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Screenshot of Assassin's Creed Valhalla

Ubisoft, the maker of "Assassin's Creed," "Rainbow Six Siege" and (once upon a time) "Splinter Cell," is putting more emphasis on mobile and free-to-play game development, provoking some understandable confusion.

Why it matters: Ubisoft's changing direction seems consistent with where much of the game industry is going, but such moves are controversial for many players.

Fans of big-budget games that sell for $60 are used to being catered to by big game publishers.

  • They are suspicious of mobile and free-to-play releases that often have inferior graphics and controls or, worse, monetization models designed to keep nudging players to pay more to progress in the game.

The big picture: Traditional game publishers see gold in free-to-play games on PC, console and mobile.

  • An internal Microsoft study of games industry profit for 2019 called free-to-play the "industry's primary business model" and noted that it "sees the healthiest profit margins (32%)."
  • Activision has successfully expanded its "Call of Duty" franchise to hit free-to-play and mobile games.
  • Last week, Ubisoft announced similar plans for its "Division” series with a free-to-play game called "Heartland" and a "Division" mobile spin-off.

Between the lines: Ubisoft's plans have already proven controversial and confusing.

  • Yesterday, an executive’s comments about the new direction seemed to signal a reduction in big budget, or so-called AAA, Ubisoft releases.
  • Not quite, a Ubisoft rep told Axios today: "We are excited to be investing more in free-to-play experiences, however we want to clarify that this does not mean reducing our AAA offering."

Looking ahead: Ubisoft may now say that it won't reduce the number of $60 AAA games it makes, but it has none slated for the October–March time period.

  • It does plan to expand into mobile in a big way in early 2022 with a major mobile game that is expected to involve "Assassin's Creed."

Sign up for the new Axios Gaming newsletter here.

Go deeper

Epic Games' not-so-new idea for "Fortnite Impostors"

"Fortnite" Impostors. Image: Epic Games

A new mode in “Fortnite” is once again testing the distinction between taking inspiration from another game versus ripping it off.

Why it matters: Epic has fashioned “Fortnite” as a playground for a wide range of licensed pop culture characters, but it’s also building a rep for simply pulling in other games’ modes of play without credit.

A video game you can't see

Image: Faling Squirrel

The most unusual video game released on Xbox this week is an attempt by veteran developer Dave Evans to make an interactive adventure that blind and sighted players can enjoy equally.

Why it matters: While there are hundreds of audio-only games on PC, one of them making it to consoles is nearly unheard of. (It's also on PC.)

Prosecutors charge parents of Michigan school shooting suspect

Photo: Scott Olson/Getty Images

The parents of a 15-year-old accused of killing four students and wounding seven other people at a Michigan high school have been charged with four counts of involuntary manslaughter, according to court documents.

The latest: Lawyers for James and Jennifer Crumbley told the Detroit News they are "returning to the area to be arraigned," after law enforcement officials announced a search for the Crumbleys had been initiated.

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