Deep in the heart of the Louvre in Paris sits a publisher boss with a twinkle in his eye. But Ubisoft CEO Yves Guillemot's gallic exuberance is not down to the fair few Euros he must surely have in the bank; nor is it down to the knowledge that he has founded this top five publisher and built it up to become a global player from its beginnings over 20 years ago.
It is something else. Something which he feels makes Ubisoft unique and inescapably, well, French.
But is it art?
There's a definite theme to Guillemot's responses. He speaks of offering his ‘creators' conditions in which they can produce games to rival the masterpieces that this famous art gallery houses.
So it is a focus on creativity and new ideas, over and above talk of marketing campaigns and targeting certain demographics, that Guillemot believes
is the driving force behind Ubisoft's meteoric rise.
It is very much down to our creators,” he tells MCV. They push us to innovate and to try new things that they think will be good for the company, so a lot of the growth of the company has really come from the creators.”
The publisher's rhetoric during its second UbiDays event was centred on this prioritisation of artistic merit and of ushering in a new era in which gamers feel an emotional connection to its gaming experiences – something Guillemot believes Ubisoft can achieve more easily due to being a smaller, more manoeuvrable beast compared to the likes of EA and Activision.
It is also the ability of the company to react fast to adopt new technology and new kinds of games – that's where we generate new customers and customers that have never played before,” he continues.
It's really the combination of guys in the company that want to create new things, and the ability to move fast. The growth of the company is coming from both. Ideas can come from everywhere and we must retain the ability to grow them. We have many studios across the world and so have ideas that can come from everywhere.”
Creativity is key
When it comes to talk of mergers and acquisitions, Guillemot seems less interested; while of course the company is always looking at opportunities to expand, maintaining the culture of creativity is something that he is keen to preserve and enrich.
We are always interested in buying new partners. For sure, in different companies there are some very, very good people. But we are always very careful not to lose what makes us different.
You can take on more but at the same time you can change what made the company and the way we do things. So yes, we are interested but at the same time you must be careful to keep the company's spirit.
There's a balance between the risk you are taking and the rewards and problems you can have in a company. At Ubisoft we want the creators to take risks – you can try something and if you fail once you can always come back and try again.”
The fruits of this risk-tolerant approach was evident in what Ubisoft showcased the previous night – with Tom Clancy's EndWar, Ubisoft hopes to make real time strategy really work on consoles; the new Raving Rabbids title boasts a host of quirky new ideas; and Shaun White's Snowboarding represents Ubisoft's first major push into the sports genre – something that Guillemot is keen to expand upon.
What we are doing with Shaun White is that we think we've found a really good title and we will learn a lot from it. The sports genre is different – there are lots of good elements there because it is more casual, so it would bring new customers to Ubisoft. So we have something to grow there, and that's what we are doing.”
Could Ubisoft be gearing up for a much larger push into the sports market? Time will tell. But more concrete is the publisher's ambitions in movies and 3D gaming.
What we will do is make sure the new games are as good in 2D as they are in 3D. We are making sure that the way we make the games they use the technology so that gamers can be immersed in the world.
We think 3D will be extremely important in the industry in the next four or five years, so we are keen to learn now what we can do. The movie industry is moving towards this as well, and the games we will create and the movies we will create in the future will use this – so we need to be ready.”
While he couldn't be pushed on when we might see the first of the publisher's movie projects, it is clear that Ubisoft no longer sees itself as a mere video games publisher.
Having snapped up the rights to the Tom Clancy brand, it is embarking on new cross-media projects that will once again rely upon its creative thinkers to drive its output.
Of course, there is Prince of Persia, Far Cry 2, two new Clancy games and more on the way, but on top of its movie aspirations, there are new sports titles, a major push of its Games For Everyone brand and an exploration of what might be achieved with 3D gaming.
In elevating its titles alongside great works of art at UbiDays, the French publisher portrayed itself as the sophisticated bohemian of the games industry – a publisher unafraid to explore new possibilities and ideas. Guillemot's band of creatives now have to live up to those lofty aspirations.
It's a tough task, but the continued twinkle in the Ubisoft's CEO's eye suggests that it is an objective well within his talented team's abilities.