INTERVIEW: Ubisoft

Ben Parfitt
INTERVIEW: Ubisoft

E3 2010 wasn’t about the games.

The software took a backseat in favour of 3DS, Kinect and Move. And although the titles on display certainly looked nice, there wasn’t much in terms of innovation.

Except when you wandered by Ubisoft’s booth – the publisher’s E3 offering was by far the most unusual and exciting of the lot.

Sure, the blockbusters were all present and correct – there was a new Ghost Recon, Driver and Assassin’s Creed. But the firm’s line-up was filled with some real innovation – there was Child of Eden for Kinect, a console-compatible version of laser tag, a PC system designed to reduce stress, a stunning downloadable title entitled Project Dust, and a Michael Jackson dancing game.

In a show filled with samey, Unreal-powered shooters and sequels, Ubisoft’s press event was refreshingly different.

“We’re pleased with the response to our E3 line-up,” Ubisoft’s UK MD Rob Cooper told MCV following a UK showcase of the E3 line-up.

“We’ve got the best creative teams in the world and those teams come to us with great projects. We obviously study the risks, but overall I think that Ubisoft is one of the few publishers that are really willing to let our creative teams do just that: create. All of the titles that we announced this year we think offer something new and interesting to a targeted audience.”

But as exciting as these new IPs may be, is Ubisoft taking too many risks?

“All new creation is risky and we take that into consideration,” Cooper adds.

“These projects are not three-year, hundred-team development projects and so the risks are calculated. The great thing is that these technologies can be used in other games in the future.”

One of the new technologies was Innergy, a wellness game that uses a ‘biofeedback tool’ that measures heart rate and pulse. Ubisoft says it was working on this before Nintendo revealed its Vitality Sensor last year.

“The inspiration came from various breakthroughs in biofeedback technology and the realisation that you can make a game that doesn’t need a stylus or joystick,” continues Cooper.

Ubisoft is also working on a user-generated platform called ManiaPlanet. ManiaPlanet contains three titles: TrackMania, ShootMania and QuestMania – allowing gamers to create their own racers, shooters and RPGs. And that’s not to mention Battle Tag, an in-the-home version of the popular Laser Tag.

“It’s always been about innovation – whether that is about different formats like Battle Tag or existing formats,” adds UK sales director Darren Bowen.

“Just Dance could have been seen as quirky a year ago and having limited sales potential, but look at it now. I think Battle Tag got a mixed response at E3 but it just shows we’re looking at different areas where we can push video games.”

Ubisoft was even being creative with its established franchises.

Driver: San Francisco lets gamers supernaturally ‘possess’ different cars, Shaun White Skateboarding is a hybrid of Tony Hawk and de Blob, while the next Rayman game is returning to its 2D roots.

But perhaps one of the most exciting new titles on show was Child of Eden – the spiritual successor to Rez designed with Microsoft’s Kinect in mind.

“I think that Child of Eden will be one of the few Kinect titles at launch that will really speak to a core video game audience,” continues Cooper.

“It’s an original, creative and innovative gameplay experience.

“Our marketing teams will be working hard to ensure that the game is on the radar of Kinect early adopters. It got some really wonderful feedback after we announced it.”

But Ubisoft’s presence at E3 wasn’t all about niche and quirky IP.

The publisher was present at all three platform-holder press conferences with a major new release.

Your Shape: Fitness Evolved was shown off at Microsoft’s showcase, a Just Dance 2 trailer was revealed during Nintendo’s jam-packed event, while Sony decided to show off Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood.

“It’s the first parties who choose the content of their press conferences so this, to me, is a real testament to the quality of our games and Ubisoft’s willingness to be out there first on new technology,” Cooper adds.

“We’re proud of the fact that Ubisoft created innovative titles that Nintendo, Sony and Microsoft wanted showcase at their press conferences.

“We’ve recently stated a goal of striving for more regular releases of our top franchises through an enhanced collaboration between our global studios. At the same time, we’re working hard to study each project to ensure that we can guarantee the quality, offering a new gameplay experience with each title.”

Ubisoft is investing heavily into new technology, too. The firm has several titles for Kinect and Move, and also plans to release six to eight titles for the launch of 3DS.

“I think it’s really important to stay ahead and a lot of it is down to the management team – both at headquarters and at each of our studios – to recognise what is going to be important,” adds Bowen.

“If you look at DS and Wii, some publishers shied away from it whereas Ubisoft went full into it, and that’s why we’ve grown our share. We keep innovating and keep pushing ahead of the competition.”

Ubisoft’s UK marketing director Murray Pannell adds: “Our products for Kinect were highlighted by the press as something very different to what else was shown.

“Us being able to do something different means that Microsoft – and Sony or Nintendo – are able to say ‘this is something different for our platform, this is a reason to buy the hardware’ and that’s important for them and for us.”

Ubisoft is also working with 3D technology. The publisher was the first firm to develop a true 3D game with last year’s Avatar tie-in, and is hard at work utilising the technology in Shaun White Skateboard and Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon: Future Soldier.

Cooper says: “I do believe that Avatar allowed us just a little bit of advantage in terms of experience with how this market will work.

“We are working to offer the possibility of 3D on most of our upcoming triple-A titles as we’d like to ensure that we are there for those consumers that begin putting new 3D enabled televisions in their homes.”

Ubisoft sits in strategic opposition to its rivals. Whereas the rest of the publishing world focuses on fewer, bigger budget titles, Ubisoft is willing to take a chance on finding the next big thing.

Some of Ubisoft’s gambles are more likely to succeed than others. One of those more certain titles is a dance game starring Michael Jackson.

Cooper concludes: “We feel that the Michael Jackson game will definitely be a million-seller. We hope that it will be one of the biggest-selling titles this Christmas season.

“We were approached quite a long time ago by Michael Jackson himself to build this game as he really liked what Ubisoft had done in the past.

“We’re so excited with this opportunity and to be a part of the legacy that he has left.”

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