At Ubisoftâ??s Ubidays showcase in Paris last month, the firm reiterated its well-documented plans to grow its studio headcount. editor Tim Ingham caught up with the firmâ??s head of global development Christine Burgess-Quémard to get the full story. Here's the first half of their chatâ?¦

Pardon my French, Part 1

You recently extended your studios into Kiev from Romania. Why did you pick the Ukraine?

We’re looking at Kiev to tap into a new talent pool. A city like Kiev has very good universities. Eastern Europe has historically been known for producing very good programmers and Ubisoft is always interested in looking at new talent. We’re tapping into new areas.

What sort of projects will they be looking after?

Before we can do a project, we have to train them into our industry – and into our company as well. So there will be a period of time when they actually learn from the other studios and help some of the studios. Only once that’s done can they take on a project of their own – it’s done gradually. Until then, we don’t now exactly what they’ll be working on.

What is the level of expansion coming at Ubisoft this year – and how are you going to grow in Eastern Europe in particular?

We’re going to increase our headcount by 900 this year globally. We keep on looking at how we can expand and grow our studios in that area, but we’re not limited to Eastern Europe. We’re looking at Asia very much as well because we have to be competitive. It’s becoming a bit more difficult in Eastern Europe because those countries are now joining Europe [the EU], which gives the same issues we have in the UK and in other ‘established’ countries.

Globally, what’s the overall strategy for expansion – organic growth or acquisition?

Both – growing our existing base and acquisition as well. We’re looking at regions where we can find a good mix between the talent, the education level and cost. We have to find the right balance between the right talent and the right price. That’s where our challenge is.

Many companies seem to be targeting Korea. Is that somewhere you’re looking at?

We just opened in Singapore, which is obviously close to Korea. All I can say on that one is that we’re always looking and considering suitable territories.

Why is it more attractive for you to open studios in emerging markets than established territories – not least the UK?

First of all, the pound is very high, and then as far as I know the UK Government still hasn’t decided to help developers. It’s very competitive out there and the development costs are going to get higher and higher in future – they’re going to be huge, in fact. When we receive the next generation of consoles, it’s probably going to take teams of 250 to 300 people for just one project. We have to find some places where we can still develop with a competitive edge.

What do you make of the Games Up campaign? Does it stand a chance of success, do you think?

If we didn’t think it wouldn’t have any success, we wouldn’t be part of it. I don’t know really – we’ll have to wait and see.

If UK studios were granted some financial relief from the State, how much more of an attractive area would it make the UK for Ubisoft?

Very attractive. Historically, there’s been a very interesting bunch of people in the UK – very creative people. We have our studio working on Driver in Newcastle, which was an acquisition – that just goes to show we know the talent is there and worth spending money on. We’ve been in the industry long enough to remember when the UK was leading the world in development. But at the moment, the UK Government just doesn’t understand what this industry can bring to the country, which is what other governments have done. I hope it won’t be too late by the time they understand that and that all the development opportunity will have gone. It’s suffering at the moment and the danger is it will come too late.

Part two of this feature will be published on June 11th.

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