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Ubisoft: "We won't even start" a game if it can't be a franchise

Ubisoft: "We won't even start" a game if it can't be a franchise

Mon 15 Jul 2013 2:00pm GMT / 10:00am EDT / 7:00am PDT
PublishingMarketing

Tony Key discusses why marketing budgets are expanding and how Watch_Dogs connects to the NSA scandal

The [a]list daily sat down recently with Ubisoft's senior vice president of sales and marketing, Tony Key, to talk about Ubisoft's marketing plans and how things have changed. Here's some of what he had to say:

[a]list daily: Your CEO Yves Guillemot told me that Ubisoft will be increasing its marketing spend this year. What's driving that?

Tony Key: By increasing our marketing, our goal is actually to lower our risk. We spend so much time, energy and money creating these experiences like Watch_Dogs and Assassin's Creed, you need to match that now on the marketing side. You're making a huge bet on the development side, you've got to be all in. It became very clear to us about two years ago that this is a blockbuster world we live in now.

That means we have to be able to match the resources our production teams are putting in on the marketing side. You saw that with Assassin's Creed III; that was our largest marketing campaign ever as a company. What's interesting now is it doesn't feel so big any more. This year we're looking at Assassin's Creed IV, and Watch_Dogs, and saying 'That's what it takes nowadays, that's what we're going to keep doing.'

[a]list daily: You want this to be the foundation of a big franchise, then?

"Watch_Dogs for us is really a franchise because we're tapping into something people really care about, never more than when the NSA PRISM scandal broke"

Tony Key: Absolutely. That's what all our games are about; we won't even start if we don't think we can build a franchise out of it. There's no more fire and forget - it's too expensive.

We feel like we're in a really good place with Watch_Dogs, but until we're the biggest game of the year we're not going to be satisfied.

Last year we cleaned up at E3 because we were pretty much the only next-gen game around. Watch_Dogs for us is really a franchise because we're tapping into something people really care about, never more than when the NSA PRISM scandal broke.

[a]list daily: Do you change your marketing when a current event happens that ties into your game?

Tony Key: Absolutely. At one point in Watch_Dogs, Aidan taps into the surveillance system of an apartment building and he's looking at what everyone is doing. We had a screen shot of this guy sitting in his apartment with a department store female mannequin sitting with him and he's talking to it. When the PRISM story broke on Wednesday, we had that screen shot out on Friday on social media and said 'You never know who's watching.' We were able to react very quickly, and that's what social media brings.

[a]list daily: There are so many other ways to spend your time, people feel like they're making a commitment of time as well as money, and the game needs to be worthy of that, doesn't it?

Tony Key: We're competing for their time as much as anything now. It has to be a rewarding experience. It has to provide the value. The blockbuster games will continue to be a game that people are willing to pay for because the value is there. As a publisher, our challenge is to be providing that value.

Read more about how Ubisoft is marketing Watch_Dogs here, and find out what Tony Key thinks is the future of game marketing here.

18 Comments

Popular Comment
Go big or go home eh! Gotta hand it to Ubisoft, they seem to be pulling out alot of surprises.

Posted:A year ago

#1

Ralph Tricoche Studying MA, CUNY

31 66 2.1
What Dr. Wong said. Like their attitude.

Posted:A year ago

#2

Russell Watson Senior Designer, Born Ready Games

86 34 0.4
Someone at Ubisoft is certainly keeping a keen eye on current events and movements.

Posted:A year ago

#3

ARNAUD Jean-Christophe CEO & Founder, Malorian

2 2 1.0
Working in the gaming industry for a decade, such article about Ubisoft make me feel proud to be french ! :)

Posted:A year ago

#4

David Serrano Freelancer

300 272 0.9
"The blockbuster games will continue to be a game that people are willing to pay for because the value is there."

Fact based version: Blockbuster games will continue to be a game that a small subsegment of the shrinking existing audience are willing to pay for because they perceive the value is there.

Posted:A year ago

#5

Meelad Sadat [a]list daily editorial director, Ayzenberg Group

51 30 0.6
Popular Comment
David, you haven't played Last of Us, have you. Or the last Tomb Raider. Or Dishonored. Or Bioshock Infinite. Or been paying attention to the next GTA. Or Watch_Dogs. Just rattling off a few here....

