Last October, Jade Raymond left Ubisoft, stepping down as managing director of Ubisoft Toronto in the process. At the time, she explained (though Ubisoft) that it was a good time for her to leave because the studio was "on a solid path" and the transition to new leadership would be smooth. Speaking with GamesIndustry.biz at the DICE Summit in Las Vegas last week, Raymond explained why the timing was right for her, as well.
"I joined the game industry because I liked change," Raymond said. "I definitely had a great time at Ubisoft and a lot of great opportunities to evolve. But I was feeling in my comfort zone, and I like to push myself out of that. I'd been there for 10 years, which is a pretty good chunk of time, so it felt like it was time to give myself a kick in the pants."
"For me personally, there are a lot of things I'd still love to do in AAA games."
Raymond didn't discuss what she's doing next, but she did express enthusiasm for many segments of the industry, including the AAA space she worked in for Ubisoft.
"I'm still really excited about AAA games, and I think there's still a lot of money to be made and a lot of interesting things to do," Raymond said. "There are a lot of ways to innovate that we haven't touched on yet. And with the kind of budgets put behind AAA games, there's an opportunity to actually do that and take a few more chances. For me personally, there are a lot of things I'd still love to do in AAA games."
The idea that there was plenty of room for exploration was a recurring theme in the discussion, even in markets people criticize as stagnant. Raymond said she tends to play action games more than any others, but even in a genre as frequently mined as that one, there's room to grow.
"I think there are a lot of different opportunities in action games that haven't been explored," Raymond said. "For example, the fighting game has been pretty narrowly defined and has stayed relatively stagnant for the last few years. Even though the tech keeps on getting better and the consoles keep getting better, you're still sort of stuck in this arena, and it's the same thing with slightly better graphics. To me, there are so many opportunities to push that genre in new directions and integrate that kind of gameplay into a broader experience. And that's just one example."
"[T]he fighting game has been pretty narrowly defined and has stayed relatively stagnant for the last few years."
Even when asked about virtual reality and augmented reality, Raymond seemed to view the tech as exciting more as a means of precipitating innovation than as an end of innovation itself.
"The new tech challenges us to think about things differently and to explore different things," Raymond said. "But I don't think we need new tech to do that. I think there's still so much innovation we can do on existing tech. What's most exciting for me is that with the investments in those platforms and that tech, they're going to need content. And that means people thinking about what kinds of new entertainment we can have on that [technology]."
Raymond also talked about player expectations, and how the current AAA model has developers conforming to certain familiar patterns and feature sets, where every game seems like it needs an epic single-player narrative, a top-notch open-ended multiplayer mode and all the associated bells and whistles.
"With Early Access or certain different scenarios, gamers are willing to accept a different scope, or not having everything in the bundle," Raymond said. "I think there are opportunities, but once you get used to paying X amount of money for 60 hours or 70 hours of gameplay, if you're fitting into that same mold, that's what's expected. And I do think it's a bit of a trap, I guess."
"The way to figure out how we get out of the situations we're in is to pay attention to what people want and to charge for those things."
So if we assume the industry is already caught in that trap, how can it extricate itself? How can developers change consumer expectations at this point?
"Ultimately you can't change it arbitrarily," Raymond said. "You have to change it in response to what players are looking for, right? I do think there are interesting opportunities for that. One of the most important things to pay attention to now is that players want to have their own experience and their own creative mark on things. They want to have their own unique experiences and share them with others, and there are ways to generate money off that besides pay-to-win. The way to figure out how we get out of the situations we're in is to pay attention to what people want and to charge for those things."
One thing Raymond has noticed players want is participation. Whether it's user-generated content in the game, input into the development process through Early Access, or direct communication with game creators through social networking, Raymond said the borders between players and developers are blurring.
"I think that's the reality of the way things are working in the world in general," Raymond said. "If you look at Nike ID, who's designing those shoes? I don't want the shoes that whoever designed, even if it's a famous designer. I want to make my own shoes. And ultimately, we're always making games for the players anyway. It just used to be that an exec used to come and tell you what they thought and they would be representing the player. Now you're actually hearing from your real players."
"I think people sometimes take the first step of getting the feedback, but not the next step of explaining the resulting decision."
Of course, those players don't always want the same thing. And while the amount of feedback developers get (and the number of forms that feedback takes) has grown exponentially in recent years, Raymond said the more, the better.
"With communities, it's just like working with teams," Raymond said. "There's always going to be some people who think there's a better, different decision, but if you explain with transparency why you made that call, with all of this feedback and why you changed it, I think that's how you get people on board. I think people sometimes take the first step of getting the feedback, but not the next step of explaining the resulting decision."
Though she was optimistic on virtually every topic, Raymond did have concerns about the industry, the biggest of which being that a focus on profitability could keep people from pushing the medium forward or being able to take creative risks.
"There are real problems to solve to make sure we do get to continue to take those risks," Raymond said. "There needs to be support for taking those chances, and some solutions that are not necessarily easy ones in terms of tech to make sure less people are required to make the same results, that we're not continuing to balloon our teams. One of the things I love about the industry is that it's in a constant state of disruption. We don't have a formula yet for what a game is, and even in the last 20 years, games have evolved incredibly. I'm just excited that's continuing to happen and 20 years from now, games will continue to be something completely different and inspire everyone. My fear would be that we stagnate instead."