State of Play: Ubisoft
CEO Yves Guillemot and executive director of EMEA territories, Alain Corre on the publisher in 2011
Ubisoft has a 25 year pedigree in the industry, producing AAA titles like Assassin's Creed, arthouse risks like From Dust and a wealth of content for the family market. It's also recently turned it's attention to free to play titles, purchasing developer Owlient and expanding into Facebook and online.
At Gamescom this year, GamesIndustry.biz spoke exclusively to CEO Yves Guillemot and executive director of EMEA territories, Alain Corre about the changes the company has seen, how it's diversifying from games to films and television with Ubisoft Motion Pictures, and its hopes and predictions for the future.
It was recently revealed that From Dust had been a surprise success for the company, breaking Ubisoft sales records. It may not match up to Assassin's Creed in sales revenue, but Guillemot was keen to point out its potential.
"Assassin's Creed is doing $250 million, and From Dust is going to do between ten and $20 million," he explains.
"So it's more in the five to ten per cent of the revenue. But what's very interesting is that From Dust can evolve from XBLA, PSN, PC download to a broader game that we can enrich to become another Assassin's Creed maybe one day."
Creativity is for us a motto, we need to surprise the consumers, we need to astonish them, because otherwise they do something else.
"I think that it's a good sign that the market is still very excited for new innovations, good products and they are ready to go for it," adds Corre.
Both men agree that taking those sort of risks is very much at the heart of Ubisoft's culture.
"I think that we have always been in the spirit of taking risks. Creativity is for us a motto, we need to surprise the consumers, we need to astonish them, because otherwise they do something else," says Corre.
Guillemot was similarly enthusiastic about embracing new concepts. In fact, I Am Alive, another game that seems to steer clear of the AAA conventions, is rumoured to be a pet project of Guillemot's, despite its troubled development history.
"It's very important to bring creativity to the industry on a regular basis otherwise the industry will not continue to keep people and attract new players," he argues over the sounds of the show floor.
"Giving diversity to the console is a way to make them consider the company and to consider its capacity to bring new stuff. So for gamers and for Ubisoft it's very important to be able to have new ideas and come with those innovative concepts. Because those innovative concepts don't always stay small, they can really grow and become huge in the industry."
And there's no questioning Ubisoft's commitment to diversifying. Not content with producing games for every possible gamer, from the hardcore shooter fan to teenage girls who want to be fashion designers, the French company has recently expanded into the film and television business with Ubisoft Motion Pictures. This branch of the company is already working on Assassin's Creed, Ghost Recon and Splinter Cell projects.
"We hired some very talented people from the cinema and they are working to take the best out of our franchises, discussing them with Hollywood and so on," reveals Corre.
"The most important thing for us is to control the quality, the production, but to limit the risk and have pre-financing before we launch the creation."
Guillemot explains in more detail just how the company is limiting the risks. "So we are developing three movies, which are Assassin's Creed, Ghost Recon and Splinter Cell, but we develop the first concept and scenario and then they will be published by a studio that is going to work to make it of high quality."
With next generation consoles, TV series and games will have the same quality in terms of graphics.
"And for the TV series we are also working to pre-finance the development so that we have zero risk in the creation of those series because we feel that they are two business really, the series and the movies, and that the two business will actually be very close to the videogame creation in the future. Because with next generation consoles, TV series and games will have the same quality in terms of graphics."
According to Guillemot, Ubisoft's plans to make it's brands known beyond the worlds of games as a "Disney" strategy, extending IPs across as many formats as possible, from books to action figures and advertising. The Raving Rabbids, for instance, can now be spotted in adverts for the New Renault Grand Scénic.
Unsurprisingly for a company that wants its brand to take on Mickey Mouse, Ubisoft always seems keen to ensure a presence early on in the life cycle of new consoles, and has already confirmed it's working with Wii U and developing an Assassin's Creed game for PlayStation's Vita handheld.
Corre was keen to praise the Vita, but it was Guillemot who really explains its attraction as a platform.
"Because the machine is extremely powerful it's a great first step to go for mobility with a game that will be close to what you have on 360 and PS3," he says.
"Here we have the possibility to really go with a very deep game that is very similar in technology to what we have on the 360 and PS3, but with a different setting, a different hero and so on. So afterwards, with the improvement of those handheld machines, in one year, two years, three years, they will be as powerful as Vita, so we will be able to put that game on all those devices."
Basically, fans can expect to see the Assassin's Creed game currently in development for Vita, and due for release in 2012, popping up on any number of other mobile devices, whether they come from Nintendo or Apple, at some point in the future.
I think it's part of our DNA, to be early and to bring innovation on new machines.
"I think it's part of our DNA also, to be early and to bring innovation on new machines," adds Corre.
"Because again we have people, very talented people, who go there very, very quickly, so that's one force of our company."
Unlike Crytek's Avni Yerli, Guillemot didn't foresee any problems for a handheld launching in today's smartphone overloaded market. But he argued that Ubisoft would need to make sure that the game is a "piece of art" to make a worthwhile investment. Only when specialised machines are used to their full capacity do they have "real value."
And as for the next generation? Prepare your pads and pencils Microsoft and Sony, because Guillemot has some demands.
"So we need the next generation quickly so that creativity increases a lot," he said, and was happy to list what he thought was vital for their success.
We need the next generation quickly so that creativity increases a lot
"More interaction with people, the possibility to adapt content to the time that people want to play. So to be more of a service to consumers that can get out. So the software will have to be very different so that everyone can play and can take from those the games the bit they want to get."
He also backed Avni Yerli's suggestion that publishers should able to update and change content more quickly, to allow for free-to-play and other business models iss also vital.
"But it's not only the free-to-play models. The concept is being able to change the experience on a regular basis, easily and fast. And that's something I think will be needed for the next generation, the possibility for the publisher to actually change his games very quickly so they are adapted to the consumer."
And if anyone knows the more casual consumer and free-to-play models, it's Ubisoft.
"Last year casual games was 40 per cent of our revenue," reveals Corre. He sees the family audience as keen to buy games, if only people will develop games that suit their needs. And Guillemot used Ubi's Just Dance series, which has been a huge success for the company, as an example.
"We were amazed by the success of Just Dance and it showed that lots of people, when you really bring the game that they are interested in, they actually buy huge quantities."
"In the long term there's no reason why the casual would not overcome the hardcore business because there are more people that are interested in buying casual," he explains.
Unsurprisingly, they're looking for new ways to tap into the market, and building on their browser and free-to-play titles.
In the long term there's no reason why the casual would not overcome the hardcore business.
"They are good models and it's funny because we have gotten so many customers so quickly," said Guillemot.
"Smurfs went from zero to 4.2 million without marketing in two weeks. So it's amazing how fast, when the content is adapted, those products can grow. So it really shows that people are very interested by new content in games. So we will continue to develop and make sure the quality of the game experience is adapted to what people are looking for."
As EA snaps up Popcap, Microsoft focuses on Kinect and Sony plays with its Eyepet, it feels like everyone is obsessed with accessing that casual, family demographic. The thing is, Ubisoft are already doing that, and they've been doing it for years. And with the Imagine brand currently the next area of Ubisoft lined up for an online makeover, the percentage of revenue from that sector will only grow.
"With the arrival of the free-to-play and the world again is open to buy games, because the free-to-play model you are connected so you can't pirate," said Guillemot.
"And because you can't pirate it generates revenue and you can put marketing in all those territories. So your brand continues in a way it doesn't when people pirate your games."
"So this huge revolution is extremely positive for the games industry because it's going to help the companies that are already present in the industry to actually expand their brands to a very broad audience in all the world."