The usual implication is that growth in f2p, mobile and social is going to kill the console blockbuster, which i imagine is your point. That completely discounts how traditionally as different types of entertainment such as music, film and TV matured and grew their audiences, they accommodated different tastes. That's pretty much what's happening in games - a broader audience and less focus on just one type of game, the big console game. That's a healthy way for the industry to evolve and grow. But it's a mistake to assume that broadening of who plays games means the kind of experiences that made games mainstream to begin with - narrative-driven immersive experiences with high production value - are going away. On the contrary, we're looking at how that category is evolving with some of the games I mentioned. For the ones I named that are already out, the value is there.

Posted:A year ago

#6

Kareem Merhej Designer, infoLink-inc

21 27 1.3
This is totally spot on, but too many people are reading "doom & gloom" rather than "specialization".

Posted:A year ago

#7

Andreia Quinta Creative & People Photographer, Studio52 London

224 590 2.6
In all honesty I think the only reason developers/publishers go with a franchisable IP is because it's the easy way to get money flowing in (and I can't blame them!).

(Take a risk to) make a new IP, if it sticks, make number II, III, IV and so on whilst cooking up a story as it goes. Unfortunately it's too risky to make a new IP game more often than not, and accumulates to what we have today, reliance in only games with proven revenue. It's fortunate that we have the indies to pick up the creativity that the big ones (seem to) have left abandoned.

I for one would like to see a Studio Ghibli equivalent of game developers, each game being a different story/experience altogether, and all of them being amazing in their own way. I would be the first to vote NO to a sequel of the Last of Us, the story of those two characters is amazing as it is and how it ends. Alas, I think we'll eventually be hearing about a number 2 unfortunately, cook up a story of something that wasn't really intended to go on, just to make an excuse to try and reach the sales numbers the first one did.

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Andreia Quinta on 16th July 2013 1:20am

Posted:A year ago

#8

Philipp Nassau Student - Business Administration (M. Sc.)

51 19 0.4
I fully understand their decision to focus on creating franchises rather than many individual IPs, it's just good business. I'm curious though why it seems impossible to build a strong developer/publisher brand instead of leveraging IP for brand recognition. Even (or especially) the well known guys are making franchises. We see director/studio brands for movies, too, which are arguably in the same league risk wise.

Posted:A year ago

#9

Iain Stanford Experienced Software Engineer, Tinderstone

33 126 3.8
Popular Comment
If EA or Activision were quoted saying this, I think the comment section would be somewhat different.

Posted:A year ago

#10

Adam Campbell Associate Producer, Miniclip Ltd

1,180 967 0.8
Fact based version: Blockbuster games will continue to be a game that a small subsegment of the shrinking existing audience are willing to pay for because they perceive the value is there.
Really?

I'd say its more than perception if the publishers are able to make large profits (like Ubisoft) and the customers (who rate their blockbusters highly) are enjoying them, perhaps even above any other type of game they play.

Whether its a small portion of the gaming market or not doesn't seem to matter too much, looking at the numbers. If it comes a point where these games don't make sense then they'll surely disappear or change in format.

I like Ubisoft's approach. Not only do they take quite a few risks in game design/approach, they're bold enough to put resources into making further entries bigger and better, responding to all the criticisms.

We can see how much later game installments have improved. If Ubisoft can continue making new franchises, with games that get better and better each time, and Ubisoft can remain profitable as a business, I don't see the wrong.

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Adam Campbell on 16th July 2013 10:59am

Posted:A year ago

#11

Shane Sweeney Academic

395 404 1.0
@Iain Stanford
Yes I am so confused by the reaction of this article. I understand it's a reality for a lot of reason, but wow.

Posted:A year ago

#12

Christopher Bowen Editor in Chief, Gaming Bus

451 715 1.6
Personally, I say, have fun, Ubisoft. While you guys are aiming for franchises and AAA blockbusters and the gaming equivalent of summer popcorn movies*, the best and most popular game of the past decade was a throw-in to a compilation whose main, #1 game was a spin-off of Half Life 2.

* - This is kind of unfair on Ubisoft, who are doing some amazing work - Assassin's Creed 3, Watch Dogs, Far Cry 3, the things they're touching are quality - but it's the best analogy I can think of.

