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Ubisoft: "Retailers can participate in the digital market"

Why Chris Early, the publisher's Mr Digital, wants retail to survive

Ubisoft's Chris Early has explained to GamesIndustry International why, even as the VP of digital publishing, he believes retail is still an important part of the market. It just has to change to make that happen.

"I think there's a way that retailers can participate in the digital market. They have to choose to do that, they have to work to do that, it's an evolution. And unfortunately like any market force if people don't evolve they can be left behind," he explained.

More people buying digital content than ever before, that doesn't mean that anybody should be going out of business.

"That's not a comment on GAME, that's just a comment on the marketplace in general," he added quickly. "We're the same. If we don't evolve as a publisher of games then we get left behind as well."

He used the example of people buying fries when they only went into MacDonalds for a burger, or upgrading to better tyres when they go to buy a car.

"There's an opportunity that happens when you walk into a store and buy a physical product, and someone tells you there's DLC for that. A good example has been Elite recently, where a significant number of those sales were made at retail."

He also explained that there are other ways that physical retailers can participate in the success of digital, creating their own portals to sell digital content, or selling point cards or codes.

"From a consumer standpoint there are more people buying digital content than ever before, although that doesn't necessarily, from what we've seen numbers wise, mean that anybody should be going out of business."

Early was keen not be cast as the villain of the piece either, pointing out that actually, he didn't want to see the end of retail, despite the assumptions of a few misguided people.

"I often get asked this question as the digital guy, 'are you spelling the end of retail?' I don't think so, and I don't want that actually, because each serves a different purpose," he argued.

"Think of the shelf space at digital, and what you hear all the time is that it's infinite, but when you go to a website how many titles do you actually see? You see six, ten, twelve if you're lucky and you scroll that deep. You walk into a store are you're seeing hundreds of titles, there's a lot more opportunity for discovery there than there is today on digital platforms."

He explained that, actually, that's the lesson that digital needs to learn from physical retail, and the main question that all the portals and app stores need to answer: How the hell are you going to make sure people see your product? And Early knows a thing or two about it. While in his previous role at Microsoft it was his team that wrote Xbox Live.

"That's the challenge that the platform providers need to answer, how can they make discoverability easier? How can you go and instead of seeing six random titles see the six that are the perfect ones for you? And that's going to be a good evolution of the digital side of things."

Early is a man who wants people to be fanatical about Ubisoft franchises, both the boxed and digital products, likening it to American sports fans who paint their houses in team colours. And to create that the two types of product need to work together.

That's the challenge that the platform providers need to answer, how can they make discoverability easier?

"How do we create that same level of engagement from a game standpoint?"

"Not everybody is going to paint their house or put a Ghost Recon logo on their garage door, but shouldn't some people who want to engage at that level be able to do that? That's the experience we're trying to create, and we're trying to let people consume how they want to."

This is why you'll see Ubisoft franchises popping up on every device, Facebook, mobile, console, with franchises like the upcoming Ghost Recon available to players any place, any device, any time.

"The more someone can engage with something, the more loyal they can become. It's not that we're trying to force people into that, it's that we're giving them that option."

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Rachel Weber avatar
Rachel Weber: 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.
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