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Imagine: Success

Ubisoft's UK Games For Everyone boss Mark Slaughter talks about the kids games range, and where it all started

That the Nintendo DS platform has been a success across the world is news to nobody, but the level of sales of Ubisoft's Imagine range for that platform and the Wii have raised more than a few eyebrows in the past couple of years.

Here, Ubisoft's UK head of Games For Everyone - Mark Slaughter - explains the origins of the idea, and how the DS market's saturation has made it harder for others to enter the fray.

GamesIndustry.biz The Imagine range has sold a lot of units in the past couple of years - but where did idea for the range come from?
Mark Slaughter

I think the first thing to say is that the Imagine range was born out of a desire from the Ubisoft business to look at a broader portfolio of games, and a trend area that we found from Nintendo's Wii and DS as a booming market in terms of that demographic - so not only the kids' side of things, but also the adult population as well.

I think Ubisoft felt that was an area to explore more, hence an investment into games that traditionally you wouldn't look at as a target. So the company did the due diligence in terms of research to find out if the market was there, and what sort of games - and areas of games - that demographic was interested in.

The Imagine range was the result of that desire, and research, to find out exactly what was going on there. Imagine came out in 2007 with four titles initially - including Cooking, Babies and Fashion Model - and from the get-go they started selling significant amounts of units.

That was something that was rather unexpected, because obviously it was new territory, and when you speak to the sales guys the initial response from retail was, not resistant exactly, but a bit wary of these types of games - because they were different. They weren't sure what these pink, female-orientated games were.

I think that showed that Ubisoft and Nintendo were very on-trend - the job the sales guys did, and the marketing in order to get that point, was fantastic, and sales then took off. Babies saw extremely strong sales, on average selling 6000 units per week, pretty much from the start - and that was with limited investment at that time.

From a marketing point of view, initially it was seeing how they worked - as soon as it was realised that the products were cutting through and responding to sales then a big investment came in, and more development grew from there.

So Imagine was about being strong in the Wii and DS, and in this market area - and also the Petz franchise came out of it, as well as the exploration of other franchises, such as My Coach and the adult side of things.

And Ubisoft's desire to be there first on Wii and DS is what really led to us being number one on DS... not versus first-party, although I think we outsold Nintendo for one week last year. That changes though, and it's given us a lot of learning moving forward about how we market to those demographics as well.

GamesIndustry.biz The installed base for the DS was pretty healthy in 2007, but the console's continued to sell strongly - how much do you think the Imagine range has helped to shift hardware units?
Mark Slaughter

It's an evolution of a brand - it started with a seed really, with the ideas for these types of games for a certain demographic, and then the brand grew with that expansion. There was a realisation that girls are really interested in playing at that age group.

I think the reaction to some of the titles initially was that some of them could be quite controversial, that maybe they don't understand - but actually girls are really interested in these types of titles.

As the brand has grown up a little bit more you can see the exploration into different careers and things that girls are driven about being. The demographic has evolved with games aimed at six year-olds, and even younger, to a 12 year-old where DS-wise you almost stop playing as a girl, and play other games that aren't thought of as 'girly' games.

There's another range that we're bringing out called Girls Life which addresses the older end of that market, and allows us as a brand to see exactly where Imagine sits - and it's primarily that 6-10 year old girl - and her aspirations and dreams and all that she's interested in, she can play at being through games.

And that's the general thing you'd do with a book, or with toys - it just allows a creative output. Games can engage that imagination, and take you to a different level in terms of your interaction with something.

That's what's really struck a chord with that demographic - these are the things kids are interested in, they want to be a teacher, or a fashion designer, they really engage with that area. You can see the successes within that in terms of unit sales, or the marketing that we do.

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