screenshot courtesy Ubisoft
One of the things that caught me by surprise this week was the announcement that Ubisoft would be making a sequel to The Crew, the 2014 open-world racing game that took place in a Small World-verison of America that I absolutely could not stand.Even more surprising than the fact of The Crew 2, however, was the revelation from Ubi boss Yves Guillemot that The Crew has not seen a fall-off in profitability.
"We are delighted to see The Crew… deliver the same profit in its third year that it did in its second year. This highlights the sustainability of those games and of our model," he said, also adding that the game just broke the 12 million registered users mark.Now that might mean anything. It's possible that The Crew only profited enough to buy its team a nice pizza party at the end of both the last two years, but nevertheless: iI's not really fading away even three years after launch.The first question I have is: was I unfair to The Crew? Was it secretly a great game, a successor to the vacant Burnout: Paradise throne? Because the game I remember was… well, it was an Ubisoft open world game but with cars. Lots of dead, beautifully rendered space between moderately diverting driving tasks, wrapped in one of the dumbest stories I have ever encountered in a video game. I mean, The Crew is a racing game about being an undercover narcotics informant who climbs the ranks of organized crime via street racing. It's like if someone watched The Fast and the Furious (the original) and decided they wanted to do that, but also The Wire.Okay, that sounds kind of absurd and awesome, but it didn't really come across in execution. More importantly, The Crew was a game that loved to lock away its open world. You could drive across America in an hour or so, but you couldn't do anything with all that space until you'd progressed. That's probably what turned me off so quickly: the game kept you pinned down between Detroit and St. Louis for hours while you waited for the rest of world to open up—a state of affairs that accurately sums up my teenage years.So after playing around with The Crew for a brief stint, I put it back on the shelf and forgot all about it. Yet here we are three years later, and The Crew is still going strong and making money for Ubisoft, to the point where it's getting a sequel in the next year. Why did such a seemingly forgettable game prove to have such longevity?But maybe that is the genius and the horror of Ubisoft's method? That they have figured out that if you have to choose between making great games or pretty-good platforms, you pick the latter option every time. When the fate of franchises like Dishonored, Deus Ex, and even the once-mighty Mass Effect appears to be increasingly up in the air, the apparently longevity of a game like The Crew is striking.Because my suspicion is that there is not a secret community of Crew die-hards for whom Ubisoft's open-world racer is a deeply resonant, enriching experience (feel free to tell me if I'm wrong though). Rather I think that probably—to borrow from the late Denny Green—The Crew is what I thought it was: a pretty-good game with a lot of things to unlock as you dipped in and out of the game, while getting on with the rest of your life. It may not seem to be going anywhere, but maybe that's because it already arrived at the future where the rest of AAA publishing is increasingly headed.Am I wrong to assume that The Crew is merely a harbinger of a very pretty—but very dim—future? Let's take it to the forums!