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Ubisoft's Murray Pannel

The UK marketing director appraises the company's E3 performance and talks plans for 2010

In 2009 Ubisoft managed one of the games of the year with Assassin's Creed II - and one of the eyebrow-raisers at this year's E3 showing was its follow-up, Brotherhood.

Here, UK marketing director Murray Pannel looks back at the company's marketing for the 2009 success, and appraises its E3 line-up, and looks ahead to plans for the rest of this year - and why there are plenty of reasons to be excited. First of all, what's the reaction been like to the E3 line-up from Ubisoft?
Murray Pannel

I guess in broad terms I think we had a very good E3. We presented a very strong and varied line-up - in certain areas I think we've surprised people with some of the products. We've got really strong traditional franchises that we know and hope will sell well - such as Assassin's Creed, Driver and Ghost Recon - but we've also got the successes of last year coming back, with things like Just Dance 2.

And importantly, with things like the Michael Jackson game, which is coming as a result of working closely with Sony and Michael Jackson.

So I think we've got a really interesting line-up that's got something for the core game, but also the more casual gamer as well - good variety from now until Christmas, and beyond. Michael Jackon's estate has made a huge amount of money since his death - I guess you'll be hoping that popularity continues with your game?
Murray Pannel

Absolutely, though the truth is that we were engaged with Jackson and the Jackson family long before his death. By all accounts he was very pro-actively looking for a partner that he felt could bring value - and Ubisoft seemed to fit the bill very well.

So this isn't something that's been jumped on since his death - we've been working on this, despite the fact that we announced it quite recently, for a long time. It's well advanced in terms of the formats it's working on - we know how big he is, how loved he is by his fans and how successful he's been as an artist. Hopefully we can bring that to millions more gamers as well. Is Michael Jackson unique in the opportunities he brings? Guitar Hero and Rock Band have both released artist- or band-specific add-ons, but this is a completely focused game. Are there others who might warrant entire game experiences on their own that you might be interested in?
Murray Pannel

Michael Jackson clearly breaks boundaries in terms of audiences. Since his death a lot of the awareness that was generated at that point - girls and boys in their pre-teens are now into Michael Jackson, as well as men and women of all ages.

He definitely breaks boundaries and gives us a great opportunity to appeal to a really mass-market for a game. Where does this lead us to in terms of product? I think time will tell, but certainly the technology will be built so that we can take either genre-specific or artist-specific content and create experiences are true to those brands. When we spoke last year we were looking ahead to the end of 2009, in particular Assassin's Creed II. That was a great success for Ubisoft, but how much of that success can you attribute to marketing, how much was to the game quality, and how much to the fact that it was the second game in a franchise?
Murray Pannel

We're extremely pleased - it sold well over 1 million units now in the 6 months or so it's been out, and very few games do that these days. I think there are a number of factors that contributed to that success - there's no doubt in my mind that the quality of the software was a very important part of it.

A Metacritic of 90-plus per cent gives gamers the reassurance that it's a very good quality game - and that was all the more critical because the first game, although it promised so much, didn't quite deliver on that in terms of review scores. So the fact that it came out and it was a really well-respected, critically-acclaimed game gave us the springboard for success.

I have to say that the PR and marketing really helped - I think it was a very single-minded campaign, very focused, with a decent amount of money behind it that broadened it out from a core gamer who saw the quality of the game, into the mainstream who picked up on the quality aspects and saw the marketing around it, the good PR and all the rest of it.

Broadening that communication out was absolutely critical - we made a point to start the marketing early, which I think helped. And I think there's a third factor, arising from the fear of a congested Christmas market. Actually, it was a little bit quieter because a lot of people moved their games out.

Of course, Call of Duty cleaned up to some extent, but I think even though we were only ten days behind them, there was a vacuum for a good quality triple-A blockbuster title - that wasn't a shooter, and had more of a story and plot-driven element to it - that people loved. Timing wasn't perfect, but in the end I think it helped us a little bit.

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