Last week, Ubisoft held two events in Paris to promote its forthcoming titles Red Steel and Rayman Raving Rabbids. As observed by EMEA boss Alain Corre in a speech at the first event, Ubisoft plans to release seven games for Nintendo Wii on December 8 - the most support the third-party publisher has ever given to a console at launch.
So what's the thinking behind Ubisoft's decision to place their bets on the Wii? GamesIndustry.biz sat down with company president Yves Guillemot to find out more. Read on to learn what he had to say about the next-gen console battle, the latest rumours of an EA acquisition and how Ubisoft plans to compete with its rivals.
GamesIndustry.biz: Why is Ubisoft supporting Wii more than you've supported any other console - and more than you're supporting PlayStation 3?
Yves Guillemot: Actually, we support the machines with the same number of people and the same as we have done in the past, but we are just a larger company now.
The products are also less demanding in terms of numbers people that can create games; the advantage is you can create more games with less people. So it gives the impression that [support] this one than the others, but actually it's a new console, and when we love a new console we put lots of hours and energy into creating new games for it.
You have seven launch titles for the Wii, but only five for the PS3. Is that simply because Wii games are cheaper and easier to make?
No, there are many reasons. We had all the elements to create those products before we had them for PS3, and also because we saw that we could perform quickly. But yes, it's coming back to the fact that it's easier to create games for this machine.
Development costs and timings aside, what advantages do you think the Wii has over other consoles?
I would say that it's [appealing to] a new segment of the market. It's going to speak to a new population that can't play because they don't want to play with a pad, and those new people are going to get into the industry.
And it's at an advantage because it's going to expand the size of our business. Those people will start playing with the Wii and will continue to play on all the machines.
Do you see a situation where Sony and Microsoft are fighting it out for the hardcore gamer market, while Nintendo is left to comfortably secure this new, expanded audience?
I think all of them will try to reach all the consumers. The Wii, because it's easy to play and because of the pad... What we are finding in the studies we are doing is that lots of people can come back in the industry because it's easy to play.
I don't think Sony and Microsoft will take the hardcore gamers only; everybody will fight to get those new consumers. But at first, Nintendo has a good lead to get there.
How do you predict the market will be split in this console cycle? Will there be a clear leader again?
I don't have the answer. For sure, Nintendo and Microsoft will play a bigger role than in the last cycle.
Do you think Sony will suffer much as a result of the delay to the European PS3 launch?
No. I think Sony has a very strong brand, so if they are capable of coming with enough machines in Europe when they launch, they will be able to sell very well. But for sure, it's not good for them not to be there for Christmas.
How would you describe Ubisoft's business strategy at the moment?
Our goal is to continue to create new brands in new fields of the business. We do that internally, growing our studios by around 500 to 600 people per year, but also by acquiring studios or brands that will help us to anchor those new segments.
I understand that Ubisoft is number two in Europe and number four in the US. Why do you think you have a lower ranking over there?
Actually, we are number five in the US. Why? I think it's because we have to work more on our brands, to have more US brands, and to make sure that those brands are better recognised by US consumers.
That's what we're doing, and we're progressing quite a lot at the moment. We had 25 per cent growth last year and from the beginning of this year it was 32, so we are coming back now in the US.
Presumably, your ultimate goal is to become number one. How much work do you have to do to get there?
Our goal is to continue to progress; we don't have the goal of being number one in the short term. Our medium term goal is to try and reach the second position in the next five years.
What would you say is the probability at the moment of a buyout by Electronic Arts?
I don't know. I think we are in a creative business so it will certainly need to be done with our collaboration, but it's a question I can't answer. You should ask them.
But I understand the plan at present is to remain independent?
Yes. We have three options. The first option, and the one we prefer, is to remain independent and execute on our plan to double our turnaround and triple our profit in the next four years.
The second is to work within an entertainment group, so we could be the videogame part of an entertainment company, and the third is to merge with other publishers to create a bigger group within the industry.
Are you currently in any negotiations with entertainment companies or other publishers?
We speak regularly with lots of people.
But nothing's been laid down as yet?
Nothing that I can comment on.
How do you think Ubisoft's prospects are looking this Christmas? You had a lot of success last year with King Kong - what's the big title for you this season?
We have lots of big titles this Christmas. We have Splinter Cell, Rainbow Six Vegas, Rayman, Red Steel, then Might and Magic and Dark Messiah for PC, and lots of Wii products on top of that.
Are you going to continue to support the PC as strongly when the next-gen consoles arrive?
Yes, we will. Those consumers are interesting because they are very demanding, so it's a good way for us to progress. The PC reinvents itself regularly, so it will remain a very important machine.
Would you say you're going to support the PC and all three next-gen consoles equally?
Yes, it's close to that. We are really working on the three consoles because we consider that only by increasing our market share on each machine will we take market share from our competitors.
There's been a lot of talk about Christmas 2007 being a key date in terms of deciding market share in this console cycle...
Yes, I think next Christmas will really be the key. In January 2008 we will really have a good idea of who is going to win in this generation.
Yves Guillemot is president of Ubisoft. Interview by Ellie Gibson.