At a GDC Europe panel today, Far Cry 3 director Patrick Plourde announced Child of Light, a side-scrolling JRPG-style game being made at Ubisoft. Using the Ubi Art Framework developed for Rayman Origins, Plourde and his team are looking to bring intricate, fairy tale illustrations to life. Plourde said the game is planned as a "playable painting," inspire by the art of Hayao Miyazaki, Yoshitaka Amano, Arthur Rackham, and Edmund Dulac. The title will be digital download-only, giving Plourde a chance to experiment without having to worry about shipping a AAA title. In fact, he calls Child of Light "the antithesis" of AAA, according to a report by Polygon.
"With digital, there's no shelf space to fight over, and that is the crux of the battle in publishing," Plourde said. "At that level it doesn't even matter if the game is good or not. I just didn't want that thing of having to deal with Best Buy anymore. They're fine people, I think they're great, but dealing straight with the consumer, dealing directly with them, then it's entirely up to them to decide."
Child of Light will have side-scrolling gameplay punctuated with turn-based battles and Plourde said that it won't be free-to-play or mobile. He also added that he has a second experimental project in development at Ubisoft.
I think it's great for Ubisoft to let its developers play around a bit. With the rise in digital distribution and the acceptance of indie gaming experiences, there's no reason not to give your developers a few months away from big franchises to stretch their muscles. A new Far Cry is probably already in development, but Plourde's full attention doesn't necessarily need to be on that project.
Exploration and risk go hand-in-hand and digital distribution means that risk is less of a concern compared to sprawling AAA franchises. While you're keeping the Assassin's Creed, Splinter Cell, and Far Cry trains running, take an excursion or two. When Rayman creator Michel Ancel was freed from the franchise for a bit, he made Beyond Good & Evil. When the Prince of Persia team at Ubisoft got to move outside of the box a bit, we got Assassin's Creed.
Even if Child of Light and Plourde's other project don't work out for Ubisoft, he's been given a bit of a development palate cleanser before heading back into AAA territory. Everyone needs a break. Google may have killed off 20 Percent Time, which let company employees spend a part of their time pursuing their own projects for company benefit, but the idea is still a sound one. Let your developers explore, and you won't risk them quitting to form their own indie studio.