Close
Report Comment to a Moderator Our Moderators review all comments for abusive and offensive language, and ensure comments are from Verified Users only.
Please report a comment only if you feel it requires our urgent attention.
I understand, report it. Cancel

"No room for B-games," says Ubisoft Montreal head

"No room for B-games," says Ubisoft Montreal head

Thu 11 Apr 2013 11:00am GMT / 7:00am EDT / 4:00am PDT
DevelopmentGDC 2013

Yannis Mallat on next-gen trends, rising development costs, and managing a team of more than 2,700 people

If you're expecting the next generation of consoles to change everything, you may be a bit disappointed. Speaking with GamesIndustry International at the Game Developers Conference last month, Ubisoft Montreal CEO Yannis Mallat said he expects a continuation of market trends that have emerged in recent years.

"On one end of the spectrum you will have all the big, AAA blockbuster games that [offer] more and more production values, more value for the players, but there will be fewer of them taking a bigger chunk of the market," Mallat said.

On the other end of the spectrum, the developer said mobile initiatives, tablets, and Facebook will continue to bring in new customers to the gaming industry. The problem is with what falls in the middle of the spectrum.

"The in-between, the belly of the market, is the one that just collapsed in a way and disappeared," Mallat said. "Meaning there is no room for B-games, if I should say so, which proves the point of quality. I think that companies that put quality and consumer value as a primary focus, as we've been doing at Ubisoft, will enjoy great success."

"You gather as much talent as possible, and you give them three things: Trust, means, and insane challenges. Usually they come back with pretty good stuff."

Yannis Mallat

That's not to say the new consoles will have no impact; Mallat said the arrival of a new generation of consoles will bring with it new perspectives and innovations, giving the recently struggling packaged goods market some much-needed traction. It also means rising development costs, but Mallat said he's actually found those "very manageable" of late.

"It's a question of bringing quality content to the gamers and enjoying great success thanks to that," Mallat explained. "So it's OK to invest more when you get more in return."

He noted Ubisoft's strong performance last year, saying the company is investing a lot in new technology, but still managing costs the right way. He added that the way the publisher uses larger development teams and cross-studio collaboration has also resulted in productivity jumps.

As the head of both Ubisoft Montreal and Ubisoft Toronto, Mallat understands a bit about the logistics of managing those larger teams. The Montreal studio has roughly 2,400 developers, with another 300 or so in Toronto. When asked how he manages that many people, Mallat chalked it up to lean management and a bottom-up approach that empowers the creative talent.

"That's my recipe for AAA games," Mallat said. "You gather as much talent as possible, and you give them three things: Trust, means, and insane challenges. Usually they come back with pretty good stuff."

As for how big the studio can conceivably get before the current structure starts to break down, Mallat brushed the questions aside, saying, "I was asking myself the same question years ago when we were 1,400. Then I stopped asking myself that question, and we're still here and we're fine. I think it's working."

27 Comments

Oliver Jones Software Developer

21 21 1.0
Popular Comment
I think there is lots of space for "B" games. There is just no space at Ubisoft, Activision, or EA for "B" games. So companies with smaller teams, smaller goals and smaller budgets are having to look a different funding models and smaller publishers. Which is why we're getting all the Kickstarter projects and the like.

I really hope with Sony being much more open to self publishing (and maybe Microsoft also, who knows) in the next generation we can see the return of "B" games to consoles. There are a tonne of "B" games (PC & Mac) on Steam, Desura, etc that I'm sure are quite profitable for their respective developers.

Posted:A year ago

#1

Thomas Kennedy Unemployed (Seeking work)

8 10 1.3
I don't think Ubisoft grasps the fact that a company can very rarely start making AAA titles right of the bad, if you go into business you start in the mail room if you go into retail you start on the shop floor if you go into games you start with low budget games and work your way up, realistically its near impossible for a new company to have the funding or manpower to work on a AAA which is why the mobile gaming market and Indie games have had a huge explosions recently.

