INTERVIEW: Yves Guillemot, Ubisoft

Last year Ubisoft told MCV it would take on EA and Activision as the world’s top publisher.One year later, and the firm is Europe’s No.2 games company thanks to its biggest ever Q4.MCV asks CEO Yves Guillemot how Ubisoft stole Christmas.

Christmas 2011 was a challenging time for the global games market. And it was a hugely congested quarter, with a number of big releases. How did Ubisoft manage to rise above the rest and dominate December?

We had record-high sales for the Christmas period, which exceeded our expectations. One reason is that we were able to reach a wider audience than other companies, thanks to the quality of our games and our capacity to create brands for both hardcore and casual players. Assassin’s Creed: Revelations did well, and Just Dance generated outstanding sales. We also saw another increase in our online sales.

So, even though it was an incredibly competitive quarter with a lot of great games for customers to choose from, we were able to do very well by executing on our key strategies in the casual, high-definition and online areas. We’re looking forward to 2012, and excited to deliver even more incredibly creative and rewarding games to players.

Has the continued success of the dance genre surprised you? There were fears it would go the way of Guitar Hero. Are you still wary of that?

Initially, the level of success took us by surprise, yes. We didn’t expect it to become the phenomenon it did. However, we did anticipate that Just Dance 3 would be bigger than Just Dance 2, because we saw how the brand was growing and we didn’t see any slowdown. The game continues to attract more and more people, no matter what kind of games they say they typically like to play. That growing audience helped us sell more than 25 million copies of the Just Dance franchise and has helped keep Just Dance 3 in the Top Five in sales since its launch.

There were a lot of dance games out last year. Aren’t you worried that the market is becoming over-saturated?

Market saturation in any genre is a possibility, and our teams are constantly thinking about how to create and develop new genres and new segments of games for the future. That said, there is a wide variety of people who love Just Dance, whether it’s because they love to dance, love to play it as a party starter or love to have a game they can play between all ages of family and friends.

We think that if we keep making great new games that focus on improving and innovating on the interaction between the players – rather than on just the hardware – there’s still a big opportunity to win new customers as well as repeat buyers who are looking for the latest music or moves.

Last year, you stated that Ubisoft wants to challenge the established publishing order of EA and Activision. Is your success over Christmas a clear sign that you are doing that?

We’re challenging them, certainly. Just Dance 3 was the second-best selling game at retail in the US market for 2011, and we were the only publisher with three games in the Top Ten for the year. One of our goals is to be the best at providing people with incredible interactive entertainment.

Do you still think you can be No.1??And if so, when?

I won’t put a timeframe on it, but if we keep our focus on delivering high-quality games and on attracting and retaining top talent, I’m confident we’ll reach that goal.

What is Ubisoft’s market share in Europe and where do you want to take it?

Our market share in EMEA for 2011 was just slightly under nine per cent, and in the UK it was right at nine per cent. We were the second-largest independent publisher in Europe for the month of December 2011. We intend to grow market share in 2012, and we think we have the right line-up and strategies in place to do so.

Digital sales are obviously not included in any of these numbers. Did that grow over Christmas?

Digital and online games are one of our key focus areas and one in which we’re making big strides. Last year, this part of the business grew 100 per cent and we also made a few key acquisitions – like Owlient and RedLynx – that added talent and brands on top of what we’d been building internally. I can’t give out the exact figures for the holiday quarter since we don’t announce our official results until February. However, I can say that we held the top spot on XBLA for new games released in 2011, and we recently revised our estimates for the quarter upward, with the growth in our digital business definitely playing a role.

How much growth did you see for Assassin’s Creed? What does this mean for the next one and the future of the brand? Are the yearly instalments working?

Assassin’s Creed is an incredible franchise and there are a lot of expectations that it will continue to grow. We are pleased with our continued success so far: in the US, Assassin’s Creed Revelations was a Top Ten title for the entire calendar year, which shows that the demand is definitely there. We think that delivering regular instalments and expanding the brand to other platforms and mediums will continue to satisfy the demand, while at the same time attracting new fans. And, we’re confident that the next instalment of Assassin’s Creed will be the biggest to date.

The games industry is still focused heavily around Q4. Is this detrimental to the market?

The focus on the holiday season is understandable because it’s still when most people are shopping for new games for themselves or to give as gifts. It’s not unusual to see between 50 to 60 per cent of a year’s total sales happen during the holiday period. This holiday season was particularly competitive because of all the great games that were released.

Still, there are a few benefits to spacing out releases. One is that launching a few months after the rush means that people who have finished playing the games they bought during the holidays are ready for something new. That puts a game like Ghost Recon: Future Soldier in a great position: there’s less head-to-head competition in the shooter genre and more likelihood that players are ready for something new.

We’re in the fortunate position of having the talent and the variety of hit brands to do both: we can compete during the holidays and still put out great games throughout the rest of the year. Also, as we develop more games that are delivered digitally or played online, we expect our ability to consistently release games throughout the year will become an even stronger advantage for us.

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