Last week, Ubisoft held its annual Ubidays event in Paris, showcasing its products for the rest of the year. With a portfolio that took in blockbuster franchises in the Tom Clancy series, a burgeoning casual range and a handful of new game announcements, the French publisher was clearly in rude health.
GamesIndustry.biz sat down with chief executive officer Yves Guillemot during the event, to discuss the publisher's new titles, its focus on 3D videogaming and its multimedia expansions through its CGI studio and the Tom Clancy brand.
Q: During Ubidays we've seen a number of new announcements alongside the familiar Ubisoft blockbusters. Can you begin by summing up Ubisoft's publishing policy for this year?
Yves Guillemot: I would say it has pushed the limits and it uses all the capacities the new machines are bringing to make sure we can create innovative content and attract more consumers to play videogames. For a long time we have been making sure people could have fun but very often we limited ourselves to gamers because of complexity. Now, with new machines and accessories, and things like voice control and other ways to play, it's going to bring the fun of videogames to a broader audience. Those are the two things we are really working on – improving accessibility and going that extra step and using the full capacities of the new machines.
Q: One of the most interesting announcements at Ubidays was the confirmation that Ubisoft is working on 3D, or stereoscopic, videogames. You're partnering with James Cameron for Avatar – are you sharing technology and assets for that?
Yves Guillemot: Yes, there are synergies between the two. What we are doing with Cameron is sharing what he's doing in his movies to actually create games that will use as many elements as possible. We are sharing all the assets and we're sharing what 3D will actually brings to the market. We are really going in the same direction.
Q: Are you looking to bring 3D capabilities to more games than just Avatar?
Yves Guillemot: The deal is to build a 3D experience on top of the normal experience. Avatar will have both.
Q: How is it going to work on a practical level – are you going to ship stereoscopic glasses with the finished game?
Yves Guillemot: It's with glasses on a specific TV. I've seen it, it's amazing.
Q: So it's not something that is going to work on a normal TV?
Yves Guillemot: No. It doesn't work on normal TVs. It means we will see an evolution on the TV. They are already in Best Buy in the US. You can already buy these TVs.
Q: That must be expensive to develop. Do you see Ubisoft making further use of the technology in the future?
Yves Guillemot: Well, it's not that expensive. But it's new, it's a new approach. It's not any more expensive than all the things we have to go through when we change over to new console machines or when we adopt new ways to animate our characters. It's another good technology that will be good to master but it's not going to be extremely expensive. We have to make the games in such a way that they have to be 2D and 3D so the experience will be good either way.
Q: There aren't many other publishers, if any, talking about working on 3D games publically. Are you aware that you're being watched by the rest of the industry and do you feel a responsibility to pioneer this technology going forward?
Yves Guillemot: Anything that is good for the industry is of interest for us. What we see is that because 3D is really bringing in a level of immersion that is very interesting, we think it is very important to test it and see how we can give an even better experience to our consumers. We don't know if other companies will follow us, what we know is that because Avatar [the movie] will be in 3D, being able to give consumers the same experience in the game will be very interesting for those coming out of the movie and experiencing the game on a 3D TV.
Q: Is there a connection between this 3D technology and what's going on right now at your CGI studio?
Yves Guillemot: There is a connection, automatically, because that's the way the movie industry is going.
Q: So what are your ambitions with the CGI studio?
Yves Guillemot: Our goal is to create a studio that will be very high quality, our goal is to try to get to the level of quality of Peter Jackson's Weta studio. We have been working to train people, to recruit highly talented people and we are in test mode at the moment. We are going to make sure that we get to the level of Weta. We have a long way to go but in getting to that level will help us to actually be one of the studios where everybody has to go.
We don't need to be always making the movie but what we have to do is make sure that what's necessary for our games is done close to us so we can reuse assets. Or we can have a specific relationship with a director who is going to do 3D imaging in such a way that we can also use them in our games. That is how we will improve the quality of our games, by giving our consumers a lot more than what we can give them today. Because if you have a USD 150 million budget instead of USD 20 million, USD 50 million of that can be used in creating better backgrounds, better animation, more defined characters and storylines. All those elements will improve dramatically the experience that consumers will have. This will be especially necessary with the next generation of consoles. It is important for this generation, but for the next generation when we will have machines that are a lot more powerful it will be a necessity.
