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Ubisoft's Alain Corre - Part One

The publisher's EMEA MD on a transitional period for the industry

Continuing our series of interviews with the global industry's business leaders and their views on a period of change for the games market, here is the first of a two-part interview with Ubisoft's MD for EMEA territories, Alain Corre.

The French publisher recently announced a change in its priorities, moving closer towards the key franchise titles in a bid to take advantage of the big unit sales available, and here we find out more about that procedure - plus some of the lessons learned from a tricky 2009. How do you look back and evaluate the 2009 calendar year?
Alain Corre

Well, it's true that it has been rather challenging for the industry - it was challenging for the world economy in general, and it was a challenge for us here at Ubisoft. I'd say it has been a transition year.

What was interesting is that last year both the hardcore and casual market were able to grow, people have continued to play games, and that's something we've looked at very carefully. I think more people came to gaming, not only on living room or handheld consoles, but also on mobile phones, or social networks.

So more and more people in the world are used to being entertained via gaming, and moving forward that's a very good perspective for the market.

Also, if we look back at last year, the value of the hardware sales went down because of the price decreases, but in terms of the number of machines sold - if you add up the extra Wiis, 360s and PlayStation 3s sold on the Western market - that's a bunch of new consoles bringing the installed bases up to very high levels, which is a very good sign for 2010 and the years beyond. Which is particularly good for third parties - the bigger the installed base, the more people you can sell units to.
Alain Corre

Yes - and in fact when you look at this, the signs for the market growing in the future are there. We kind of expect 2010 to be another transition year, meaning that we see the market stabilising in this calendar year, with the possibility of growth after that.

We're very confident in the fact that people will go on enjoying gaming, and we at Ubisoft are in the gaming and entertainment industry, so I think there are some extra good years coming in the future. It's clear that videogames have become so integral to society that there's no real chance people will desert the medium - but until last year there was continued growth for a number of years. Why was 2009 a "transition" year - was it just the economy?
Alain Corre

Well, that was part of it. People had less money to invest, especially in the US - people were more cautious about what they were spending. I'd say it was more, to a certain extent, in the casual segment of the market, especially on the handheld side, where people spent much less on cartridges.

But on the other side there was also the music game business, which went down quite a lot - and if you combine that with the DS decrease, it's been a big part of the decrease of the market last year.

However, if you look at what is important for the future, both the PS3 and 360 markets went up, which means that the gamers are still around, they're still enjoying playing and they're still playing more - which is essential for the dynamism of our industry, because these consumers are very vocal, they define trends, so that they're still getting to play great games is a very positive sign.

For example, Assassin's Creed II, which was the highlight of last year for Ubisoft - we had sold, by the end of December, 40 per cent more units than on the first Assassin's Creed two years before. So that shows that when you have a great property, a high quality game, then the volumes you can sell can increase.

That's very positive - but it's a more challenging industry in the sense that, on the gamer's side, only the triple-A-quality games will sell, but these games can sell many more units than they were selling before.

So if you can create a great property, with great quality, then it can become a golden nugget very quickly. And the good news for Ubisoft is that you'd say you already have several such franchises?
Alain Corre

Yes, the idea now is to concentrate more on key franchises - to put all of our talents and energy into the creation of those products. We did that on Assassin's Creed II, which was a new process for us - we had several of our studios work together to contribute to the creation of the game.

Our Montreal studio worked with our Singapore studio and the Annecy studio in France to make sure that the game would be a top quality game. And we've been able to make all the talented people - engineers and creatives - at the three studios work together.

I think in the future we'll see that as very much more the case - a bit like in the movie industry, where talent combines from different parts of the world. For example, our studio Hybride in Canada helped James Cameron to make the film Avatar.

The same way I think we'll see more and more people from different companies with different talent combine to create the best games on earth.

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