The past week has been filled with rumours of the next Assassin's Creed, supposedly called Assassin's Creed: Origins and set in Ancient Egypt. These aren't new rumours. Last year, Kotaku US's Ubisoft sources said as much to them, though at that time the project was referred to as Empire. Also, in February another image started to do the rounds of Reddit, NeoGAF, and then gaming sites. When we looked into the image we couldn't verify it, but found an incredibly fishy trail, with different versions of the image being submitted to different communities on Reddit for months before it finally got anyone's attention. Our theory was that it may have been part of a grassroots marketing campaign, an attempt to create some viral buzz.
Yesterday another image surfaced on Reddit. This time it may be real. Eurogamer claims that's the case, citing Ubisoft sources. This article isn't about the veracity of the images, but taking a closer look at the recent rumours and their sources. The more you look, the more questions there are.
The image above is cropped, here's the full image that was posted to Reddit:
An off-screen photo of a game that looks like what it claims to be. The missions listed in the top left of the screen are 'Assassinate the Crocodile' and 'Follow Shadya to Khenut's Villa'. Khenut was one of Egypt's queens and married to King Unas. This would seem to set the game in Egypt's fifth dynasty, though Assassin's Creed does play fast-and-loose with historical figures.
The photograph appeared in a thread on r/AssassinsCreed and was posted by u/shoutouttoashraf (an account which has now been deleted). The user's name appears to be a reference to Ashraf Ismail, the game director of Assassin's Creed 4: Black Flag. This all tallies with other rumours that emerged over the weekend that the new game would be called Assassin's Creed: Origins.
Before the image appeared on Reddit it had been sent to us by someone claiming to have knowledge of the project. They didn't respond when I asked for proof of identity or an explanation of the image's source, and I couldn't otherwise verify it, so we didn't run it. I've also contacted Ubisoft for comment but it has not yet responded (in the past when I've contacted them about a new Assassin's Creed leak, you get the 'company won't comment on rumours or speculation' line).
This image is the most recent in a long line of images that have stoked the flames of rumours surrounding an Assassin's Creed set in Ancient Egypt. One of the first dates back to 2015 and I've seen it used to evidence later rumours. It's certainly a compelling image when taken at face value:
It was created by a concept artist called Evan Liu who works at Ubisoft's Chengdu studio in China. That certainly seems compelling evidence that the game exists. Except, the image was floating around long before he started working there. He began at Ubisoft Chengdu in April 2016 and the image was first posted on the R/Assassinscreed subreddit a full year before that in April 2015, it resurfaced again on R/imaginaryGames in February, 2016, too. Liu has since taken the images down from his Art Station page but they've been downloaded and shared elsewhere.
There are many possibilities for why Liu created these images. But let's go with Occam's razor: the most likely is that he's a fan of Assassin's Creed and wanted to work at Ubisoft, so he created these images for his portfolio to get his foot in the door.
Liu has not responded to requests for comment.
Now, that image above is Liu's work, and can still be found on his LinkedIn page. The images below are apparently his also.
This certainly all seems to add credence to the rumours, except Liu was apparently working on these images before working at Ubisoft.
The name Assassin's Creed: Origins (sometimes Origin) has only widely appeared in the last few days, after user dirtminer6 posted a thread to r/Assassinscreed claiming they had seen a post by another user, Sirusaveth in r/PS4, who had seen an order for Assassin's Creed: Origins cards. Before then, the rumoured Egyptian Assassin's Creed was largely referred to by the community as Empire:
Since the thread went live, Sirusaveth has deleted their account. It's all fun and games until people start paying attention, eh? As user Maor22 is quick to point out in the thread that follows, it sounds like Sirusaveth is describing Liu's concept art, art that was created two years ago and a full year before the artist joined Ubisoft.
Dirtminer6 claims Sirusaveth has been in contact subsequently, saying their account was deleted to safeguard their job, but adding that they had shown Dirtminer6 something in confidence that convinced them of the rumour. Take a shedload of salt with that one.
This isn't the first time that purported images of the next Assassin's Creed have surfaced. Back in February, this image started to do the rounds on Reddit and a couple of sites:
When I looked into the history of that image I wasn't able to verify it but I did find what looked like a concerted effort to start a grassroots buzz around it. The same image was posted multiple times over the course of a few months, each time in a higher resolution and less cropped form. Our theory was that this was an attempted marketing campaign, where someone was trying to create viral buzz but wasn't having success in getting the image picked up among the Reddit community.
Since then, Aymar Azaiza, head of content on the Assassin's Creed games, has held a Reddit AMA in which he denied the image was from an Assassin's Creed game:
Well, y'know, he would say that.
None of this proves or disproves that these images are of an Assassin's Creed game. What does seem to be the case, however, is that there's a concerted effort to build hype around the next Assassin's Creed before the official announcement and that these leaks may be more calculated than they appear.
The leaker who contacted us, for example, asked to be credited with a particular nom de plume, Lo Chang, which is odd behaviour. Almost like a marketing firm wants to tally up how many outlets fell for their bait after the event. The specific details we received are also curious in what they focus on:
- AC4 Black Flag leads are working on this, most of the team is from AC4 too
- very RPG-esque approach with equipment slots and more
- the game is indeed called Origins
- certain parts of the Anvil Engine got reworked
- seamless transitions between naval/city gameplay with no loading times
expect an announcement later this month, a full reveal at E3, promo material for the game is beign [sic] sent out as we speak
The motivations behind leaking this particular information? Black Flag is emphasised, because that's the last Assassin's Creed that the majority of people loved and thought was great — it's also an internal detail, in the sense that no-one without access to Ubisoft would know the makeup of an unannounced project's development team. The name is confirmed. An engine rework is teased. We're told it's "RPG-esque" with "seamless transitions" and "no loading times."
Are any alarm bells ringing yet? These details are teases. The makeup of the development team, the engine stuff, the hints about the game's formula — then the schedule for when you'll find out more. This leak doesn't spill the beans on Origins, it sets the stage. Just think about the level of access required to know the above details, and then choosing to share only these ones. Is the leaker's motivation to hurt this game, or to build hype for it?
When news of Assassin's Creed: Syndicate was leaked it came with a design document and videos of the game in action. When I've been leaked details in the past, they've come with internal documents and a commentary by the leaker. Here we only have a throwaway email address, a picture, and a bit of text.
Nothing can be proven or disproven. That's the beauty of guerilla marketing, if indeed that's what this is. The games industry has a long history of such tactics, some exposed and others working perfectly and never being known about. And there's a flipside too: Ubisoft has traditionally been leaky. Maybe this is all genuine.
Since 2016 there have been a group of people either leaking about this game or trying very hard to start rumours about the project. The leaks say the game will be announced at the end of May. The origins of its marketing campaign will remain murky.