In an interview with VG247, Driver series creator and founder of Ubisoft Reflections (formerly Reflections) Martin Edmondson revealed that Watch Dogs was originally pitched as a sequel in the Driver series. Along with two other interviews with Ubisoft insiders, the reports explain how Watch Dogs changed into its own IP after expanding on the hacking concept. The decision to change into a new IP may have also been influenced by the lackluster sales of Driver: San Francisco, released in 2011.
Edmondson stated that there were initially two Driver games in development—Driver: San Francisco being developed by Reflections, and another game being developed by Ubisoft Montreal. Far Cry 2 Director Jonathan Morin, who would go on to serve as Creative Director for Watch Dogs 1 and 2, was heading the team at Montreal. Edmondson added that the Montreal studio sent him an early demo of the game for feedback and recalled that, at that point, there was no “hacking stuff…just the handling models” for driving. He was later told that the player “would be able to hack traffic lights” in the game.
From then, however, Edmondson did not interact with the development of the sequel and focused on the release of San Francisco. A former Ubisoft senior employee stated that after the failure of Driver: San Francisco, Ubisoft Montreal’s sequel was rebranded into Watch Dogs with a focus on the demo’s hacking mechanic. Another insider also stated that the hacking aspect—an entirely new and unseen feature in the Driver franchise—was what “pushed the project into new series territory.”
There’s a precedent to this kind of reworking, too. A few years prior, Morin’s Ubisoft Montreal had worked on a Prince of Persia sequel that was eventually turned into Assassin’s Creed. Both Ubisoft insiders stated that this is a common way for AAA game devs to experiment with new mechanics without worrying about budget constraints. By working on an already-established IP, the team can “push the bounds of a franchise” and create a new brand if they manage to “persuade business to get behind their concept.”
Reflections would eventually work on Watch Dogs’ development, helping model the building interiors and, more importantly, designing the driving missions. And while the franchise seems to have died off with Driver: San Francisco, Driver still lives on in the story, characters, and, most of all, driving of the Watch Dogs series.