
Naturally, this revelation exploded in Ubisoft’s face like a pipe bomb almost instantly across Reddit and Twitter. Assassin’s Creed is a much-anticipated, flagship title
It is fairly mystifying for a development team to put in additional time and effort to place limitations on their own game for one platform. One of the more outrageous claims put forward by some tweeting to the #PS4NoParity is that a logical conclusion—and one which would have massive, terrible implications if true—is that money may have changed hands between Microsoft and Ubisoft in order to prevent comparison showing the PS4 as coming across as graphically superior.
There’s no evidence to show that this is the case, though Ubisoft have practiced parity once before with an apparent graphics downgrade for its PC port of Watch Dogs (which was eventually patched up with player-made mods).
It’s also notable that Watch Dogs ran at 900p on the Playstation 4 but only at 792p on the Xbox One, so it isn’t outside of the realms of possibility that Unity could have the graphical edge on PS4 if Ubisoft wanted it to.
Ubisoft Official Statement
It seems we’ll never know what could have been. Despite the #PS4NoParity furor, Unity looks set to remain locked at 900p for both consoles. However, according to an official statement from Ubisoft, the decision is not intentional:
“We understand how Senior Producer Vincent Pontbriand’s quotes have been misinterpreted. To set the record straight, we did not lower the specs for Assassin’s Creed Unity to account for any one system over the other.
Assassin’s Creed Unity has been engineered from the ground up for next-generation consoles. Over the past 4 years, we have created Assassin’s Creed Unity to attain the tremendous level of quality we have now achieved on Xbox One, PlayStation 4 and PC. It’s a process of building up toward our goals, not scaling down, and we’re proud to say that we have reached those goals on all SKUs.
At no point did we decide to reduce the ambitions of any SKU. All benefited from the full dedication of all of our available optimization resources to help them reach the level of quality we have today with the core Assassin’s Creed Unity experience.”
Make of that what you will.
Regardless of what happens from here, the bottom line is that developers have an obligation to make their game look and perform as well as possible. What’s bad for the consumer is usually bad for the developer, as the very heart of #PS4NoParity and similar backlashes goes to prove time and time again.