When your a AAA publisher then obviously yes there's no room for B games, but that's only in your corporate structure and doesn't reflect the industry as a whole

Posted:A year ago

#2

Jakub Mikyska CEO, Grip Digital

202 1,107 5.5
Popular Comment
The last time I checked, it was The Walking Dead: The Game that won the VGA, not Assassins Creed III.

But I understand their logic... they are in the "billions" part of this industry, not "millions". But it's like if James Cameron or Michael Bay said that there is no room for Woody Allen or Lars von Trier...

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Jakub Mikyska on 11th April 2013 4:37pm

Posted:A year ago

#3

Paul Smith Dev

189 154 0.8
Personally I prefer B games, Im looking more forward to the next Amnesia than I am Assassins Creed 4.

Posted:A year ago

#4

Eric Pallavicini Game Master, Kabam

306 209 0.7
Anyone can give a clear definition of triple A ? I am playing the naive guy here, but hey, is there any clear definition of triple A in real, so I can understand better what a B game is. To my knowledge, triple A is "2 ranks above A" meaning basically "even better than the best of the best" (which is not very humble to say the less).

So are for example "Mark of the Ninja" or "The Walking Dead: A Telltale Games Series" so called "B games" ? I guess it is according to the common consensus about the triple A concept, although I am wondering how it comes those have received 91 score on www.metacritic.com ?

Maybe, just maybe, the industry should stop using meaningless game graduation systems as well, so we could maybe have more accurate and objective views on ourselves.

EDIT : @Jakub sorry (your comment was not there when I started writing mine), same reasoning :
The last time I checked, it was The Walking Dead: The Game that won the VGA, not Assassins Creed III.

Edited 3 times. Last edit by Eric Pallavicini on 11th April 2013 5:02pm

Posted:A year ago

#5

Paul Smith Dev

189 154 0.8
My understanding is that AAA games are high budget blockbusters that includes games like Call of duty, Halo, Assassins creed AND games like Duke Nukem Forever , Too Human etc so anything which cost a shit ton to make, I don't know if AA and A even exist (demon souls maybe? in between high and low budget) and a B game just means its on a small budget, I guess B is just another name for non-mobile indie games.

Posted:A year ago

#6

Paul Smith Dev

189 154 0.8
The latest Rayman was sold at full retail price though.

Posted:A year ago

#7

Christopher McCraken CEO/Production Director, Double Cluepon Software

111 257 2.3
In this story, Ubisoft again talks about how much they love and revel in their disconnected reality. I guess we know who bought the reality distortion field from Apple after Steve Jobs died.

Posted:A year ago

#8
I don't think there is a definition of triple AAA game. I don't know who started using it first, but I bet it was games journalists to define a game with a huge budget and the whole Hollywood marketing treatment.

Triple AAA certainly has nothing to do with the actual quality of content though. It just seems to mean the same thing as "blockbuster" which we all know, blockbuster movies can be bad.

At any rate, without any "B" games, all we'd see is a thousand sequels to squeeze as much money out of an IP as possible - to make it worthwhile for the publisher. I love lots of "B" games and I think it's safe to say those who call themselves gamers tend to enjoy many more B games than "AAA" games.

When I think AAA I think of a large publisher's flagship games. Like Call of Duty, Battlefield, Assassin's Creed, and on the JRPG side, Final Fantasy, Kingdom Hearts, that type of thing. But if, according to Ubisoft there's only room for like 10 AAA games a year, what do they expect us to play in the meantime? Ubi just seems to be high off their commercial success lately...

Edited 2 times. Last edit by Ajané Celestin-Greer on 11th April 2013 6:20pm

Posted:A year ago

#9

Caleb Hale Journalist

155 231 1.5
I have no idea what Mallat is trying to say here, unless this is simply a roundabout way of saying Ubisoft and other big-name developer/publishers are only going to focus their time next generation on best-selling known quantities. If that's true, then it's good companies like Sony and Nintendo at least are trying so hard to court indie developers for new content to play on their consoles, because I'm not sure the industry can survive relying on a handful of familiar blockbusters to deliver an equal return year after year. No matter how quality your product is, if it's too similar to last year's model, people are going to get bored.

