Ubisoft looks forward

Were you excited or disappointed by your Q3 performance?
I think everyone was holding their breath a little going into the holiday season. But in the end the video game industry did well, showing software sales growth in the UK of 23 per cent and consoles sales growth of 14 per cent – and that is good news. At Ubisoft we were confident that we had a line-up that offered games of quality to a diverse audience. And the results show the solidity of our line-up.

We came out of the season with 17 per cent growth (at a constant exchange rate) over last year and we are pleased that we were able to outperform our targets. We are now looking forward to 2009 with our line-up aimed at continuing offering quality and innovative gameplay to the widest possible audience.

Why do you think it was difficult for you and others to gain the impactful sales you wanted from some triple-A titles over Christmas?
It was a very crowded season this year and I think that gamers had to make some difficult choices. It really was a deeply competitive season with a lot of titles of great quality coming from many different publishers.

Ubisoft has come out of the season with several great successes in titles like Far Cry 2, Shaun White Snowboarding – which has now become our 15th multi-million selling brand – and Rayman Ravin Rabbids TV Party as well as the continued success of our casual line-up. Our successful season is due to the hard work of our creative and business teams.

You continue to have incredible success with your Imagine range and DS casual games. What do you think sets you apart in this respect compared to other publishers?
We were one of the first creators into this market and our experience shows – we’ve got the quality and the ability to quickly adapt to the market’s changing needs. We take the time to develop titles that are innovative, that fill a
need and that are fun and easy to play and I think this newer audience appreciates that.

Is there any feeling at Ubisoft that the DS or Wii market may be becoming overcrowded?
We’ve seen that the sales figures for the DS and Wii are still progressing and that means we are still conquering new audiences. So, what we worry about is ensuring that we are continuing to make the best quality games with innovative concepts like our new Planet Rescue line or Combat of Giants: Dinosaurs.

This way, even if the market is crowded, we are the first into new segments and consumers will continue to look to us for new, fun games.

What we are seeing in this market is that the audience is continually looking for new, innovative titles. We saw that even in an established brand like Imagine; the titles that our audiences responded to this year were titles with new concepts like Imagine Dream Weddings or Imagine Teach. The titles that sold well last year are not the titles that are selling well this year, so you constantly have to renew your offer and work to impress the customer.

Microsoft is very keen on pushing 360 to the family consumer, but seems to be doing much of the ‘legwork’ (mainstream software) itself. Do you think it will succeed in this task, and can we expect to see more casual Ubisoft boxed titles on Xbox 360 in the near future?
Yes, what we are seeing is a gradual shift in the market towards casual. Microsoft did an amazing job last year of bringing its price point in line with that of Nintendo and therefore opening up its console to people who may not have purchased it otherwise. So it’s got this great new installed base with the Xbox 360 entering homes where it hadn’t been before. And these homes are going to want to play lots of games – including casual games that can be played together as a family.

What stage are you at in terms of your move into creating product for the cinema?
We are very excited about the projects that we are working on in this area, but I’m not able to say more about it
at this time.

What do you think will be the biggest progression for the industry this year?
We’ve got a difficult financial context but we are also in the middle of the console cycle, which means that we’ve got a large and growing base of users. So I don’t see it as a year where we will see gigantic technological innovations on the Xbox 360 or PS3, but a year where we will see game creators concentrating on putting out the best quality games possible.

We’ve also got a fairly new audience with the non-traditional gamers who have purchased consoles like the DS or Wii and they will become more and more discerning. It’s our job then to impress all audiences with quality and innovation.

When will 3D gaming really take off? What stage are you at with your development of this technology?
We’re using 3D technology for Avatar, the game that we are making with James Cameron based on his film that will release later this year, and we’re very excited about it. 3D helps to immerse gamers and gives them the feeling that they are living the adventure of the game – and that is a great thing. It’s definitely a technology that will impress even the most jaded gamer.

You’ve previously talked in MCV about a need to move into sports gaming. After Shaun White, will you continue to push into this area – and are there more products coming?
This is a difficult genre to break into and I’m pleased with the results; Shaun White Snowboarding was our first tie-in with a professional athlete and it has been a huge success worldwide. Working with Shaun has been great and I think that shows in the fun and excitement of the game when you play it. This is definitely an area in which we plan to grow our presence.

Are you looking to buy or merge with any publishing or development entity? In particular, if the opportunity to buy into Eidos came about, would you take it?
Ubisoft is always on the lookout for studios or brands that will help us to continue our strategic growth.

If the right offer came in, could Ubisoft ever be for sale?
Our strategy is to continue our strategic internal growth, looking for ways to diversify our portfolio so that we can offer fun, innovative game experiences to all different audiences. We’re successful in that strategy and that is where all of the energy of our team members is going right now.

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