You’ve put a good 10-year shift in at Ubisoft, but I’d imagine that the last 18 months have been the most successful and enjoyable in all that time. Is that right? And if so, why do you think that is?
Yes, we’ve had some successes over the last 12 to 18 months, which is gratifying given how tough the market has been.
Dancing has obviously been a huge area of growth for us, and it’s been exciting to see the effect the Just Dance series has had on bringing more female gamers into the market. It’s helped us to understand a lot about how they play and how they buy games.
Our research shows us that men look for information about products they’re interested in; they might verify via reviews and then buy, whereas women’s purchasing decisions are much more considered; they look to their peers for endorsement of their proposed purchase.
But for me 2007 to 2008 was one of the most memorable years I’ve been through in my decade at Ubisoft. We were bringing Assassin’s Creed to the market for the first time; the hype was huge and it’s been incredible to watch the brand’s growing success over the last four years.
Do you find it odd that the period has coincided with quite a difficult one for the industry, or is it to do with Ubisoft having the sort of line-up/culture that thrives in adversity?
I would say variety is definitely a key factor in why we appeal. Gamers want variety, not just shooters and sports games.
We’ve been well quoted on our surprise about the initial success of Just Dance, but we were also reassured to find a key new sector and gamer.
We’ve learnt a lot about appealing to casual gamers. Mothers and daughters want to play, and they want to play together and with their friends, so the content needs to appeal across the ages.
What do you think the key will be to maintaining the Just Dance brand’s level of success? Do you worry about the peak and dip suffered by the music games?
It’s about staying in touch with what consumers want. Just Dance tapped into a huge dancing craze in the UK, and that appetite for dance is still very high, which is reflected in the continued success of the game.
But now that we have welcomed consumers into this game, we need to continue to evolve the content and gameplay features to keep it fresh and interesting. You’ll see an amazing move forward with the next Just Dance game later this year.
As Ubisoft grows, is the UK’s share of Ubisoft’s business growing? I’m sure there must be a friendly element of competition between territories...
Well I’ve got a very competitive nature so it goes without saying that I always want to beat my friends over in Paris. On a serious note, I’m delighted that our UK market share grew from 8.7 per cent to 11.1 per cent in 2010/11. That was immensely satisfying.
A lot of credit has to be given to our fantastic development teams and the quality of products; but also to the team in the UK. I work with a group of people that has a great spirit to achieve and to grow. Improving what we know and what we do is at the heart of the UK team’s culture.
Ubisoft CEO Yves Guillemot recently said that the ultimate goal is to catch-up and overtake Activision and EA. From a UK perspective, how big a challenge is this and how do you achieve it?
Quality of games is the key to success in this business. Games need to be entertaining and have longevity, and we need to maximise monetary gain via digital channels.
Ubisoft has a will to win – there is a huge sense of drive and determination in this company. It’s a big statement to make, but what’s wrong with having big goals?
We have the development resource and commitment to quality to be able to achieve these goals. Being at the forefront of new technologies has also been a winning strategy for us.
We don’t just rest on our laurels – we look for new opportunities that can give us a competitive advantage.
We do have areas in which we need to improve. Creating buzz earlier is crucial, and firming up release dates is key to maximising our relationships with the trade and with media, but these are things we have acknowledged and they’re being addressed.
What are your product priorities for the second half of the year?
To start with, we’re very excited to be reinvigorating the Driver franchise with the launch of Driver San Francisco in September. Early press previews have been fantastic, and we’re confident that customers are going to love this new instalment.
It’s Rayman’s 15th birthday this year, and to celebrate Michel Ancel will be bringing him back in an absolutely beautiful 2D platform adventure with glorious environments. E3 will be the first showing of the game, and I guarantee people will not be disappointed with what they see.
Assassin’s Creed Revelations will be coming out in time for Christmas. This is the final game in this chapter, but there is so much new content that it will be another must-buy, as will Just Dance 3.
Another new game that I’m particularly excited about is Tintin, which is a collaboration with Peter Jackson and Steven Spielberg that launches alongside the movie later this year.
On top of those big names, we’re also bringing Ghost Recon Online and TrackMania 2: Canyons to broad beta audiences later on in the year. As we continue to expand our online offerings, we think these two games will really show off Ubisoft’s ability to deliver top-quality, unique experiences in that growing market.
As a publisher boss, what are the biggest strategic challenges facing you at the moment – and how have those challenges changed over the last, say, three years?
