Ubisoft "convinced" second-screen gaming is "the future"

Ubisoft Quebec leads the second-screen dev effort, sees tablets soon reaching parity with consoles

As everyone was showing off their finery at E3 this year, Ubisoft quietly marked a shift in the company's development practices. Behind closed doors on the showfloor, the publisher had four titles with a significant second-screen option: Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag, The Division, Watch Dogs, and The Crew. All four titles had robust mobile apps that connected with the main console game in some manner. Was it just coincidence or a shift in development strategy within Ubisoft?

At an earlier interview with Ubisoft chief executive officer Yves Guillemot, GamesIndustry International had a chance to ask him about the company's second-screen experiment.

"I'm convinced it's the future," Guillemot told us. "What I like in second-screen play is its accessibility, which means different types of people can play. Those who don't know how to play with the [controller] or don't like to play with it can use touch. So that's the first good element."

"The second one is it gives you an opportunity to play from outside the home with your friends who are playing from their homes. So I'm in an airport, and I can play with my friends using my iPad if I have a good connection. We think this is going to open lots of new possibilities to the industry, and to the type of gameplay that can occur."

It would make sense if each studio was creating its own app for its own title, but under Ubisoft's distributed development system, each title is made with multiple studios working in concert. The publisher decided that for its next-generation second-screen effort to work, most of the work needed to be done at a single studio with the right expertise. That studio is Ubisoft Quebec, who's handling the second-screen apps for Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag, Watch Dogs, and The Division. We spoke with Ubisoft managing director Nicolas Rioux about the studio's new drive.

"In the last three years, we had this vision in mind," said Rioux. "The vision of the studio is to be a leader in the creation of mobile, online, and connected universes. For The Division, we were involved from the beginning of the project. This is really our key for success, for our team to be involved with the design team on the console project. If you want to have success with this kind of experience, you must be there early."

Like Guillemot, Rioux believes that second-screen gaming gives players more choices in how they play. In fact, he said that some of the apps could be considered standalone experiences that just happen to connect into a larger whole.

"The way we see it, it really gives the players the choice and opportunity to have a great experience when you want, where you want, at the time you want, on the device you want. For us it's a great feature, it's a must-have for the new generation of consoles," added Rioux.

"Some features and gameplay in these apps can provide you with a standalone experience. We believe in the benefits of connecting mobile players with console players in the same universe. It's really where we innovate, with this new generation of mobile applications connected with the console experience. We always mention second-screen, but we need to have in mind that for a lot of people, the games on tablets will be their first screen."

Rioux said that Ubisoft is not worried about players feeling shortchanged or forced to use the tablet app. The focus is creating a "complete experience" for each player.

"You don't need either the tablet or console part to have a full experience," he added. "For the person playing on the tablet, maybe for him that game is more accessible. Honestly, we give the players new opportunities. It's not a big issue for console players to play the tablet version to have a more complete experience. I'm a console player and a gamer on tablets; for me to have these new possibilities is not a constraint."

Ubisoft Quebec was uniquely-suited for this initiative because it had already done the grunt work on a second-screen title. The studio developed the Wii U version of Assassin's Creed III, which sparked an idea that became something bigger.

"We always mention second-screen, but we need to have in mind that for a lot of people, the games on tablets will be their first screen"

Ubisoft Quebec managing director Nicolas Rioux

"With Assassin's Creed III, we were involved on the Wii U version. The Wii U was kind of the pioneer of the connected tablet interface. This gave us some ideas for the first iteration of tablets connected with console games," said Rioux.

Unfortunately, while the Wii U was the beginning, Ubisoft Quebec's current focus is creating a cohesive experience between the Xbox One/PlayStation 4 and mobile devices. The studio is not committed to bringing some of these new experiences to the Wii U platform.

"It's not confirmed yet, but if it's possible to do it and it makes sense, yes we will provide some kind of experience on the Wii U. Our focus is on the new generation of Microsoft and Sony consoles," explained Rioux.

Rioux said that the studio has around 50 developers spread across the three apps. This is not counting Ubisoft Quebec employees working on the console side; both sets of employees tend to work next to each other for efficiency. Rioux called the next-gen focus on second-screen a "mandate" for the studio, but he also told us that once Ubisoft Quebec perfects its work, those techniques will be shared with other Ubisoft subsidiaries.

