Watch Dogs started life as a Driver game, according to a new report from VG 24/7. But through development it grew beyond what that series was about and into something pitched to Ubisoft’s CEO as their “own GTA.”
VG 24/7 spoke with three different sources—one currently at Ubisoft, a former senior Ubisoft employee, and finally Driver’s original creator, Martin Edmondson—about the origin of Watch Dogs. According to these folks, sometime before 2011, two different versions of a new entry into the driving-focused series were in development. One, developed by Reflections, would go on to become Driver: San Francisco, a critically beloved game that sold terribly. The other was being developed by Assassin’s Creed studio Ubisoft Montreal and became Watch Dogs.
The original creator of Driver wasn’t involved with the story or the setting of the Ubisoft Montreal spin on Driver, though he did tell VG 24/7 that he played around with early builds of the game and provided feedback on the game’s driving controls and overall feel. In this early state, players could hack traffic lights and other small things.
The Driver sequel was planned to be modern-day from the start and would involve out-of-the-car action, parkour gameplay, and on-foot combat. It was also planned to be set in a large, open world where the main character would be able to hack and interact with the modern technology of the city. If that sounds a lot like Watch Dogs, that’s because, after trying to make this open-world game fit inside the Driver franchise, it was decided the better course of action would be to create a new series. One Ubisoft source told VG 24/7 that after Driver SF failed to rack up big sales numbers, the other in-development game was rejiggered and pitched to Ubisoft’s CEO Yves Guillemot as “his own GTA.” Another source at Ubisoft claims this timeline isn’t entirely accurate, saying instead Montreal’s take on a Driver sequel had already morphed into Watch Dogs before San Francisco shipped.
This cycle where a game starts out as part of a classic franchise and then becomes something totally new has happened before. In fact, according to one former Ubisoft employee, it’s the only way to get a new IP up and running at the publisher. “Start with a brand and use that budget to build a demo and spin-off,” explained VG 24/7’s source. “Watch Dogs was Driver, Assassin’s [Creed] was [Prince of Persia].”
After Driver: San Francisco shipped, developer Reflections shifted to supporting Ubisoft Montreal on something that was no longer connected to Driver. But, in a way, Reflections’ involvement with the new project added some Driver DNA into Watch Dogs, which can be found in many of the missions ending in big car chases or the way cars feel in-game.
You can read more in the full piece from VG 24/7, including what possible future the Driver series has and further connections Watch Dogs and its sequel share with the classic driving series.