Trying to understand where the market is going is obviously a crucial challenge. Seeing the emergence of so many different platforms, where both children and adults are playing, presents a lot to learn and understand and respond to.
But it’s an opportunity to continue to bring gaming into more people’s lives and that’s definitely an exciting prospect.
Taking our titles and making them even bigger is a huge focus for Ubisoft. We have invested in a number of areas where we can extend our game brands, including the Ubisoft Motion Pictures division and the licensing division where we are creating new lines of merchandise that support our games and keep the brand message alive between launches.
Consumers demand a lot of value for money and it’s challenging meeting those high expectations. With consumers buying fewer games, we as publishers need to look at how we can monetise the spin-offs from our main games, in order to extend that gaming experience.
I’d imagine one of the challenges involves the gradual shift away from traditional distribution and retail. Where would you peg that process right now?
We have been a little bit slow in this area but we have a number of online games and MMOs on the horizon – Trackmania, Ghost Recon Online, Settlers and ImagineTown are four great titles for four very different audiences.
We are putting a lot of work into setting ourselves up to support consumers’ needs in those areas, so I would expect our presence in this sector to continue to expand.
We’ve also launched a number of XBLA and PSN titles which have proven to be very successful and we’ll continue to look at digital distribution as a way of putting out high-quality games like From Dust and Outland, which benefit from the freedom of smaller teams, faster development and less overheads.
There will always be a place for boxed product. The big game experience will still exist but it’s also likely that this will spin off into other areas so I think we will see the two working complementarily alongside each other.
Ubi has a strong record on mainstream and social gaming on traditional formats. Where do you stand on other platforms, such as social media, smart phones, tablets and so on?
We’re investing across all of those platforms, by exploring ways of tying in some of our already popular brands and by trying some entirely new things.
For instance, we launched Assassin’s Creed Project Legacy as a standalone Facebook game, but it was connected to Assassin’s Creed Brotherhood, so players could unlock content in one by playing the other.
For fans of the franchise, this was a new way for immersing themselves in the Assassin’s Creed universe, and we learned a lot about best practices in the area of ‘companion’ gaming.
We’ve also got games on Facebook like CSI: Crime City, which has around two million average users a month and strong real-world brand tie-ins, including game episodes created by the show’s writers.
In the coming year, we’ll have even more to talk about in these areas. We’re expecting to see a lot more of this kind of companion gaming, which is the notion that variations of a game can be played across multiple platforms.
You were obviously more committed to the 3DS at launch than any other third party. How big an opportunity do you think it is for the industry – and why do you think other publishers see it more as a first party-friendly format?
Ubisoft has always been a big Nintendo supporter and we’ve always positioned ourselves early on their new formats.
I know that sales of the 3DS haven’t been up to the level Nintendo initially hoped but there are some key brands coming to the format and these will be big hardware drivers in the run up to Christmas. I’m certain that 3DS will have a good Christmas.
How excited are you as a company about the prospect of a new console from Nintendo?
What you always get with Nintendo is innovation, with consumers at the heart of the technologies they create, which will always result in huge success and I’m more than confident that Wii 2 will live up to this.
Never underestimate Nintendo and their capacity to look at gaming in new and innovative ways. I expect to be wowed.
When do you think we might see new static consoles from Sony and Microsoft?
I’ll leave that up to Microsoft and Sony to say for certain, but I’d echo something Yves said earlier this year: there have been tons of technological advances since the last round of consoles was released, and we’d love to see those advances included in new consoles sooner rather than later.
That’s because the sooner we have the next generation of consoles to build on, the sooner we can leverage those advances to create the next generation of video games.
The peripherals and the updates to the existing generation have been great, but it’s typically new consoles that really spark innovation from publishers and the demand from customers.
In the absence of new console hardware, how important a boost have the new motion controllers been – and how has Ubisoft maximised them?
Last year we were strong on Kinect with Your Shape Fitness Evolved, and more recently with Michael Jackson The Experience, and we supported Move with Motion Sports.
Once again this fits with our strategy of positioning ourselves at the forefront of new technologies. What we’re really looking forward to now is the release of Child of Eden in June. Gamers have been waiting for a killer title on Kinect and we think this could be it.
It’s an extraordinary game, with amazing music and really has to be seen and played.
We’re opening a pop-up shop in Soho for three weeks and everyone’s welcome [it can be found at 34-35 Dean Street, W1 from June 4th to June 22nd], where gamers can drop in daily to get their hands on the game.