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Ubisoft CEO: Used games have “been good for the industry”

Ubisoft CEO: Used games have “been good for the industry”

Tue 11 Jun 2013 6:40am GMT / 2:40am EDT / 11:40pm PDT
BusinessRetailPublishingE3 2013

Guillemot says Ubi has made no policy yet on used games for Xbox One; he also sees next-gen dev costs rising quickly two years from now

Ubisoft has been capturing attention at E3 with a number of new games and new IP for both existing and next-gen consoles. At a Ubisoft-sponsored dinner Sunday night, attended by GamesIndustry International, Ubisoft CEO Yves Guillemot and other executives spoke with assembled journalists and answered a number of questions about the company's plans.

One of the major areas of concern for journalists was the question of whether or not to restrict used game sales. We now know that Sony has no restrictions in place on used titles, but Guillemot was asked what he thought of Microsoft's decision to leave it up to publishers to possibly charge an additional fee for used games. "What I like is because they are not taking a fee, it will give us the option to work out what service we have to give," said Guillemot. "It's a good thing they are not taking any fee. We have not decided yet; we are waiting to see what Sony will do, and then we will decide after that. For us it is too early to take a position on that; we are really watching what the three players are doing."

Given that Guillemot had been waiting on Sony's stance towards used titles, we'd wager a guess that Ubisoft won't be making any plans to charge any fees.

Guillemot, however, doesn't see a problem with Microsoft's stance per se. "I think it's good Microsoft gave us their position, so we actually know what they are going to do," said Guillemot. When queried if Ubisoft had known about Microsoft's position in advance, he said they didn't know exactly what they would decide.

"I think it has been good for the industry; what we have to make sure is there has not been too much money lost in between"

Yves Guillemot

People's reactions to the used games controversy have been fierce, but Guillemot said he understands it. "I think it's so intense because lots of people are buying a game, reselling it and buying another one. It has a very positive impact on the industry, because it keeps customers with the possibility of buying many games. Then it's not only two or three games they can buy, and they have an idea of the industry with only a few experiences. It gives them a chance to play more games, to be able to make some mistakes from time to time. I think it has been good for the industry; what we have to make sure is there has not been too much money lost in between.

GamesIndustry International also asked Guillemot if development costs for next-gen console games are increasing as much as some people had feared, or whether the tools are getting better and helping to keep those costs in check. "In the first two years I expect the costs to remain the same, because we will have the advantage of having better machines so we will not have to compress data as much," Guillemot noted. "We can take advantage of the of the power of those machines. But quickly, in two years we will have to spend more money to take advantage of all the possibilities of the machines. It can grow quite fast. What will be interesting is we will be able to create data that we will be able to use in other places, because we are getting closer and closer to what you can see on linear movies. I think we will have a chance to re-use data."

Guillemot sees the next-gen consoles as more than just better graphics, and that also means more costs down the road. "I am calling this generation the double evolution," Guillemot said. "We have one which is coming with graphics and power, and on the other side we have all the social elements, UGC (user generated content), tracking and better ways to let people get into the games."

Guillemot's vision for the future is using mobile platforms to let people access the games. "All those parts will be quite expensive as well to master and after the game is launched, to support," Guillemot pointed out. "So we will have lots of costs there, but this will bring far better quality in terms of the immersion, the capacity to play with your friends, and to have games that can last a lot longer."

Read what Guillemot says about Ubisoft's marketing spending and more at [a]list daily.

10 Comments

Greg Wilcox Creator, Destroy All Fanboys!

2,193 1,170 0.5
As an amateur game historian/collector for a few decades, I hope Guillemot understands that someone HAS to keep track of physical as well as digital media as parts of the medium's history outside too many game companies that allow old IP to drift off and blow away after a few years while they concentrate on pumping out more of the same old sequels (I'm not necessarily referring to Ubisoft, btw)...

As for development being more expensive, yeah... well I can safely say that with much of Ubisoft's lineup, you can see where the money is going and it's quite well spent...

Posted:A year ago

#1

Rick Lopez Illustrator, Graphic Designer

1,269 942 0.7
I know used games is an issue, but microsofts solution is hardly practical. Sony opted to charge 5 dollars a month for PSN, they avoid all the crap microsoft is making its consumers go through and they make a few bucks off games that actually use online features.

Posted:A year ago

#2

David Serrano Freelancer

300 272 0.9
This is completely off topic, but can someone explain why technological advancements in game development don't seem to keep pace with, or have the same impact on schedules and budgets as in other industries?

