In the space of three years, Ubisoft has acquired five online game development studios and seen digital sales soar.
In the first half of its 2011/2012 financial year, Ubisoft's online revenues rose 85 per cent year-on-year to €30m, representing 12 per cent of its overall sales. Digital accounted for just six per cent during H1 2010.
The firm's CEO Yves Guillemot recently said the casual and online segments offer immense opportunities”, and it's clear his vision for digital growth has coursed its way through the firm's veins.
Now Ubisoft plans to launch a plethora of brand new digital-only games over the next 12 months. Make no mistake – Ubisoft is dead serious about the digital world. Downloadable titles, free-to-play games, iOS releases and browser games on Facebook. It's doing it all. But not just to take a bigger slice of the digital pie – it's also a statementof intent.
There is a notion that boxed games are best and digital ones are the lower-quality product,” Ubisoft's digital marketing manager for EMEA Thomas Paincon tells MCV. Now the digital platforms are no longer second-rate. Things are changing. You have some really good games on those platforms.
The goal is to extend our existing franchises, to propose new experiences and even create new IP. Digital also allows us to take more of a risk because there's less room at retail to build a new franchise and people are more willing to test a game for an impulse buy online. We also want to establish a relation between the digital platforms.”
Digital loves retail
What about High Street retailers who may feel left out from all this new online activity?
I don't think retailers will lose an opportunity,” adds Paincon. We have to forget the old-fashioned way of thinking: retail versus digital. There's opportunity for both. Retailers can get involved.
For example we are launching an Imagine Online starter pack in France because we know that parents like to see a kids' game in a box. It's the credibility of the retailers that will help customers engage with our digital products. Digital is now a good business for retailers as online games are part of their revenue, too.”
On the next page we take a look at Ubisoft's plans for all the different digital platforms in 2012.
Ubisoft is focusing on four download-only games for 2012. These are motion-controlled god sim Babel Rising, four-player 3D action game Shoot Many Robots, platformer Rayman 3 and action survival game I Am Alive. The latter was originally a boxed game.
Ubisoft's Thomas Paincon says download titles can be as successful as their boxed counterparts.
Look at From Dust – that sold 500,000 units,”?he tells MCV. As for I?Am Alive, that had a bumpy development but its core concept has remained. We think digital could be a good solution for this game.”
Ubisoft will launch eight titles on the iOS platform over the next four months. These include titles based on existing franchises such as Assassin's Creed Recollection, which follows 2010's Assassin's Creed Rearmed.
The publisher will launch Michael Jackson: The Experience on iOS?in December, which will be followed by Rabbids, Prince of Persia and Ghost Recon games. There are also new franchises on the way such as Monster Burner, which recently launched on iPad.
Our strategy for iOS devices is to have a mix of new experiences,new IP and also our existinggames franchises,” Thomas Paincon tells MCV.
Tom Clancy's Ghost Recon Online will enter closed beta in the UK before the end of the year. The free-to-play PC shooter allows players to spend money on points to unlock weapons and armour quicker. It will also link up with other Ghost Recon titles on different platforms including Future Soldier on consoles, Shadow Wars on iOS and a Facebook game.
Other free-to-play browser games include Imagine Online and Settlers Online, with the latter entering an open beta in the UK later this year.
Facebook will also get several free-to-play licensed titles from Ubisoft by 2012 such as House, CSI and NCIS.
We have over 10m active users on Facebook and we have learnt a lot,” says Paincon. But remember, free-to-play is not just linked to PC. If you look at the Top Ten iOS games today, five of them are free-to-play.
Most of the time when a project is finished you jump to the next. But here we have to think months after launch. It's the beauty of free-to-play and the drawback. People can come for free but they can leave for free.
Free-to-play is just a business model but will maybe expand to consoles soon.”
UBISOFT ON OTHER SUBJECTS
Right now we're working with every digital retailer. We test everything. We don't want to limit ourselves – we want to see what each partner is doing. And not all video games are suited to every platform, so we're open to any partner who can help us to grow our digital business.”
Our OnLive numbers are up and that's working well. It's also a test for us to see how the players will react to cloud gaming. Is it working? How can we do better? The future possibilities are really expanding fast. Right now we just want to offer all of our users the best possible service.”
Right now Uplay [Ubisoft's online service that rewards players with extra in-game content] is completely free and it will stay free. It's our reward system for our players.Uplay will be used across all platforms. It allows you to connect Ghost Recon Online with Ghost Recon Future Soldier. Your UPlay account will know you've played them, so you'll be able to share achievements or take content from one game to another.”
The MMO sector
We don't have something like World of Warcraft in our portfolio because it's a really risky business. Star Wars: The Old Republic may be the last subscription-based MMO. They require a lot of work.The subscription model is really difficult now for players to understand. Five years ago everybody was saying ‘free-to-play is only for Asian countries, Western people will never understand it'. Now everybody wants to play for free to test then invest.”