Posted:A year ago

#10

Kieren Bloomfield Software Engineer, EA Sports

93 79 0.8
Well maybe I'm a cynic, ok yes I am, but the way I read this is: "We're spending lots and lots and lots on making games, please don't go any try doing it cheaper; It'll make us look bad."

While we're at it I'll also take a stab at: "AAA blockbuster games that [offer] more and more production values, more value for the players," I'm hoping here that what he means is that AAA games offer more production value and more value for the players because the former most definitely does not equal the latter.

Posted:A year ago

#11

Michael Vandendriessche Studying Computer Science, K.U. Leuven

85 12 0.1
I think what Mallat means with B-Games are games with the same structure and purpose of AAA-games but fall just short.
Like Darksiders 2 (I have NOT actually played or researched this, correct me if I am wrong.). I heard it's not that spectacular. I don't know about its development costs but I do believe it was meant to stand among other AAA-games.
I think in this article AAA-games are the super polished games and B-games are similar but without the polish. (would that make heavily bugged games B-games?)

I think the perfect example of a B-game is Deadly Premonition. It's very high on my to get list but it is easy to see not everyone would be as interested.

But that's just discussing semantics.
The point of the article, how i interpreted it, is that they can't afford to make unpolished games.

Posted:A year ago

#12

Greg Wilcox Creator, Destroy All Fanboys!

2,193 1,170 0.5
Hmmm. Oh, I'll play a good AAA title, but will I have more enjoyment than with a "lesser" game? Not always. I'd rather play an Earth Defense Force 4 or a Deadly Premonition over a game that flaunts how much was spent to make it. I like my "B" games like I like my "B" movies...

Posted:A year ago

#13

Christopher Bowen Editor in Chief, Gaming Bus

457 734 1.6
I think the problem is - weather they understand it or not - that this kind of mindset is actually hurting the overall industry.

How many developers have we seen shuttered because companies were aiming for the #1 position in the sales race? How many executives let go? How many of these amazing, $100m budget games have to fail to "meet expectations" of 6m sales before executives learn that they're essentially playing Powerball?

Last I checked, all of those AAA games that came out last year, and Journey was the one that took home all of the awards.

Posted:A year ago

#14

Nik Blower sales & marketing director, Nordic Games Publishing

3 0 0.0
Ubi's PR/comms team failed to correctly brief Monsieur Mallat, but someone managing 2700 people should also know better....

because no two people are the same there is a market for games ranging from ZZZ to AAA, if you believe in such quality identifiers

no room for AAA games would mean Angry Birds should never have existed, but guess what.... I think what Mr Mallat is saying is the studios he works within are tasked and budgeted to make AAA games and righty so. But saying there is no room for them full-stop is misguided at best.

for those who ask "what is AAA", IMO it's a convenient quality description for publishers who like to attach a quality to their game, or to place their game within a tier that is "the very best". It is a widely used measure of quality in many areas of business and manufacture but the lines between the different leves are blurred.

Posted:A year ago

#15

Fran Mulhern , Recruit3D

863 707 0.8
AAA. The most overused term in the games industry, especially by recruiters in job ads.

Posted:A year ago

#16
B movies are fun...its just whether its billed as a B movie or treats itself as a AAA movie.
Same issues within games perhaps

Posted:A year ago

#17

Rick Lopez Illustrator, Graphic Designer

1,269 942 0.7
You know i still enjoy old 8-bit and 16-bit games. i wouldnt mind games running with those simpler graphic engines, as long as they are fun. I like to purchase many of the CAPCOM games, like Megaman 9 &10, Bionic commando ReArmed, Scott Pilgrim, Castle Crashers. I think there is room for simpler games as long as they have a great concept, design and gameplay around them. I had loads a fun with games like Alien hominid, and Hardcorps uprising. So I find this statement from Ubisoft wrong.

They keep blowing up development costs. Logic tells me that with so many tools avalable to make games, its supposed to be streamlined and easir, however groups keep being larger, budgets keep increasing... and then you have a game like Tomb Raider, Which was great, but cost 100 million to make and they expect to sell 10million to make a profit. I cant see that happening so fast.

