Earlier this month, Ubisoft held a press event in Paris to promote Red Steel, a launch title for the Nintendo Wii. In fact, it's one of seven Wii titles Ubisoft is publishing in December - and as EMEA executive director Alain Corre noted in a speech at the event, that's the most support the publisher has ever given a new console at launch.
Having had the chance to give Red Steel a go, GamesIndustry.biz sat down with Corre to find out more about Ubisoft's commitment to Nintendo's new machine. We also got to discuss the current console transition, the European PS3 delay, and those rumours concerning a possible acquisition by EA... Read on to find out more.
GamesIndustry.biz: How do you think Red Steel is shaping up against the other titles in the Wii launch line-up?
Alain Corre: Red Steel is now the most awaited Wii game after Zelda. When we do polls on the websites, Red Steel is really the one that everyone is looking forward to. Why? Because it's different, it's a different approach.
When you play an FPS with a regular pad, it's more or less the same. With Wii, it's fresh, and also I think in terms of graphics, Red Steel is more polished than the other Wii games coming to market. I think we put more energy in early on in the development process, and our competitors started maybe one year after we started.
Do you think Red Steel could beat Zelda to the top of the Wii charts this Christmas?
I would love it to, but I'm not sure. Zelda, with Mario and a few other brands, is the biggest icon for this market, and the one that everybody's looking forward to. There haven't been any Zelda games for a few years, and I think it will be number one by far. But the number two spot, I think, will be for Red Steel.
Are you going to support the PS3 to the same degree you're supporting the Wii at launch?
We have five games planned for launch in March on PS3, so we're also very prolific there. A bit less than the Wii, because it's more expensive to develop for PS3. It takes a lot of time to understand the tools, but we believe that Sony is of course a major force. They have a huge market share, PlayStation is a fantastic brand, and it will go on.
As for what will be the level of PlayStation and 360 versus Wii - we think it will be a bit more balanced in the years to come. We think also that the market will grow and expand, so the three manufacturers will do very good business, and so will we. We like the idea of three powerful systems coming to market because it's good for everybody in this industry.
GamesIndustry.biz: So are you predicting an evenly split market share for the three platform holders, or will there still be a clear leader?
It's very difficult to say now, because the Wii hasn't launched, the PS3 isn't out in Europe until March, the 360 was alone last Christmas but won't be alone this Christmas... So it's very complicated.
I think the key will be Christmas 2007, when all the machines will be on the market. It will very much depend on which games are available and on their quality. So it's very difficult to answer now.
How well do you think your company is competing with other big third parties such as Electronic Arts at the moment? There's been more talk lately about the question over whether EA is looking to buy out Ubisoft...
The plan is for us to go on developing the business ourselves. What we have proven over the last 18, 20 months after EA got into our capital is that being independent, keeping our own strategy, was very lucrative and was the right thing to do.
We have the capability, the management, the brands, the studios and the energy to go on alone. I think it would be dangerous for a company like Ubisoft to get together too much with a company like EA, because it could kill creativity - and in our industry, I think that's key.
Does Ubisoft plan to acquire any more studios at the moment?
The idea for us is to tap into the genres we're not in. We did that last summer with the acquisition of Driver and the Reflections studio, so we're now into racing more. We want to go down that route and get the skills to develop sports and RPG games in the future.
Red Steel is an original IP, but you also have a lot of tried and tested franchises such as Splinter Cell. How would you describe the balance you're trying to strike between new properties and old brands?
We have a target - we want to create three new brands every two years. We are here to create brands; that's the real asset of the company, the real value. It's about creating brands and keeping them high. Our job is to create new sequels for existing franchises and to do them better, so there are more and more gamers interested in them. We're trying to push the limits of the next-gen machines, as we've done with Ghost Recon. We're just trying to concentrate on quality, whether that's new brands or old brands.
How much of an effect has the news that the PS3 is being delayed for Europe had on your plans going forward?
We had three PS3 games down for Christmas. I would have preferred the PS3 to come in, but it wasn't a big part of our business plan this year, and it can easily be replaced by the extra sales we'll do on 360 games that would have been cannibalised by PS3 games.
So all in all, it will benefit the Wii and it will benefit the 360 this side of Christmas - we're not losing anything.
How big a problem is it for Sony that their potential market this Christmas will now go to Microsoft and Nintendo?
I think that Sony giving an extra Christmas to Microsoft is an issue because the more 360 is established in homes, the less PS3 will be. The PS3 and the 360 are not cheap, so once people buy a machine they won't neccessarily by a second one three months after that or even a year after that. So I think for Sony, the earlier the better now.
Is the Wii's lower price point set to give Nintendo a much bigger advantage?
I think it is. Thanks to this machine, Nintendo will convert a lot of non-gamers to the gaming community. Women, parents, gamers that used to play on NES or SNES and think games have got too complicated - the Wii might bring them into this business, which is good news for all of us.
I think the market will grow no matter what, and it will grow depending on our ability to create innovative games and bring something new and fresh to consumers. The analysts are expecting our business to grow from between 30 to 100 per cent in the next five years.
Do you believe we are seeing a bigger shift than we've seen with previous console transitions?
The big difference is that before there were two and a half systems. This time we have three new consoles, which have each a strong possibility to perform and to achieve huge installed bases.
That's the very first time that's happened in this industry. If you look back 15 or 20 years ago, we had two systems. This time we have three, and that's very good for all of us, because they will introduce new consumers, we'll have a bigger market to serve, and the chance to bring our games to more people.
Alain Corre is Ubisoft's executive director for EMEA territories. Interview by Ellie Gibson.