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

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."

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Latest comments (22)

Oliver Jones Software Developer 9 years ago
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.
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Thomas Kennedy Unemployed (Seeking work) 9 years ago
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
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Jakub Mikyska CEO, Grip Digital9 years ago
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

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Paul Smith Dev 9 years ago
Personally I prefer B games, Im looking more forward to the next Amnesia than I am Assassins Creed 4.
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Paul Smith Dev 9 years ago
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.
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Paul Smith Dev 9 years ago
The latest Rayman was sold at full retail price though.
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Christopher McCraken CEO/Production Director, Double Cluepon Software9 years ago
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.
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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

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Caleb Hale Journalist 9 years ago
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.
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Kieren Bloomfield Software Engineer, EA Sports9 years ago
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.
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Michael Vandendriessche Studying Computer Science, K.U. Leuven9 years ago
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.
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Greg Wilcox Creator, Destroy All Fanboys! 9 years ago
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...
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Christopher Bowen Editor in Chief, Gaming Bus9 years ago
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.
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Nik Blower sales & marketing director, Nordic Games Publishing9 years ago
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.
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Fran Mulhern , Recruit3D9 years ago
AAA. The most overused term in the games industry, especially by recruiters in job ads.
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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
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Rick Lopez Illustrator, Graphic Designer 9 years ago
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.
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Nik Blower sales & marketing director, Nordic Games Publishing9 years ago
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...
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Pablo Santos Developer 9 years ago
"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.
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Curt Sampson Sofware Developer 9 years ago
"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.
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Jade Law Senior concept artist, Reloaded Productions9 years ago
I would be genuinely interested in knowing which games in its library that Ubisoft considers B-titles.
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Tim Carter Designer - Writer - Producer 9 years ago
Lots of room for games that have A-level production standards but B-level spirit.
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