But i look at games like Metal gear Solid 4, Uncharted:Drakes fortune, The original Assasins creed. Did they cost all 100million to make? All these games have high production values and great graphics and can compare to new games like Tomb Raider.

Its like the more money these people make, the more money they also burn. Why cant companies make new games without having to increase the development team size or go beyond there limits.

Anyway Im looking foward to that new remastered Duck Tales game. I bet that didnt cost 100million to make.

Posted:A year ago

#18

Eric Pallavicini Game Master, Kabam

306 209 0.7
Wish there was "no more room for comments like that".

No wonder that the industry is currently seeking for and struggling to find its identity as a whole, with so many executives that feel no shame in claiming out loud how disconnected they are from the practical reality of both their competitors, colleagues and customers.

If I had any advice to give them, my humble opinion (warning, I am going to use stereotypes a lot) would be "Talk less to the press if you have nothing to say about gaming (keep future strategies comments for your shareholders or whoever you report to), and get your head of the company's numbers first. Use this time saved to go down the floors and talk to that customer support representative about his job or his feelings, get in the basement to see the devs and try to bring one or two out to tan a bit while sharing a coffee and chit-chat, share a moment to do a nerf gun battle in the designers offices and watch a youtube video with a QA guy waiting for his next testplan. When you done with that, play a game, any game... yours, competitors. Go offline, go online, get insulted by your group because you're just a noob, do a teamkill, go afk, annoy others. Get insulted by a random player for no reason, say hello in Polish on a US server, get begged to share the fortune you don't have with a virtual hobo. Get spammed by goldsellers, blacklist an user, give your login details away and get hacked. Do a ticket to game support (yours, others) and wait ages for an off-topic premade answer. Ask a stupid question on a board or social page and get instantly flamed for that, feed a troll. Live and breath gaming - try to enjoy it because it is there for that in the first place -, get knowledgeable about it ad minima. Consider this has an OK investment to get more in return also."

Latest EDIT : small wording change/addition

Edited 8 times. Last edit by Eric Pallavicini on 12th April 2013 5:21pm

Posted:A year ago

#19

Nik Blower sales & marketing director, Nordic Games Publishing

3 0 0.0
taking a look at Ubi's results over recent years, bearing in mind they have a turnover of circa €1Bn, they have only "just" started to make a profit. Doh. "So it's OK to invest more whe you get more in return". I'd bet their ROI from their B games - particularly digital - is way better than their AAA.

still, at least they worked the tax breaks to their advantage, and how...

Posted:A year ago

#20

Pablo Santos Developer

23 18 0.8
"Since our shareholders are watching us closely and that made us risk-averse, we have no room for "B" games (a.k.a. anything short of our billion-dollar expactations). But we will gladly buy yours (and your small studio), turn it into *our* AAA if you take the risks and manage get it done right by your own means. Oh, and there is a chance that we might shut your studio down in the process, eventually. Nothing personal, just reducing costs".
And then, I read the "in-between, the belly of the market, is the one that just collapsed in a way and disappeared"? Really?
Jokes aside, considering the strategies adopted by big publishers these days, this sounds like a big unintentional irony to me.

Posted:A year ago

#21

Eric Pallavicini Game Master, Kabam

306 209 0.7
Jokes aside, considering the strategies adopted by big publishers these days, this sounds like a big unintentional irony to me.
@Pablo
Are they really adopting them ? Or just announcing them (as you suggested facetiously " to the shareholders) ?

I mean, in the case of Ubisoft typically, the "Settlers-online", or "Heroes of Might and Magic Kingdoms" are still up and running and if yes there are based on historically successful IP's, there are much closer to a "B-game" than their "AAA" big brother titles (even though of a different type "B-rowser games"). So obviously, there is yet room for lower B-udget games at Ubisoft too.

Edit : In fact I as one, and probably more would agree, would not react to that comment if it was accurately made in the sense that it was not so general (i.e. If what had been said would have been "Here at Ubisoft we are going to focus on "triple A" titles as we do not believe in "B-titles" anymore" or something like that and that is actually my one and only concern with the statement.)
I don't think there is a definition of triple AAA game. I don't know who started using it first, but I bet it was games journalists to define a game with a huge budget and the whole Hollywood marketing treatment.