For example, when started my career in magazine publishing in 1989, "desktop publishing" didn't exist. Producing an issue required crews of text coders, paste up artists and film strippers manually constructing each page using room sized equipment. Most of the work was farmed out to vendors because the equipment was so large and expensive. But just 10 years later, Quark, Photoshop, Illustrator, Acrobat, desktop scanners and photo copier sized proofing systems had replaced all of this. It allowed publishers to bring all production in-house and to produce each issue with half as many people. It also cut production schedules and production budgets in half. Today, I can produce an entire issue from home... by myself. And I can have it printed for a fraction of the costs on a small digital press instead of a two story high, two train car long offset printing press.

So why haven't these types of advancement been made, at the same pace, in game development? Why haven't Moore's law and innovations made by 2nd or 3rd parties impacted game development in the same way? Why are development budgets, schedules and staffing requirements going up instead of down?

Posted:A year ago

#3

Bryan Robertson Gameplay Programmer, Ubisoft Toronto

86 210 2.4
I've not worked in publishing, but my guess is that the complexity of magazines hasn't increased massively since 1989, so improvements in technology translate directly to a product that can be made more easily.

The same can't be said of games. Technology has advanced, but the complexity and quality demanded of games (at least in AAA) has increased exponentially as technology has progressed. Gamers expect more and more content, and types of games that weren't possible before. Back in 1989, a small group of people could create a game in their bedrooms, now it requires teams of hundreds (for AAA at least, mobile is obviously very different).

A game like GTA V for example, is orders of magnitude more complex as a piece of software, than say, Sonic the Hedgehog, and requires a very large team to create. It's like comparing the complexity of engineering and number of people needed to build a garden shed, with that of a skyscraper.

Posted:A year ago

#4

Dan Lowe 3D Animator, Ubisoft Montreal

46 68 1.5
Posted too late.

What Bryan said. :)

Edited 2 times. Last edit by Dan Lowe on 12th June 2013 3:12am

Posted:A year ago

#5

Aaron Brown BA Computer Science Student, Carnegie Mellon University

56 21 0.4
@Rick Lopez
Sorry I have to be the skeptic here.
Sony is struggling financially so I would be a little hesitant to claim that they are making all of the right moves/decisions.

The fact that Microsoft's DRM used game model doesn't extract a royalty for Microsoft should be a major selling point for developers later in the generation when development costs sky rocket, as they almost certainly will.

Sony is trying to win this generation on policies instead of the product, but they might be hammering the nails in on their coffin....

Edited 2 times. Last edit by Aaron Brown on 12th June 2013 3:30am

Posted:A year ago

#6
Kudos to the ubisoft ceo, good story

@David Due to the way the games graphics pipeline across all devices has evolved, better graphics require more detail, more complex maps, more graphical effects, better physics and better ai require more work not less, this is, because in other industries analog equivalents were being sped up by digital innovations however in games development "better" games require more highly skilled specialist staff, which obviously adds to costs, the majority of the cost increases is the increased need in staff however staff is not the soul culprit, Hardware is rather overpriced "professional" graphics cards which are essentially rebranded aging cards from a gpu makers lineup (where the manufacturing costs are low and the reliability due to a year+ min of manufacturing is high) with specialised drivers designed to make them work faster in the very highly priced professional software, much like they optimise consumer drivers to work better with certain blockbuster games, a process began years ago, and followed enthusiastically since.



However cards are just one small piece, hardware, specially those from firms catering to visualisation companies of all types is not cheap, but software is the real kicker of associated staff costs, everything relating to professional games creation isnt cheap, and if you choose inferior software and/or hardware to support it, you will have have terrible productivity out of the staff using it, so skimping isnt advisable either.

Rather than make everything yourself(which can be very expensive in manpower) many opt to use various middleware, again engines are available as well for those not willing or interested in creating their own but again this is not cheap, securing a professional license on top end middleware at least most of it goes from hundreds of thousands to million+, additionally time taken to optimize for multiple platform releases, bug test, and so on, some companies try complicated chains of outsourcing to reduce their costs to a minimum, but unless your communication and operations are perfectly run, this can cause as many problems as its solves, saving money in development doesn't help you if you end up with an un-coordinated game that does not generate expected sales.

Due to Console generations and the need for time to learn to optimise a given piece of hardware, the games industry often runs rather slower then mores law, with many console titles containing only a handful of extra features on their pc versions, poor ports are everywhere, even by major companies on major brands, apparently they're not ashamed to release a shamelessly bad pc port.

