Desilets: "Eventually AAA games will make money again"

Assassin's Creed creator sees digital as saviour of big-budget games; says he's "fighting" for rights to 1666: Amsterdam

Former Ubisoft and THQ creative director Patrice Desilets has dismissed the idea that AAA games will soon be a thing of the past, pointing towards a digital-only future as their possible saviour.

"Deep down, nobody cares about not having CDs any more. The future is digital, and there's nothing you can do about it"

In a session at the Gamelab conference in Barcelona, Desilets - the creator of the Assassin's Creed franchise - listed the huge changes that have swept through the industry since he began his career at Ubisoft Montreal in 1997.

Several of these - specifically the rise of more accessible digital platforms like iOS and Android - have prompted ongoing discussions about the long-term validity of expensive AAA games. However, while Desilets believes that certain aspects of the AAA model are likely to evolve, the actual games satisfy a need that other games simply cannot.

"Right now we are at a crossroads in our industry," Desilets admitted, standing before a screen displaying the many disruptive influences that have upended the world of console development. "But I don't believe the AAA blockbuster will die. Maybe the way it is distributed will change, but it won't die."

Desilets suggested that it is in the structure of the AAA industry that its salvation could be found - i.e. how the games are distributed and sold. He stated that, "eventually AAA will make money again," and went on to assert that, "the future is digital all the way."

"Yeah, games come on disc, and I get it guys you were really pissed off," he said, presumably referring to the huge backlash that greeted Microsoft's now scrapped licensing policies for the Xbox One. "But, deep down, nobody cares about not having CDs any more. The future is digital, and there's nothing you can do about it."

The changes necessary to ensure the long-term survival of blockbuster games will ultimately be found because, in simple terms, games like those that Desilets creates are an example of supply meeting clear audience demand.

"There are video games and there are interactive experiences. I do interactive experiences a lot more than I do video games. It's great to play smaller games - I play them also - but there's something else. The little games that make so much money these days are like magazines - like People magazine. It's great, you read the gossip, but after a while it's done. It's hard to care about them.

"Interactive experiences are novels. They are something else. You're inside them, they take time. You can change people's minds and lives with them.... They are all great, but that's the main difference."

Nevertheless, Desilets asked the creative minds in the games industry to expand the scope of what blockbuster games are actually about.

"I'm fighting for it, and that's all I can say for now. It's all those years of experience put together"

Desilets on 1666: Amsterdam

"I believe we need a revolution in subject matter," he said. "It has been four E3s that I've gone to, and it's always the same thing. I get it: we all like space marines and shooters, but come on, we need to talk about something else.

"Make games with a cultural point of view. We did a game, somehow, about the Muslim faith. We did a game about the Italian renaissance. [Ubisoft] did a game about the American Revolution. Having a cultural point of view will become more and more important. There is something about where I come from in the game I was making [1666: Amsterdam]. I think that will change the entire industry.

"We're still talking about these things because the medium is really in its infancy. It's so much easier in terms of production and coding to just blow stuff up than to create an interaction about human beings. It's so much more subtle than killing. Eventually we'll get there, and it's really a shame that I cannot finish 1666, because it was about all of that."

Desilets was working on 1666: Amsterdam for THQ when the company went under. Ubisoft acquired the Montreal studio that Desilets had helped to establish, and with it the rights to his new game. Desilets was subsequently fired by Ubisoft, and he has since filed a lawsuit in order to regain control of the project.

"I'm fighting for it, and that's all I can say for now," he told the Gamelab crowd. "It's all those years of experience put together.

"I'm sorry guys, it was amazing. And it still is amazing, and I hope to get it back and finish it for you - and for me."

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Latest comments (17)

Looking forward to finding out more bout the story behind it all.
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Rock on Patrice.
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Greg Wilcox Creator, Destroy All Fanboys! 8 years ago
"Yeah, games come on disc, and I get it guys you were really pissed off," he said, presumably referring to the huge backlash that greeted Microsoft's now scrapped licensing policies for the Xbox One. "But, deep down, nobody cares about not having CDs any more. The future is digital, and there's nothing you can do about it."
And once that cloud crashes down around the ears of the let's kill retail dead now crowd, there goes AAA and any other games where there's no way to get them offline unless they're saved to a drive and have any sort of offline mode. Sure, we'll all be running around like headless chickens looking to sue someone, but once we've calmeed down a bit, I'm betting some people would actually like to play a game they purchased to relax a bit more (but oh well to those with floating content that blew up like the Hindenburg crashing into Megaupload's servers)... =^P
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Matt Martin Editor, GamesIndustry.biz8 years ago
I agree with Patrice. Take me to the digital future and get me there quickly!
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Rick Lopez Illustrator, Graphic Designer 8 years ago
I belive they can... if development methods change and evolve. Developers have to put alot of thought in designing how to make the game as designing the game itself. I think developers should start with cutting down huge teams, between 80 and 150, absolutly no more than that. More realistic sales projections and if they make a profit, then not raise development costs for a next game. They can also create middleware and virtual equivalents of props and movie studios. There are many things they can do.