Triple AAA certainly has nothing to do with the actual quality of content though. It just seems to mean the same thing as "blockbuster" which we all know, blockbuster movies can be bad.
@Ajané
I was thinking that it could also come from ticking some boxes and giving them a grade "graphic grade A, gameplay grade A, and whatever else that was meant as of primordial importance at the time" which could corroborate your guess about it being used at first by some journalist. But despite my (not so deep) researches and multiple talks about the topic over a couple of years, I never been able to find a satisfactory (and final answer). Budget (& Marketing budget), after-sale support are also elements that some considered to define what a Triple A game is. Now like you have mentioned it about Blockbusters, it seems like it is another word that has no real founding principles or if it ever had, lost them for a more or less accurate appraisal (nowadays essentially based on the budget, graphics and marketing and a general quality (which doesn't mean it covers all aspects of quality though).

Edited 7 times. Last edit by Eric Pallavicini on 12th April 2013 7:07pm

Posted:A year ago

#22

Curt Sampson Sofware Developer

596 360 0.6
"AAA" has been used elsewhere to indicate "the best" or "the higest quality"; the most notable example is in bond ratings. I expect it just snuck in from somewhere else so easily because people already (possibly at a sub-conscious level) know this.

Trying to retroactively apply fixed definitions to terms that grow in to use like this is probably rather pointless. It's a "you know what I mean" term whose real meaning is not the same in every use.

Posted:A year ago

#23

Eric Pallavicini Game Master, Kabam

306 209 0.7
Trying to retroactively apply fixed definitions to terms that grow in to use like this is probably rather pointless. It's a "you know what I mean" term whose real meaning is not the same in every use.
If it is not the same in every use and relies on pure individual perception and subjectivity, then there is no such thing as a triple A. Just like the cake, it is a lie or simply a marketing argument.

I could understand the ratings in the same company, I can't understand them in the industry as a whole. Since to me, the one and only ratings that should apply to a game should be based on its entertainment value, which also include some subjectivity but also some objective factors (graphically homogenous, approachable and engaging gameplay, intuitive and practical user interface, rewarding advancement and goals, reasonable "replayability" and lifetime, absence of blocking and major bugs, etc.), And in that concern, many low-medium budgets game would hit the targets and would deserve a triple A rating, you know what I mean...

Now, despite the simple definitions I gave above and the contradictions that have been highlighted, we all understand that a triple A title is supposed to be using the latest technologies, it is supposed to be the spearhead of the video games and that is the most accurate definition I can suggest (since it involves everything else that is commonly associated to the acronym: huge budget, high quality, large teams). But in terms of entertainment value, the three A aren't a guarantee, far from that and as long as this is the case, there will be room for B to Z games in the industry and in its customers libraries.

Edited 5 times. Last edit by Eric Pallavicini on 13th April 2013 6:57am

Posted:A year ago

#24

Jade Law Senior concept artist, Reloaded Productions

72 291 4.0
I would be genuinely interested in knowing which games in its library that Ubisoft considers B-titles.

Posted:A year ago

#25

Tim Carter Designer - Writer - Producer

578 322 0.6
Lots of room for games that have A-level production standards but B-level spirit.

Posted:A year ago

#26

Andrew Ihegbu Studying Bsc Commercial Music, University of Westminster

464 173 0.4
AAA has never meant great to me, it's generally for games that have big budgets and flashy graphics, but take a big hit in the creative department in fear of being too different for the mainstream. A lot of AAA is safe and sure profit farming, and the only thing that really makes an AAA fail is if its makers want too big a return on too big an investment. The problem is that AAA's, by definition nearly never generate new ideas or change genres due to the fact that they have to play it safe because they is a lot of money at stake. AAAs need B games to experiment with so they can design themselves on standards from B games that become runaway hits.

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Andrew Ihegbu on 11th May 2013 9:09am

Posted:A year ago

#27

Login or register to post

Take part in the GamesIndustry community

Register now