It takes years to gather enough knowledge and experience with a given piece of hardware to begin to push its boundaries, but pcs roll on upwards regardless, if you compare the specs of the current gen consoles to the average gaming pc, the console is laughable unfortunately for pc owners the majority of games on pc are multi-platform console ports, and what pc titles there are, have severe issues optimising due to frankly very wide selection of hardware pcs can have vs the single hardware for all console in addition to generation lifespan meaning they never even get close to the optimisations consoles often enjoy, let alone what they can get out of them 4 years in, and so as graphics advance so will the effort needed by humans to improve it, short of a semi-sentient ai who can look at a piece of console art, then model a hundred decent versions, get them working on the engine, test them and so on for you, on command, for final choice by the lead artist etc, or alternatively a fully sentient one who can do the work of hundreds of humans simultaneously.

I don't see specially now companies have grown accustomed to such a work process the price coming down anytime soon, It would require a collection of companies all banding together and agreeing to make less profit for the benefit of the entire society or at least the gaming one, to help reduce costs to minimum perhaps the price would reduce, but I suspect "Thunderpants" possesses a more realistic chances of a successful unassisted moon landing then this possibility, and regardless the staff issue cannot be got over without either of them AI options, and long working hours and pay not always as one might expect for whats provided.

Once you have created one game/engine system, you can re-use assets for the next, reducing the cost, and maximising the potential profit, which is why franchises are so popular. Tools can increase productivity, and they have, but there are limits to what a tool can do without enough hands to wield them, perhaps low-level assistant ai's may provide some options not currently open to developments in the future, or a different pipeline entirely, superseding but if everything continues as is, prices will only rise, and due to the financial structure of large companies they simply don't wish to invest in lots of medium sized projects anymore, its large games for large companies, and ambitious ones for small ones.

And argument can be made, companies are to much of a stickler for attention to detail and by letting some jobs slide they could maintain a wider profitibility range, and incur less staff costs, but every time anyone has done this, usually by accident its judged as harshly as a full priced title by the press often perhaps this is by accident and the gameplay features are as badly done as the graphics, chasing the holy grail of better graphics, better ai, better sound and so on and so forth will always result in rising prices up to the point where true photorealism/true real life parity is achieved, by this point the costs would begin to decrease as the years of content re-use would eventually make a very wide set of content to start an individual games efforts, even fantasy and sci-fi would eventually become reasonable cheap to produce.

However true photo-realism is a puzzle no one has yet solved, and despite the rosy predictions of yesteryear its nowhere to be seen or even remotely close at hand at this point, we probably haven't conceived of a theoretical pipeline that would allow it as of yet, and our computers will likely be 3 dimensional chips with quantum and organic co-processing components long before it becomes a reality, sure some individual areas have come pretty close, but even this isnt perfect, and in real time, not a chance, and indeed in summary and in final answer to your question the closer we get to perfection the better you have to do, to fool the human mind into believing what its seeing.

Edited 2 times. Last edit by Alexander McConnell on 12th June 2013 3:50am

Posted:A year ago

#7

David Serrano Freelancer

300 272 0.9
@Bryan Robertson

I think games growing more complex while simultaneously becoming more popular over the past 15 years is why I don't understand why innovations haven't had a much greater impact on development processes, costs and schedules. Perhaps cell phones would have been a better example.

From the mid-80's to the end of the 90's, cell phones became more complex while also being miniaturized: http://tinyurl.com/m9nvdwu . And the demand for more complex and smaller products created the demand from manufacturers for innovations which would allow them to achieve this while also streamlining processes and reducing costs. Or to simply keep manufacturing costs manageable. Then last decade, cell phones made a quantum leap in complexity as consumer smart phones hit the market.

So be it cell phones, consumer electronics or magazine publishing... why do technological innovations consistently allow other industries to develop more complex or advanced products while also maintaining or reducing costs, but the AAA game industry has reached (or is about to reach) a tipping point in terms of development budgets vs. the number of copies which must be sold to earn any return on investment? As an outsider looking in, it doesn't make much sense.

Edited 1 times. Last edit by David Serrano on 12th June 2013 4:47pm

Posted:A year ago

#8

Bryan Robertson Gameplay Programmer, Ubisoft Toronto

86 210 2.4
As I say, the analogy about the engineering (and other effort) needed to build a garden shed, and that needed to build a skyscraper applies here. Technology has moved on, but it hasn't made it as cheap to build a skyscraper as a garden shed (even ignoring the cost of building materials). It hasn't made it possible for some ordinary people with zero engineering experience to get together and build a skyscraper either, the way you can with a garden shed.

There are certainly some savings that can be made by having better tools and technology, but a game like GTA V is orders of magnitude more complex as a piece of software, compared to the original GTA. As are the assets that go into creating it.

Just look at the level art alone, the original is a top-down 2D city, the latest instalments have incredibly detailed 3D cities. All of that content has to be created, tested, fixed, tweaked. That's a massive undertaking.

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Bryan Robertson on 12th June 2013 5:05pm

Posted:A year ago

#9

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