Posted:A year ago

#13

Rick Lopez Illustrator, Graphic Designer

1,269 942 0.7
Im ok with this. Making a new IP is risky but its really the most prudent way foward. If the first game is succesful, you can make sequels without having to create a new universe from scratch, plus you can reuse graphical assets across 2 or 3 games and you dont have to create the gameplay and physics mechanics from scratch. And if a new IP is succesful, and it makes money you can add a few more dollars to development and its still cheaper than developing a new game from scratch.

However it would be prudent to keep the development team the same size or not increase it too much. And work around a budget of realistic sales targets. Also going multiplatform is also a smart thing to do.

So far I like what they did with watchdogs, its one of the games I pre-ordered for PS4. I also like how the are pushing foward with Rayman despite the sales of origins. Sometimes when you intoduce an IP, it requires more than one game to take off. You cant expect to develope a new IP and expect it to be succesful if nobody knows about it. And yeah Im still hoping for a beyond good and evil 2.

Posted:A year ago

#14

Craig Burkey Software Engineer

199 368 1.8
Glad that some people can see just because my Mum is playing Angry Birds on her phone instead of Snake, the market for AAA games is still there

Posted:A year ago

#15

Bryan Robertson Gameplay Programmer, Ubisoft Toronto

86 210 2.4
Glad that some people can see just because my Mum is playing Angry Birds on her phone instead of Snake, the market for AAA games is still there
That, and the two aren't mutually exclusive.

I play Angry Birds and Cut the Rope, I also play games like Halo and GTA, because Angry Birds doesn't replace the experience of playing a game like Halo or GTA. It's a completely different kind of game, that I play for very different reasons. The two types of games are fun in different ways, and for different reasons.

Posted:A year ago

#16

David Serrano Freelancer

300 272 0.9
The usual implication is that growth in f2p, mobile and social is going to kill the console blockbuster, which i imagine is your point.
No, it wasn't. I actually think F2p, mobile, social, etc... are largely irrelevant to viability and profitability of the core market. My point was what a demographically narrow subsegment of core players perceive as value, the overwhelming majority of the core audience (and everyone in the wider potential audience) has consistently rejected for years. And unlike the claim, this is based in fact.

The worldwide installed 360 and PS3 base is approx. 140 million. If we take the published sales stats for the examples you've referenced and double them to account for unpublished NPD data (which is an overestimate)... will it prove the audience saw the value and paid? Um... no. Approx. 4 percent or less saw value in Tomb Raider and Dishonored, 3 percent or less in Bioshock Infinite, and 6 percent or less of the PS3 base in Last of Us. You didn't reference it but since the core development community has anointed Dark Souls as a gold standard and evidence of what the audience "really wants," did a majority of the audience see the value there? Only if you define a majority as 2 percent of the audience across all platforms combined.

And while franchises like COD, Halo, Madden and FIFA may perform better, it's not by much. Also factor in these types of games have made the core game market more inaccessible to more people than ever before. So developers and publishers can claim the average consumer will pay for the types of games which now define the core market. But at some point they need to reconcile the claim with reality because consumers have been speaking with their wallets for the past six years and the overwhelming majority don't seem to agree.

Edited 2 times. Last edit by David Serrano on 16th July 2013 9:27pm

Posted:A year ago

#17

Andrew Goodchild Studying development, Train2Game

1,254 421 0.3
If I was releasing a movie, I would not expect to sell to 10% of DVD player owners, or 10% of cinema goers. If I release an eBook I would not even consider that 10% of Kindle owners may buy it, and nor should I. In fact, whilst you may have a point of console content needing to diversify to scratch the itch of gamers who feel left behind, this would not increase the percentage buying any single title.

In fact, it seems more likely the opposite is, if you release more games that arn't shooters, and attract more players that don't play shooters, if the people buying current prevalent genres stays constant, it becomes a smaller percentage. The best games on the Sega 32X probably sold to 50% of the (very small) install base because of the lack of choice, but in a healthy entertainment platform ecosystem, with a customer base of diverse tastes and the choice of content to cater to said tastes, I don't see how many individual pieces would ever appeal to double figure percentages of the customer pool.

It does become worrying if those 5% of customers buying each title have such a degree of crossover that only 10% are buying anything at all, maybe that is the case, but have you any data to back that up.

The biggest selling book worldwide since we have been able to roughly measure purchasing figures is "Tale of Two Cities" but I would be surprised if at any point in time 10% of people who buy books have owned a first hand copy of it.

Posted:A year ago

#18

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