"This was really the strategy from the beginning; because we had a good experience on mobile in the past and great experience on AAA console games, we were a good fit for Ubisoft to be involved in this first generation of mobile-connected games. We will still be involved in that for some brands, at least Assassin's Creed, but for the other brands we just find the recipe. We'll give the recipe to the others to do their own thing," he said.

The second-screen apps are targeting Android and iOS platforms, but Rioux admitted that the list of supported devices "is still evolving." An Ubisoft spokesperson told GamesIndustry International that the apps will work "on a wide range of devices and the specific tablets will be known closer to launch dates." Rioux commented that the annual iterations of mobile platforms means that tablets are catching up to consoles rather quickly, which is to the company's benefit.

"I expect maybe in three or four years from now to be able to have mostly the same engine running on tablet and the main console"

Ubisoft Quebec managing director Nicolas Rioux

"I expect maybe in three or four years from now to be able to have mostly the same engine running on tablet and the main console. On The Division, we are using the same assets on the console and the tablets. In the future, it will be easier for us to provide this kind of experience," he said.

Ubisoft Quebec currently has 330 employees, but the studio began a recruitment drive with the recent hiring of Francois Pelland as the new executive director of development. Rioux expects for the studio to have 350 employees by the year's end, as Ubisoft Quebec has recently begun work on an unannounced project. We asked him how he felt about a single studio being pulled in so many directions, but Rioux remains confident in Ubisoft Quebec's prospects.

"It's part of our ideal, to build an experience and to be involved in more than one project at this time," he said. "This new generation proves that we're moving in the right direction. For each game you'll see in the next two years, the tablet will connect with the social and new consoles to make one complete experience. You have a way for players to have experiences in the same universe in a different way. We built the studio here in the last two years to be ready for that. It's natural right now to be involved in so many projects."

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Latest comments (15)

Quincy Ward Studying Computer Science, University of Arkansas8 years ago
So there saying they like Nintendo's idea but don't want to implement it on Nintendo's console
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Adam Campbell Product Manager, Azoomee8 years ago
"Some kind of experience for Wii-U"

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David Sinur Associate Producer, Turbine, Inc. | WB Games8 years ago
The problem with WiiU is that the device is attached to the kit. If the devs utilize the most popular mobile devices that nearly everyone has, make the companion app (second screen) free to download and optional to main game play, this could take off pretty well.

Example, you're at a friends house who just got the latest FPS, is in scenario 2 in his single player, and wants to show the game. You download the second screen app (free) to your iOS/Android/whatever device and get to play against him as an enemy AI during his mission.

Sign me up.
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Show all comments (15)
Darren Adams Managing Director, ChaosTrend8 years ago
I am not 100% sold on the need for a second screen in gaming.

I mean, when you are deep into a game, the last thing you really want is to be distracted by having to glance down and give your attention to another device. Maybe I am a bit old skool, but unless the device is seamlessly integrated into the game and doesn't get in the way of you playing, it could get a bit annoying.

Edited 2 times. Last edit by Darren Adams on 2nd July 2013 10:17pm

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Nicholas Pantazis Senior Editor, VGChartz Ltd8 years ago
@ David or for example your friend joins in on the Wii U gamepad while you play on the pro controller. There is no benefit to a tablet or smartphone app over supporting included hardware, especially when that included hardware has even more built in control options.

Edit: You also can't use any of those second screen features in singleplayer on a tablet or smartphone, unless you want the gamer to participate in the awkward situation of constant device swapping (one of the main reasons Kinect + a controller never took off).

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Nicholas Pantazis on 3rd July 2013 12:06am

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Greg Wilcox Creator, Destroy All Fanboys! 8 years ago
(one of the main reasons Kinect + a controller never took off).
Oy, yoy yoy... don't remind me (shudder). That last Steel Battalion game... Yeesh. Spent a few weeks with it on and off and I think I'm still having some nightmares. Good idea, but not with that original Kinect...
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Wii-U = interesting idea, poor implementation!
Second screen offers a great repeatability of play and extended narrative. The Wii-U offers a limitation of performance (bringing a knife to a gun fight).

