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Yves Guillemot

The Ubisoft CEO explains how the company is gearing up to be ready for new consoles and technology

With an amazing rate of growth and a portfolio of key core and casual titles, Ubisoft has been one of the industry's greatest success stories in the past decade.

But the past twelve months has proven tricky for the industry, so how has the French publisher fared? Here CEO Yves Guillemot explains why the company continues to open new studios and hire more staff, when others are doing the very opposite.

Q: It's been a turbulent twelve months for the industry, during which time a number of publishers have made cuts to their business - yet Ubisoft responds by setting up a new studio in Singapore to grow to 400 staff, and another in Toronto to grow to 700... how is it such a different path to others?

Yves Guillemot: Well, it's not everyone else. Activision is growing fast, and there are some other publishers that are growing. So we try to be in that league, with the guys that create high quality games.

What we've seen is that there are still lots of opportunities in this industry, and we have to get ready for the next generation of consoles. I know each time I say that, everybody says that we don't know when they will come... but what we've seen is that when you don't actually have enough creators to make the games when the new consoles start, you can't take the time or have enough energy to use the capacity of those consoles.

So the goal is really to try to be there with a good team that's capable of using all the potential of those new consoles.

Q: Obviously you'll talk to the platform holders about their future plans, but isn't there a risk that - particularly in the current climate - new consoles coming to market could be delayed, and you then have to bear that ramp-up cost for longer?

Yves Guillemot: For sure, it's a risk. What I've seen all the way in this industry is that without risk you have less success. You have to take risk to have a chance to succeed.

I believe that this industry will continue to grow fast, and that it will be a very large industry. I think it interactive entertainment will grow in picking up the businesses that are around, like the movie industry did a long time ago.

That's why we believe it's time to invest, because it's the right time to continue to expand the brands we're creating, and to make better games. Because we wanted to come here this year with another level of quality.

On some products last year we were not as happy as we wanted, so this time we've been investing more to make sure that everybody will be happy with the games that we launch.

Q: How important is it that you have talent from all across the world? A number of publishers and developers have studios in different markets, but what's the draw for Ubisoft?

Yves Guillemot: It's extremely important first - because being influenced from the UK, from Germany, from North America... it's crucial in the games we create. Everybody is bringing their sensibilities and we see that more and more in the way that we do business and create games.

So there are some new tools or engines that are invented in one place that can be used in another, and you have people that can move from one place to another to create new projects.

And on some games we now create the main game in one place and parts of that game in other places. This gives us the chance to give more in a game - because our competitors are improving their quality all the time, so we have to be able to cope with that competition.

Q: The end of last year was a tricky time to launch a new IP - are you doing anything differently with the launch of new IP this year based on lessons learned?

Yves Guillemot: Yes, we learned a lot of lessons last year - the industry came with all of their games at the same time... when you look at it we have Assassin's Creed, a big brand, we have Avatar, which is the best movie for the end of the year.

So we have less new IP coming - we have lots of Wii products that we think will do well as well - but we're not coming with as many new IPs just because it's a more crowded industry now. There's less space for coming with too many new things.

Q: Is it important to spread them out across the year?

Yves Guillemot: Yes - but also to give them enough time to make sure that when they arrive they're not only a big improvement in technology, but also that they're 100 per cent of their potential.

Previously in the industry, when we were coming to market with a big new technology I'd say that the press and consumers were really ready to have an experience with that technology - but maybe not so polished as with other games, because the novelty was a big part of the new experience.

What we saw last year is that because there are so many good games, you have to choose from so many things - even if you release a big, new, inventive game, you have to take the time and make sure you use the potential of that technology, but that you don't release something you don't feel is 100 per cent.

That's a big shift.

Q: It's interesting to see how different companies are approaching that same issue, and how it will affect the market in the next 12 months.

Yves Guillemot: Yes, I think so.

Q: Talking of new technologies, and linking back to your previous point about ramping up to be ready, one of the new products we'll see in the next year is Natal from Microsoft - do you think you'll be well-placed for that? Ubisoft was proactive in its approach to the Wii at launch, and it's yielded rewards, so are you hoping something similar may happen with Natal?

Yves Guillemot: I think Natal will be impressive, and bring something new to the industry. We've certainly been working on a 3D camera for a long time, before even Microsoft came to us with that, just because we thought it was a good way to improve the experience and make sure we can include more gamers.

So we want to be strong on that new accessory, that new way to play, but there are plenty of other things that will come along that will be interesting. That's what I love in this industry - always new things.

Q: Finally - Sony announced the price cut for the PlayStation 3, and the new Slim model. How much impact will that have on you as a third party publisher?

Yves Guillemot: It's exceptional news actually - I think the machine is a great machine, with the Blu-ray. It's also going to be a smaller machine, and I think this will help Sony and the whole industry - because everybody will react, and so we'll be able to see it come to the mass market.

Q: And are you happy with the price point in the UK?

Yves Guillemot: Yes, I'm happy they were able to move that fast, particularly in the UK.

Yves Guillemot is CEO of Ubisoft. Interview by Phil Elliott.

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