However i do not agree with this statement:Assassin's Creed creator sees digital as saviour of big-budget games. AAA games wont be saved by poor design and prehistoric development meshods. It wont be saved by pennying the shit outta gamers in different ways or with a huge EULA for every game you purchase. DRM wont save it either.

All this talk about cashing in on a chunk a change from used game sales, eliminating retail, fisical vs digital distribution, DRM, and all these attempts to make money are worthless... if they are simply gonna be offset by higher development costs.

The game industry is like pouring water in a bottle with a hole at the bottom... more money wont change shit... you will end up with bigger games, you can spend all the money you want marketing the game... but youll be just as poor. You will probably end up firing half the development team when you finsh development for the game.

Besides what you can do with graphics is flatlining. Im just hoping next generation offers better facial expressions, better writing and deep character performances. Id like to see two characters kiss each other in a game and not look awkward. I dont need another shooter, more violent games or huge set pieces in an attempt to shock me. So much call of duty ends up desensitizing you. It comes to a point where you are tired of huge explosions and people screaming in your face, huge set pieces and then you see the value good well written story and gameplay mechanics. In reality all you do in call of Duty is point and click(shoot).

I saw Man of Steel the other day. When he saved Lois Lane, id like to play a game, save someone and have it be meaningful. So its not just all better graphics, more particle effects or bigger explosions. I want to see deeper story, better character development. And more meaning behind the choices I make in a game.

Do you need 100 people to write a good story?

Developers need to rethink how they make games, make it less costly... lower development costs and higher profits.... NOT higher profits and raising development costs, or trying to penny the shit outta gamers, with all these rediculouse methods, such as DRM, eliminating boxed products, cashing in on used games or ingame purchases. NONE of that will make a difference if you make money to simple spend more money making producing a game.

Game companies are like: "hey, we made lots a money lets hire 100 more people"

just great...

And for all this talk about making things digital... I prefer having a physical product. at the end of the day, the only inconvenience, is storage space. But I can keep it its mine, I cand do what ever I want with it, few restrictions. What people dont like about the digital space is, the ball and chain that comes attached with the products you buy. you know I would like to pass my game collection and music and movies to my kids one day. I like to share my expiriences with others, its what makes us human and enjoy things together more. The digital space is so restrictive its unpleasant. Everything you do and buy comes with a huge EULA attached to it, when before you just went to a store, paid money bought something and that was the end of it.

Just because I can see a movie on Netflix doesnt prevent me from purchasing it on Blu-Ray... I think digital and phisical boxed products can co-exist and its just a matter of catering to people different needs. Not eliminating one for another to best suit greedy business needs.

Edited 7 times. Last edit by Rick Lopez on 28th June 2013 12:13am

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David Serrano Freelancer 8 years ago
"But, deep down, nobody cares about not having CDs any more. The future is digital, and there's nothing you can do about it."

I think Patrice is one of the most talented guys out there, but he's wrong about this. Physical copies have a tangible real world value to consumers which influences the perceived value of games. Beyond the value of having the freedom to install games on different consoles or computers, share them with friends, etc... if consumers decide they dislike games they've purchased, they know they can recover a portion of their investment by trading the copies in for credit or selling them themselves. So purchasing a physical copy is like placing an insurance bet in Blackjack, it's a hedge bet on the retail price. But when they purchase digital copies, consumers lose the ability to partially protect their bets. Which effectively turns buying games into gambling, they become disposable purchases. So consumer who make rational purchasing decisions will only pay what they are willing to lose outright. And regardless of the development budgets, this may take the perceived value of AAA games from $60 down to $10 or $20.

As far as the future being digital and not being able to do anything about it, as Microsoft just learned the industry cannot force what's more profitable and efficient for the industry down the throats of consumers. If the plan for a fully digital future is severely misaligned with needs, desires and preferences of consumers, they will speak with their wallets.

Edited 1 times. Last edit by David Serrano on 27th June 2013 3:47pm

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Tim Carter Designer - Writer - Producer 8 years ago
This is a significant development.

NOT because of any technological thing. Technology comes and goes.

