It’s no secret that Ubisoft’s Skull and Bones has been in development hell. Announced way back in 2017, it’s suffered multiple delays, reboots and even the removal of Ubisoft Singapore managing director Hugues Ricour due to sexual harassment and bullying accusations. Though Ubisoft proclaimed in May that the team “has been advancing well over the past 12 months,” a new report by Kotaku paints a much more dire picture.
In development for almost eight years and already costing the publisher over $120 million (and counting), Skull and Bones first started out as a multiplayer expansion to Assassin’s Creed 4: Black Flag. It would become an MMO-style spin-off called Black Flag Infinite but according to various anonymous sources that spoke to Kotaku, the project underwent a number of different iterations during pre-production. It was initially set in the Caribbean, then the Indian Ocean and even a fantastical world called Hyperborea with weeks-long branching multiplayer campaigns.
After a lot of time spent on concepts that didn’t go past the prototyping stage, the studio settled on ship combat as its main focus. The changes would continue in earnest with PvE elements being implemented, aa shift towards a more survival-oriented title like Rust, and yet another reboot in 2020 (with the current build being even more different). The project’s circumstances were reportedly so dire that it had to receive an internal financial write-off.
One developer said that, “No one wants to admit they f***ed up. It’s too big to fail, just like the banks in the U.S.” A former developer said that, “If Skull and Bones were at a competitor it would have been killed 10 times already.” The reasons behind the troubled development include lack of a clear vision, toxic management (and “too many managers vying for power”), constant reboots and so on.
A developer currently on the project said, “The game is still evolving. Everyone knows what an Ubisoft game is supposed to be and the design simply isn’t there yet.” Ubisoft Singapore not being used to shipping triple A blockbusters, Ubisoft’s Editorial division, clashes between different team members based on work culture – to say that blame was assigned all-around would be an understatement. Numerous experienced developers have left over the years when they discovered that the project was going nowhere.
Ubisoft did provide a statement in response to questions from Kotaku: “The Skull and 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 being said, any unfounded speculation about the game or decisions being made only works to demoralize the team who are working very hard to develop an ambitious new franchise that lives up to the expectations of our players.
“Over the past year, we’ve made significant changes to our policies and processes to create a safe and more inclusive workplace and empower our teams to create games that reflect the diversity of the world we live in.”
As it stands, Skull and Bones is still slated for Xbox One, PS4 and PC with a projected release window of fiscal year 2023. Whether it reaches that point or suffers another drastic change to its technology, design, and development remains to be seen.