Q: At the Edinburgh Festival last year you spoke of Ubisoft getting further into movie production and now you're establishing a CGI studio. So is this very much part of the evolution of Ubisoft, to produce movies rather than licensing out brands and IP?
Yves Guillemot: The goal is to produce the images, the animations, to work on defining scenarios, because that's what we need in our games. For the rest, we will start by working with external companies that are interested and know this business, but we will make sure that movies are coming out at the same time as our games, as our books and other ancillary products. We are not going into the movie industry because we want to become a distributor, we are going into the movie industry because we think the game can benefit a lot from that.
Q: With 3D advancements, CGI movie production and the recent acquisition of the Tom Clancy brand, is it right to assume Ubisoft is now a multimedia entertainment company, rather than 'just' a videogames company? You're looking to produce games and spin off into books, TV shows, movies and more?
Yves Guillemot: The goal is to really make sure we give more to our customers. When our customers spend GBP 20 or GBP 30 on a videogame they want to know the characters better. A book is a great place for that, but also a movie too. The player's emotion's are different in a book, compared to a movie or a videogame. A movie can set up a story for the player in a game. It's the combination of all these experiences that will give us the opportunity to give the player more emotions and leave the player feeling that they have experienced so much more.
Q: So how far down the line are these extra products that aren't videogames? What extra products can we expect to see soon?
Yves Guillemot: We have books in production. We are working on a small TV series.
Q: Is the TV show based on the Tom Clancy brand?
Yves Guillemot: It's based on the different games were are doing. We are really at the beginning. We can't say much now but the more we go into these thing the more we see the potential.What's also extremely interesting is that to create the games we need the talent, and this talent is in the movie industry. These kind of skills are in the movie industry because when they do animation – things like 3D modelling, clothing animation – they can really show what they can do in movies because they have no limit to the number of animations. Having that talent close to our games business will allow us to improve the quality of our games. But that talent is not available for the games industry normally. If we can create animation that will be used in the movie industry we will be able to use it in such a way that it will be used in a game as well.
Q: You've released sales figures for your big titles. Assassin's Creed has sold over six million units since release, which is very impressive, especially when you consider it's a new brand. So I was a little surprised that you weren't showing new IP at Ubidays, because those sales would suggest that you're skilled at creating new brands for the market.
Yves Guillemot: There were no new IP announcements because we have enough already. We have EndWar which is really coming along extremely well, we have HAWX too. We have a few IPs that we think if they are well launched on the market they too can achieve enormous sales quantities. As we are in a more blockbuster market we need to make sure that what we do, we do well. So we won't try to do too much at any one time.
Q: The big reveal at Ubidays was the trailer for a sequel to Beyond Good & Evil. The original title didn't sell that well, so are you more conscious of marketing this new title differently to reach a bigger audience?
Yves Guillemot: Each product has its pros and cons. Yes, it didn't sell as well as we expected but all the people who bought Beyond Good & Evil – and it was more girls than usually buy our products – were so happy with the experience that they pushed us to create a second game. We also think the market has changed a little and there are more customers coming to games because they have been made more accessible. So we feel that what were were able to bring to the market with Beyond Good & Evil last time will please more people this time. So the audience for this kind of game has also increased.
Q: Will it be more casual game orientated?
Yves Guillemot: No, it will be more accessible than the first one. We hope that new customers will have the chance to get this new experience.
Q: It interesting that you've signed Shaun White for a snowboarding title. Ubisoft isn't known for its sports titles and there aren't many gaps in the sports market that aren't sewn up by either EA or Take-Two. What was the reason behind getting into the extreme sports market?
Yves Guillemot: It's a big part of the business so really the goal there is if we want to expand we have to get into sports as well. We've picked up a guy who is really well known, and we think because of his age is capable of becoming a star in Europe. He's already a big name in the US.