It's significant because you have an individual game designer fighting to do his project. And it's a major project.

THAT is what's different.

That is like the moment in the early 1950s when the movie industry - through the pioneering steps of United Artists - began to move away from being a factory system to being a For Real artform.
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Craig Bamford Journalist 8 years ago
I used to agree more with this...until I saw that those espousing it, like Patrice, were doing so out of the hope that they could wring more money out of consumers.

The problem with consumers being unwilling to spend immense amounts of money on AAA games has nothing to do with resale, nothing to do with game quality, and nothing to do with luddism. It's because consumers can no longer afford to do so thanks to economic forces much bigger than the game industry.

Pricey games require a healthy middle class. There isn't one. The perceptions of a small coterie of monied tech-makers and tech-writers living in expensive areas with excellent Internet connections don't change that. What will change it is if they wake up, realize that they exist within a larger economy, and start thinking about what that means.
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Kareem Merhej Designer, infoLink-inc8 years ago
This all sounds great to me Patrice.
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James Prendergast Process Specialist 8 years ago
Similar to David Serrano I have a problem with this reasoning:

"But, deep down, nobody cares about not having CDs any more. The future is digital, and there's nothing you can do about it."

The move from CDs to mp3s is predicated on the fact that mp3s are a) cheaper (variable pricing), b) more portable (multiple formats, audio quality and use cases etc), c) supported by a huge multi-industry push (Entertainment companies, OS software companies, phone companies, sports companies etc) and d) fast access (seconds to download and able to trial the music before buying). Moving to "digital" is not inherently more attractive for consumers of music on that fact alone.

Moving from DVDs and Blu-ray discs to entirely digital does not have this almost unanimous positive benefit to the consumer: a) not really cheaper prices or variable pricing, (yes there are sales but you could/can get cheap console games [and previously PC games] as physical copies too b) less portable (you have install limits, cannot as easily share games anymore - even between family members or friends, vendor lock-in, OS lock-in etc) c) limited access (huge download sizes affecting download times and ISP capacity limits, online DRM etc) d) Supported by only one industry (i.e. the gaming industry and none of the companies are really working together)...

I know that consumers are buying both digital and physical (I am one of them!) but to compare the transition from primarily buying CD music to downloadable music with a similar transition in gaming masks a complete misunderstanding of the social logic behind such a change.
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Rick Lopez Illustrator, Graphic Designer 8 years ago
Digital will save the games industry... yeah right.... and I will explain

The only thing i buy digital is some DLC for games and a hand full of PSN games. I dont buy anything for apple and android because if I one day want to change from one platform to the other, everything I purchased is rendered usless. This is the problem I have with games and digital content.

I only buy digital content like music and movies in formats that I can play anywhere on any device, like and .MP3 or .MP4.

If I buy something on Xbox Live, Steam, Origin, PSN, android, iOS and one day these platforms are not supported then everything I bought is useless.

But with a physical boxed product I can preserve and keep in my life as long as I want, pass down to my kids if I die, share with friends and family without having to answer to anyone or break a law.

So no, digital will not save the gaming industry, it will alienate consumers because the digital space is fragmented by different services, operating systems, servers, companies and software platforms that one day may cease to exist and everything you bought will be rendered useless. And if it doesnt alienate consumers, I feel the industry will grow stagnent, generic and boring with more crap games than good ones worth playing.

With music for example, if the record label goes bust, i can still listen to the music.... but what if PSN or Live cease to exist? I lose access to all my games.

I would be more inclined to buy digital if I can copy the installer save it on any media, so I can retrieve it even if one day the servers are gone. And id like to have access to it even if the service is no longer available.

And this has nothing to do with internet connection. Which is another headache, when weather conditions are not apropriate I lose access on occasions.

For all those people who put money in these free to play games from Zynga and playfish, many of those games have been taken down and no longer exist, there investment is gone.

Some might argue that they paid for an expirience to play and that its no different than paying for a service like cable, some might argue that your playing for simple playing time. Fuck that. If Im paying for something Id like it to belong to me, if not dont expect me to pay. People dont pay for a song everytime they listen to it.

You can have a subscribtion service like netflix or cable TV, but I wouldnt pay to much more than I would for cable TV or netflix. And I wouldnt play a single game as much either. probably play bits and pices of individual games, that seem to fit the current mood Im in. If the game industry expects to make each game a seperate subscribtion service then forget it. If you have a subscribtion service in which i can play ALL games, for a CHEAP and AFFORDABLE price, maybe.

But that hardly sounds like a viable business plan.

