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Digital Watch

Ubisoft's Thomas Paincon on how digital is changing the very structure of the company, and the industry, forever

At this week's Ubisoft Digital Day it was clear that the Assassin's Creed publisher has fully committed to the digital future, as head of digital marketing for the UK, Alan Dykes, revealed that 20 to 25 per cent of the companies resources were focused purely on the digital space. As well as launching new IPs like I Am Alive through PSN and XBLA, the company is expanding their console brands across all the major gaming platforms, and creating new digital spaces for brands like Imagine, with Imagine Town.

We spoke exclusively to Ubisoft's online brand marketing group manager, Thomas Paincon, about the company's move into the digital space, its plans for the new, user created online portal Mania Planet, and how ultimately, digital is changing the very structure of studios forever.

GamesIndustry.biz So this is the first time you've held a Digital Day in the UK, does that show that it's becoming a more important part of the business?
Thomas Paincon

That's the thing, the goal of the event was to show that our ambition for it is now real. You can play all the games, and you can see that we're working on different platforms, digital, XBLA, PSN, but also all the PC, free-to-play, Facebook and the iOS, Android in the coming months. It's really to show no more wishes or ambition, now the products are real, you can play them, you can test them.

That was the goal of this event, not to be a formal presentation but to say to people "come and play our games."

GamesIndustry.biz So it's now 20 to 25 per cent of your resources at Ubisoft. Do you see that growing, and in what sort of time frame?
Thomas Paincon

Yes. I think it will get bigger in the coming months and years, because now, if you take for example the business model of free-to-play, it's obvious on PC, but if you see the iOS titles right now, the top ten, the first five products are free-to-play. So it's not a business only linked to PC, but it's a real business that can be important on every platform.

So for example there are people that are working in the studio as monetisation designers, which is a new role that didn't exist five years ago. These people will work across platforms and so it will be more and more integrated in the production team. So right now all our blueprint strategies for Assassin's and Ghost Recon, even at the first stage of development, have to propose an experience that includes iOS, XBLA, Facebook, to have a whole environment for a big launch.

The goal is really to get all the production team involved in the digital space and the different platforms, so they think about it ahead of the development and not after the development

And again not a port, this is really what we don't want. It's a really different experience. That's why on Assassin's Creed: Recollections, it's a board game, so it's really something different, but still in the Assassin's Creed environment.

So the goal is to integrate digital and all the different platforms in the first step of development. So that percentage will go up, because it will be difficult to separate the people working on digital, because if you talk about DLC, it's digital. I think in the coming months and years it will be more difficult to split and say this team is working only on digital... The goal is really to get all the production team involved in the digital space and the different platforms, so they think about it ahead of the development and not after the development.

It enables you to have a bridge between the different platforms, because if you release digital two years after a boxed release it's really difficult to have cross promotion or things like that. But if you think as a global environment, you can say "OK, I will enable people to play iOS games and then unlock things that they can use at home on their console, and then they can share it on the Facebook games," but this has to be thought of in the beginning. Afterwards it's more artificial and superficial, so this is what we have in mind for any new release.

GamesIndustry.biz So any new IPs you're looking at now have to have those multiple platform options from day one?
Thomas Paincon

Exactly. But it doesn't prevent us from inventing a new franchise, and this is the other good thing about digital, it can enable us to take risks. From Dust, and I Am Alive, it had a bumpy development, but it enabled us to develop and be successful products that may never find success on retail.

Because retail now is very high end product, you don't have the middle. On XBLA we think that we can take risks, and if some production team has an original concept or something like that but its difficult to communicate on the box, we can use XBLA and PSN. With From Dust you can see that because it reached half a million sales, which we never reached with any other digital game, so it's something we're really pushing.

We know this platform, we know how to market the title on this platform, and it's seen as more of a secondary quality way of distributing, because this was maybe the case some years ago, but now when you see the quality of games on XBLA it's really increased a lot. It's no more a second hand product.

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Rachel Weber

Senior Editor

Rachel Weber has been with GamesIndustry since 2011 and specialises in news-writing and investigative journalism. She has more than five years of consumer experience, having previously worked for Future Publishing in the UK.