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Ubisoft: "We won't even start" a game if it can't be a franchise

Tony Key discusses why marketing budgets are expanding and how Watch_Dogs connects to the NSA scandal

The [a]list daily sat down recently with Ubisoft's senior vice president of sales and marketing, Tony Key, to talk about Ubisoft's marketing plans and how things have changed. Here's some of what he had to say:

[a]list daily: Your CEO Yves Guillemot told me that Ubisoft will be increasing its marketing spend this year. What's driving that?

Tony Key: By increasing our marketing, our goal is actually to lower our risk. We spend so much time, energy and money creating these experiences like Watch_Dogs and Assassin's Creed, you need to match that now on the marketing side. You're making a huge bet on the development side, you've got to be all in. It became very clear to us about two years ago that this is a blockbuster world we live in now.

That means we have to be able to match the resources our production teams are putting in on the marketing side. You saw that with Assassin's Creed III; that was our largest marketing campaign ever as a company. What's interesting now is it doesn't feel so big any more. This year we're looking at Assassin's Creed IV, and Watch_Dogs, and saying 'That's what it takes nowadays, that's what we're going to keep doing.'

[a]list daily: You want this to be the foundation of a big franchise, then?

"Watch_Dogs for us is really a franchise because we're tapping into something people really care about, never more than when the NSA PRISM scandal broke"

Tony Key: Absolutely. That's what all our games are about; we won't even start if we don't think we can build a franchise out of it. There's no more fire and forget - it's too expensive.

We feel like we're in a really good place with Watch_Dogs, but until we're the biggest game of the year we're not going to be satisfied.

Last year we cleaned up at E3 because we were pretty much the only next-gen game around. Watch_Dogs for us is really a franchise because we're tapping into something people really care about, never more than when the NSA PRISM scandal broke.

[a]list daily: Do you change your marketing when a current event happens that ties into your game?

Tony Key: Absolutely. At one point in Watch_Dogs, Aidan taps into the surveillance system of an apartment building and he's looking at what everyone is doing. We had a screen shot of this guy sitting in his apartment with a department store female mannequin sitting with him and he's talking to it. When the PRISM story broke on Wednesday, we had that screen shot out on Friday on social media and said 'You never know who's watching.' We were able to react very quickly, and that's what social media brings.

[a]list daily: There are so many other ways to spend your time, people feel like they're making a commitment of time as well as money, and the game needs to be worthy of that, doesn't it?

Tony Key: We're competing for their time as much as anything now. It has to be a rewarding experience. It has to provide the value. The blockbuster games will continue to be a game that people are willing to pay for because the value is there. As a publisher, our challenge is to be providing that value.

Read more about how Ubisoft is marketing Watch_Dogs here, and find out what Tony Key thinks is the future of game marketing here.

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Steve Peterson avatar

Steve Peterson

Contributor/[a]list daily senior editor

Steve Peterson has been in the game business for 30 years now as a designer (co-designer of the Champions RPG among others), a marketer (for various software companies) and a lecturer. Follow him on Twitter @20thLevel.

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