Finally but not least, everytime you buy a digital file, your subject to a huge EULA thats long and impossible to read or even understand. And not only that, they specifically tell you, no class action lawsuits and that this agreement can be change and modified without notice to the consumer. So I cant break the agreement but the company can... BULLSHIT

Im reluctant to buy digital content for many many reasons, just like Im assuming alot of people are. And to prove my point, just look at the response to XboxOne.

Give me the ability to purchase Digital content without all the bullshit that surrounds it and you have my money. Its not the fact that its Digital or physical, its that right now owning a physical product is so much more conveniant and even less costly.
"Deep down, nobody cares about not having CDs any more. The future is digital, and there's nothing you can do about it"
There is something I can do about it and its not buy it, find a new hobby. It sucks but thats what Id probably do.

The only real benefit to digital is for publishers to control access and how they Monetize (capitalize) on the content. i dont see any real benefit to the consumer other than I dont have to walk to a retail store to buy something.

Why would I spend money on something that isnt mine? What for the expirience about how it felt? might as well give away my money for free then. Seriously, I love video games but I am sick with the gaming industry. In fact I hate it. All these sneaky and draconian schemes they come up with to capitalize on the consumers treating consumers like criminals (microsoft). You know if the industry cant find a way to punish the pirate, the one who steals, dont end up punishing the ones who actually do support you.

Edited 5 times. Last edit by Rick Lopez on 28th June 2013 2:28pm

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I have lots of disks for console games but I own well over 100 games on Steam. I couldn't care less about sharing them, reselling them, moving them around to my mates gaf or anything else - its my library, bought and paid for, and I want 'em myself. And the majority of them I bought cheaper than buying physical disks. Buying in to Steam you accept that you won't get to return every game but nor do I feel I have to right to have 100% of my expectations filled every time I buy something either - I quite like that I win some, I lose some, that's life. Some games are bad but I don't think I've ever bought a game that I've wanted to return because "surprise, its unbelievably rubbish!" - I don't take completely uneducated punts like that except on cheap mobile games. If I was offered the chance, I can't think of one reason I would choose to swap a single one of those 100+ Steam games for a physical disk version. I don't believe the one-sided arguments on online vs. retail - 50m Steam users aren't idiots, nor are they unaware of their rights. Online has it's own benefits.
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@Rick - the length of your posts underestimate my laziness :P
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Rick Lopez Illustrator, Graphic Designer 8 years ago
@Barry Meade - I wish my posts were shorter. Believe me Im trying :)
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Axel Cushing Freelance Writer 8 years ago
"Yeah, games come on disc, and I get it guys you were really pissed off. But, deep down, nobody cares about not having CDs any more. The future is digital, and there's nothing you can do about it."
I'm going to go out on a limb here and suggest that no, Patrice Desilets does not in fact "get it." If he was really paying attention to how Microsoft was getting pounded on, he could not honestly make that statement with any degree of sincerity. He comes off sounding as out of touch as Adam Orth and Don Mattrick. The far future may be all digital, but six months from now, the bulk of us are still going to be stuck with broadband of questionable and sometimes highly variable quality. We do not have the means to rapidly transfer your next 30GB opus from one location to another and undergo half a dozen security catechisms just to play a game over at our friend's house for a couple hours. That is why we like our discs. We can bring our CDs over and pop them in a CD player and introduce our friends to new tunes. We can bring our 360 DVDs and PS3 Blu-Rays over and start gaming, though there may be a few minutes on some titles that have to install themselves, and even that's a minimal amount of time. They are portable, durable, immune to prevailing network conditions, and under our control. And that is what nobody working for a major publisher or developer appears able or willing to grasp.
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Greg Wilcox Creator, Destroy All Fanboys! 8 years ago
@Axel: All those so-called "nobody" people seem to all work in the industry or are those lucky gamers who never,ever have any of the issues you mention (bless their rocket-fast stable bandwidth renting hearts). Yeah, it's coming, but enforced evolution on digital will mean less sales for consoles and some of those AAA games until there's a wider and SAFER way to get and keep a decent connection that's always on, cloud-based or whatever other magic buzzword comes down the pike...
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Axel Cushing Freelance Writer 8 years ago
Or, you know, they could build for what's out there right now...
I would love to hear from people who did dissent, or tried to dissent, when some of these decisions were being made. I'd like to hear the arguments they made, see how they stack up to what's been floating out there in the last month or so, and how they were received. And I'd kind of like to hear from guys like Don Mattrick and Patrice Desilets, what they said when they heard those arguments. It'd make for fascinating reading, I'm sure.
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