Q: Are we going to see more sports titles from Ubisoft?
Yves Guillemot: The goal is to cover more fields. We bought Driver to be able to go into the racing business and we're starting with Shaun White in sports. For sure, we're trying to get more into the sports business. As we know there are already good competitors there so we have to come with something that is new.
Q: Will we see a Ubisoft football game in the future?
Yves Guillemot: Well, we can't answer that now. We look at the market and we know we have to be in many things, so who knows, maybe one day.
Q: Can I ask how your sales of Xbox 360 software are in Europe? Outside of the UK, hardware sales seem to be be slowing. Are you seeing an affect on game sales?
Yves Guillemot: We are a little bit in the same situation as last time with the PS2 and the original Xbox. So for us the goal is to really do development for both at the same time. We consider the two machines as one. We deal with both manufacturers but really the goal is to make sure our games are taking advantage of each machine.
Q: So you haven't seen a drop off in 360 software sales?
Yves Guillemot: No, what we see is there is still very good sales and they grow. And on top of that you have the PS3 which is growing. So for us it was necessary to have enough units sold between the two machines because the cost of creating those products is increasing. We need both machines to be successful.
Q: I wondered what you thought about Electronic Arts pursuing an acquisition of Take-Two. EA owns just under 20 per cent of the Ubisoft business and there have been numerous reports and rumours in the past that EA would try and grab a larger portion of your company. Do you feel that for the time being the shadow or EA isn't hanging over Ubisoft?
Yves Guillemot: I'm not too sure of their tactics. I think Electronic Arts needs to grow and for sure they are looking at the same things we are looking at – to get good brands and good expertise. It's difficult for me to comment on the actions of another company.
Q: Do you think the industry as a whole would benefit from EA acquiring Take-Two, or would it be a potentially damaging situation to have one less publisher on the market?
Yves Guillemot: I don't know. It will depend on what they do next and how the people at Take-Two react. With this, its better to wait and see.
Q: I wondered if the reason you see a gap in the sports market now is because you're expecting EA to acquire Take-Two and with that the sports games of both publishers will be in one portfolio. Does that leave a gap for a new sports publisher?
Yves Guillemot: We don't make our decisions based on what the other companies are doing. We take a decision by looking at the market and its potential.
Q: Clearly, one of the biggest strengths of Ubisoft is its internal development, and the company is looking to recruit 900 new staff over the next year. Are there also plans to acquire existing development studios?
Yves Guillemot: We have a strategy to grow our internal studios and also buy. The first is increasing the size of the actual studios and creating new studios. For the creation of new studios either we start them from scratch or we buy other studios that are already creating games and we enhance their capacity. It will be a mixture of those two methods and of the 900 people we will recruit, 50 per cent will be for new studios and 50 per cent in our own studios.
Q: How is the Ubisoft business split between regions – the US, European and Asian markets?
Yves Guillemot: The Japanese and Asian market is five per cent. Then we have 50 per cent in Europe and 45 per cent in the US.
Q: How would you define Ubisoft's position today in the games business?
Yves Guillemot: Well, we're number three. It's also important to come back to the turnover you are creating because the turnover is the number of customers you can actually reach. And our customers are the guys deciding if we perform or not.
Q: And do you think you can continue to grow your market over the next year?
Yves Guillemot: Yes, we can if we create good quality games. Really, the key is in creating games that will convince more people to buy them. A game can sell 10 or 15 million units when it's exceptional, and 10 or 15 million units is actually more than the profits of companies that are worth one or two billion dollars. Just one game can generate as much as one company.
That's why we have to concentrate on making sure that we continue to produce good quality titles. That's why we're talking about convergence and all those extra elements because to have quality you need multiple things. You need to be able to spend more time on the product than your competitors, you need to have the talent and you need to be able to invest to improve your product. So we are looking at what we can do to make sure we give our talented staff the energy and chance to win. Because when they win they go back and reinvest themselves in the games they create.
Yves Guillemot is chief executive officer of Ubisoft. Interview by Matt Martin.