The Beautiful Games

Ubisoft last month reported a 16 per cent jump in FY sales – in the midst of a recession. What’s your secret?
The key is developing a portfolio to please all types of people. We are developing games for girls aged 12 on the DS with Imagine Doctor, games for families with Rabbids TV on Wii and the hardcore with Far Cry 2 and Tom Clancy’s HAWX – plus a cross-section of society with Puzzler.

We continue to develop for PC; the PC fans are still very interesting and we count on them as consumers. Ruse is our big real time strategy on PC this year. It’s very unique with a top-down view. Our web-based games are being developed with Heroes Of Might And Magic coming this year.

Are there any gaps in the portfolio you’d like to fill?
We tried sports games with Shaun White and it’s done extremely well – we’re close to three million units sold worldwide. So we know sports can be good for us. We’re developing a football game as we speak. It’s on Wii and it’s called Academy of Champions. It’s true that there are already some big guys on the scene. But we wanted to have a different approach. We are starting with the Wii version.

It will be a game that will be a bit like Mario Strikers – crazy, but still sticking to the rules. Players will have the feeling that they are playing real football – but laughing at the same time. We don’t want it to be a straight simulation. That genre is already very well covered. We are taking a different approach and trying to be more mainstream and less serious with this first one. The aim is to develop this franchise on and on in the future.

Are you keen to move into other core sports genres?
There are a lot of people in the tennis genre, these days. The issue with sports is that there are very few of them that cover the whole world. Football is good and is growing a bit in America, but everything else is a little local. When you make a game like that you have to spend a lot in terms of endorsements and licences, so it makes it hard to remain profitable.

We’re trying to take different approaches, like Shaun White and now Academy Of Champions. We are definitely looking at other directions, because we believe the quality of our studios and innovation means we can do something really new. But we have to look for the right angle.

What’s the biggest difference between Ubisoft last year and Ubisoft this year?
The main thing is that our top triple-A franchises are back: Assassin’s Creed 2, Sam Fisher is back from being cryopreserved – we’re taking him out of the fridge – and we also have Rabbids Go Home and Red Steel 2. Our hardcore franchises are coming back. This year we have products to take us to the top of the charts. It’s a tough market with a lot of competition. But the pillars of Ubisoft, of innovation and quality, will pay off this year, we think.

You showed off your new 3D film tie-in Avatar at E3. How big an innovation will 3D gaming be?
It’s a brand new visual approach to gaming and movies. Hopefully, it will capture everyone’s attention. We know not all the gamers will be able to own this technology at home and get the best out of it. But the experience they have with 3D will change their view of the future of gaming– one day, it will become a must have in any game.

We teamed up very closely with Fox for Avatar. We’re helping each other to make a great game and we are also giving them ideas for their movie. It’s a really good combination. People will be dreaming about Avatar after seeing it at E3. People will have never witnessed anything like it before. This is an investment in technology we will be able to put into our future products.

Can OnLive really revolutionise the industry?

We love that OnLive will give more energy into new networks to touch even more consumers than we have today. What we wish is to have as many networks as possible, because it means more gamers will see our creations. It’s another way for us to make games available to the public. But we don’t think it will replace the consoles we have today as the main vehicles for our games. It’s an additional thing that’s an interesting idea we’re following closely and we’ll be part of it.

MCV revealed that you were keen on buying three studios at Christmas. Has the recession hindered your ability to buy?
We’ve recently bought Massive Entertainment and Action Pants – two new studios and technologies we’re pleased to have on board. We are still analysing all the companies in this world who want to find a partner or home for their products. It’s true the economy is a bit uncertain, so we remain cautious and look at only the best opportunities. But we are always in negotiations or discussions with studios – not least with the new start-ups that are specialists in online gaming.

After Square’s purchase of Eidos and Namco Bandai purchasing Atari’s European operations, will we see more Japanese firms acquiring Western publishers? Would Ubisoft discuss a potential buyout?

Up to now, our strategy has been to grow organically and welcome little companies into the Ubisoft family. I feel we can innovate, perform and get good revenues with what we have now. We have a dream team in terms of people and excellent brands.

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