The publishers do seem fixated on peripherals however, the Wii and its motion controller, the PS3 and the EyeMove and the MS Kinect -all offered such promise but solid deliverable revenue has been short lived (though Nintendo will not argue with 100m sales!)

Is Ubisoft missing the point - we need good games, no matter how many screens they need?
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Andreia Quinta Photographer 8 years ago
Careful not to fall into the new fad gimmick pit trap...
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Malcolm Franks Studying T151 Digital worlds: designing games, creating alternative realities, Open University8 years ago
Have been doing second screen gaming for a while on my PC. Playing Bejeweled Blitz while waiting for my crafting queue to complete in MMOs!
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Klaus Preisinger Freelance Writing 8 years ago
We start with the neck:
Look up, look down, look up, look down, look up, look down,

Now look at your TV and raise your tablet in front of your eyes
and up, and down, and up, and down, and up, and down

you are in a turret now, take your tablet to reveal the world
twist left, twist right, twist left, twist right, twist left, twist right

now scream!!!!!!

Now seriously, I get the idea of the tablet market being large and having a good amount of customers who do not own consoles, but are accustomed to some type of gaming. But I doubt dragging them towards an IP with some app and then hoping they buy a console due to dual-screen gameplay is one hell of a stretch.

in terms of dual screen, I feel Nintendo still owes us that Starfox game with one person flying and one person using the tablet to shoot by pointing it at the room in any direction.
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I can see Ubisoft targeting additional methods of gaming input onto various frnachises, this offering flexibility and working as a revenue /gaming force multiplier. I'm jsut curious how the mobile/2nd screen gameplay will work out to complement
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Adam Campbell Product Manager, Azoomee8 years ago
The problem with WiiU is that the device is attached to the kit.
Not really, the best advantages of second screen gaming can still be supported, except as a standard. The only thing you won't be able to do is interact outside the home but that has its own limitations.
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I still think there is more going on here than just what we're hearing from this story. Nintendo, once again, managed to implement something interesting and innovative which is now being implemented via different methods on the other consoles. What irks me about this coming from Ubisoft, specifically, is that they were one of the original third party developer supporters of the Wii-U, and yet now we're finding out that they were basically just using the system as a proof of concept for what they were really planning on the other consoles.

I do agree with Ubisoft on one point, that second screen gaming seems to be the latest thing that the industry is latching on to and attempting to push forward with all due speed.
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robert spink Creative Director, Behaviour Interactive8 years ago
This article is a touch misleading. Ubi are not talking about developing simultaneous second screen gaming, they are busy developing TRANSMEDIA experiences: that is >> various platform portals to the same brand universe. Play at home on console. Play in the bath or bus on mobile. Same world. Push your brand experience forwards in potentially platform-unique ways. You could do different things on console and mobile, but they all feed into one user profile... that's what this article is about. I was at a lengthy Ubi transmedia seminar back in 2010.. they're serious about this! Me too. Love this approach.

Second screen gaming is best suited to driver/navigator gameplay for 2 players - you know - different roles for 2 players. BUT... 2 screens at once for one player..? I can think of a few applications, but it's not going to be as ubiquitous as transmedia!
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Its a pity that whilst searching for the future Ubisoft has neglected the present, they broke the 1st part of the major Tyranny of King Washington DLC for AS3 by a bad patch back in March on all 3 consoles, and months later, they have yet to fix it, despite having released patches for AS3 since, given this product cost 8 on its own or 24 as part of the season pass, and by breaking a story mission in the 1st part essentially breaks all 3 parts until fixed for those yet to play it, ie everyone since march who wanted to, they have essentially ripped of everyone who bought season pass for their game and shown themselves to be utterly without the slightest interest in delivering value to their customers, 3 months for a game breaking bug across all 3 platforms they themselves introduced which should have been fixed by a rollback of the patch within 24 hours, is literally a piss take, shame on you ubisoft you give the entire industry a bad name in customer service, value and customer care and undermining the value of season pass like sales.

Edited 2 times. Last edit by Alexander McConnell on 11th July 2013 4:55pm

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