Ubisoft: Strong licences need strong concepts

2012 has seen publishing giant Ubisoft unveil new IP, take its flagship brand to new heights and even sign a couple of Hollywood movie deals.

And it has continued to release games based on licences from other forms of entertainment, such as the Marvel Avengers title for Kinect and Wii U – a move that followed shortly after the home entertainment release of this year’s cinematic smash hit Avengers Assemble.

But the publisher insists that great care is taken with each licensing venture, whether it is combining a household name like Disney with the best-selling Just Dance series or signing Hollywood talent for the Assassin’s Creed and Splinter Cell movies.

Success, commercial manager Chris Marcus warns, is never guaranteed.

MCV asked Marcus how Ubisoft approaches handling third-party properties, and how it can grow its own brands beyond the world of video games.

What is Ubisoft’s overall strategy when it comes to licensed games? How do you strike the balance between original/owned IP and licensed brands?

Ubisoft has a great history of developing its own innovative IP – that remains the foundation of our strategy.We have also been privileged to work with some amazing licenses based on blockbuster movies (King Kong, Avatar, Tintin), world-famous artists (Michael Jackson) and top entertainment brands (Disney, Marvel, Smurfs), and have been able to combine the benefit of their existing awareness with years of expert development.We consider licensed projects to be part of a blended overall offering we deliver to the consumer.

What is the most successful licensed product you have had to date?

We have had great success with the Assassin’s Creed novels we have released with Penguin Books. Wepassed the 1m sold mark across the four books. So far, they are available in English, French, Spanish, German, Portuguese, Brazilian, Italian, Indonesian, Czech, Bulgarian, Dutch, Hungarian, Korean, Greek, Japanese, Estonian and Polish, and there’s more to come.

Michael Jackson The Experience has also been very successful, with sales exceeding 5m units. The key learning is that to succeed we need to combine a strong IP with a solid licensed concept, or vice versa. The license itself isn’t enough.

Ubisoft has licensed its Rabbids IP out to a number of other industries, including toys and even car adverts. Why does this brand translate so well to other markets?

The quirky personality of the Rabbids has allowed the brand to exist outside of its origins in video games and find more frequent opportunities to stay in the minds of those they have charmed. It also helps that they are able to scale and reach different audiences in different territories, which creates huge potential for the way they can be used to invade other markets.

Similarly, why has Assassin’s Creed proven to be so successful in books, comics, etc? What other plans do you have for the Assassin’s Creed IP?

The work in this area has been largely assisted by the great storytelling that is being played out through the game releases.The games also provide a reference to create sub stories, or to take certain aspects of character history and take a leap into a storyline that extends the experience.We’re already working on a full-length feature film through our Ubisoft Motion Pictures division, and we’re very excited to have attached Michael Fassbender to the film. The Assassin’s Creed merchandise line also will be expanding; we have several apparel lines launching across EMEA territories, the latest being thecollection we have worked on withour licensee Musterbrand.

What must publishers be aware of when acquiring licenses, or licensing out their own IP?

Disney, Universal, Sony and all other licensors are very cautious about the DNA of their brands/IPs, and so they select their licensing partners, whatever the category, with a great level of scrutiny. Ubisoft, as a licensee with years of expert development, is also increasingly cautious about the partners and licenses with which we work. We seek out agreements that are true win-win partnerships, which enable both parties to understand each other’s constraints and expectations, and respect the IP’s DNA while still delivering compelling gameplay.

In our industry, product development is expensive, which means that along with big opportunities there are significant industrial risks, especially today when the consoles market is transitioning to the next generation. World-famous and high-potential IPs aimed at dedicated targets (kids, young male adults, etc.) usually allow a minimisation of these risks. Yet, even then, success is not guaranteed. The partnership from the understanding of the IP’s DNA to the commercialisation of the game on a worldwide basis is therefore more essential than ever.

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