Ubisoft Milan is looking toward a bright future of growth and creative opportunity after the "game changing" success of Mario + Rabbids: Kingdom Battle. According to general manager Dario Migliavacca, the studio is now receiving ten times more job applications than at any time in its past.
While many gamers will have first encountered Ubisoft Milan after the memorable debut of Mario + Rabbids: Kingdom Battle at E3 this year, it was actually established in 1998. A glass case in its bright, airy offices on the edge of the city centre showcases the studio's 19-year history; from Rayman on the Game Boy Color through multiple iterations of Splinter Cell, Assassin's Creed, Just Dance and more besides.
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Indeed, there is scarcely a Ubisoft franchise Milan hasn't touched at some point, but its contribution has often been one of support or assistance; levels, modes, assets, with other studios leading the charge. In fact, the opportunity to make Mario + Rabbids arrived while the team's principal focus was Ghost Recon: Wildlands, and the collaboration with Nintendo took up more and more of its resources as the idea began to take shape.
Now, it is a commercial and critical darling: the most successful non-Nintendo product on the Switch, with an average review score of 85 according to Metacritic. In a presentation at Ubisoft Milan's offices this week, attended by GamesIndustry.biz, Dario Migliavacca described the huge impact of that success on the future of the studio.
"I would say that, today, people can think about Ubisoft Milan as a place to build a career"
Davide Soliani, creative director
"We really feel that, in this moment, all the stars are well aligned," he said. "I just met yesterday my boss, the managing director of all the studios, and we really feel the trust: the head office, our editorial team, Nintendo, other studios, the players, the community. It's a great joy.
"We are now reaching eight to ten times more applications than in the past. This is really, really promising. We have a growth plan in our minds... I see a really brilliant future in front of us."
Creative director Davide Soliani, who returned to the studio in 2013 after working abroad for several years, added: "Mario + Rabbids was a game changer for Ubisoft Milan."
Speaking to GamesIndustry.biz following the presentation, Migliavacca and Soliani explained that there is a "medium-term plan" to add 20 people, reinforcing its team in every key area. This will happen over the next 8 to 12 months, but Migliavacca acknowledged, "there is the possibility to grow much more."
"In that case we will probably have to change studio," Soliani adds, referring to the available space in Ubisoft Milan's current location, which has enough room for another 20, but perhaps not a great deal more. "I will say that this game for sure is opening up a lot of possibilities. Also, having the players' support is changing a lot of things."
Exactly what those possibilities are remains a guarded secret. Ubisoft Milan is currenting working on content for the Mario + Rabbids season pass, and when pushed for details on what will happen after that Migliavacca offered only a polite deflection and a knowing smile.
"We showed how strong we are in creativity, in conception, in game design, in all the artistic parts," he said. "For sure we cannot compete with the huge [Ubisoft] studios now, but we have really strong skills that can give us an advantage."
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"When Dario called me back [to work at Ubisoft Milan], it was our intention to make this office grow," Soliani added. "That's why we took all of the opportunities and all of the games to prove to everyone that, okay, we are reliable.
"I would say that, today, people can think about Ubisoft Milan as a place to build a career."
GamesIndustry.biz visited Ubisoft Milan as a guest of the Italian trade body AESVI.