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This article was updated at 18:49 BST and 19:19 BST with additional clarification.
Announced at E3 2017, Skull & Bones is the first title led by Ubisoft’s Singapore studio. Heavily inspired by its work creating the naval battles for Assassin’s Creed: Black Flag, Skull & Bones was set to expand the concept into a full game with customisable ships, PvP multiplayer battles and a large ocean to explore either alone or with friends.
The game was originally scheduled for a late 2018 release. However, it’s since been delayed in three consecutive years, most recently slipping to Ubisoft’s financial year beginning in April 2021, and it was notably absent from this weekend’s Ubisoft Forward event.
The pirate adventure hasn’t been seen since E3 2018, when Ubisoft promised to launch a beta test which ultimately didn’t take place.
According to development sources speaking under the condition of anonymity, Skull & Bones had been struggling to carve itself a unique position among Ubisoft’s existing portfolio of open-world games, which also includes Assassin’s Creed, The Division and Watch Dogs, which led to a succession of delays as Singapore attempted to refine its concept.
Last year the decision was made to reboot the game entirely and move away from the premium boxed model of Ubisoft’s other open-world games, sources said.
VGC was told the new Skull & Bones has moved towards a ‘live’ game model. The game will now feature a persistent game world with quests, characters and storylines that will drastically evolve and change over time based on the collective actions of the community.
This is unlike GaaS titles like The Division 2, which receive regular updates, but have relatively static worlds, stories and content.
One person with knowledge of its development said that the social and “live storytelling” elements of Epic‘s Fortnite had been a strong inspiration for Skull & Bones’ new direction. They said the rebooted Skull & Bones would have a stronger focus on collaboration, as Ubisoft is keen to appeal to audiences beyond the competitive action fans who usually play its other series.
The reboot also brought big changes to the game’s leadership, including the departure of creative director Justin Farren, who later joined Wargaming.
As part of the reboot, Skull & Bones’ creative director was replaced by former editorial VP Elisabeth Pellen, VGC understands.
Pellen is a 20-year Ubisoft veteran who most notably wrote and directed 2003 shooter XIII and led level design for Splinter Cell’s first sequel, Pandora Tomorrow.
The respected creative spent the past decade working inside Ubisoft’s influential Editorial Team, where she was involved in dozens of titles across the Assassin’s Creed, Trials and Far Cry franchises.
Skull & Bones hasn’t updated its Twitter account for more than a year, when it promised fans it was “batten[ing] down the hatches” to focus on making the game “as awesome as it can be.” Following that post, the game was delayed again in a financial call.
Commenting on the game’s most recent delay in October 2019, Ubisoft CEO Yves Guillemot said it was “a very big product for us” with “huge potential” and that the company wanted to make sure it released “at a level that will surprise and please all gamers for the long term”.
Ubisoft declined to comment on this story.
On Sunday the publisher’s Forward event did not address the company’s ongoing reorganisation due to a wave sexual misconduct allegations.
The E3-style event aired 24 hours after the Assassin’s Creed publisher confirmed that two of its most influential executives had resigned as part of its internal restructuring.