When Vivendi sold its remaining Ubisoft shares in March, you could hear the biggest sigh of relief from both sides of the Channel (and certainly across the pond, too). Since 2015, Vivendi had been attempting to take over the French company, with Ubisoft’s CEO Yves Guillemot deeming this investment “unsolicited and unwelcome” from the very start. Now free of Vivendi’s shadow, Ubisoft is ready for a new lease of life.
“Freedom is fantastic,” Ubisoft’s EMEA executive director Alain Corre beams when we ask how Ubisoft’s future is looking now that Vivendi is out of the picture. “We are an independent company. We want to remain independent. That’s the best way we can grow. And we have proven that already, many times. So we are super happy to be able to decide what we want to decide, when we want to decide it, in the future.”
With new ambitions in mind, Ubisoft now has to find a balance between trying new things and servicing its existing live games.
“It’s a challenge because we need a lot of talent to do that, so we are going to continue hiring in the studios, we plan to have more in the next five years,” Corre says. “We cherish our fans that are following our brands like Assassin’s Creed or Ghost Recon moving forward, but we feel that it’s also a good moment to invest in new IPs because there are a lot of new technologies appearing; PC is developing fast, there are new consoles coming, the streaming technology is there, cross-play is also something that will excite players. So we feel it’s the right time to create new genres, new IPs, because if the sun can shine on these, we’ll have them for a long time to come.”
And that’s very much the vision for Ubisoft’s upcoming new IP Gods & Monsters. Unveiled at E3, it will be out in February next year, which is a short cycle from reveal to release for Ubisoft (we’re looking at you Beyond Good and Evil 2 and Skull & Bones!).
“Gods & Monsters is done by the team behind Assassin’s Creed Odyssey. So they are very experienced and are using a lot of what they have created before to implement this IP.
“For us it’s a new adventure because it’s going to be [rated] 12+. So it’s an action adventure for everybody, flavoured by Assassin’s Creed obviously but also by Miyazaki-style graphics. So it’s something completely new and fresh.
“We wanted to have a sneak peak and show something when it was really compelling and exciting and E3 was the best moment to do that. And so now we’re going to bring some extra elements to the game moving forward until the release early next year.”
When asked if Ubisoft already sees Gods & Monsters as a franchise, Corre replies: “That’s the dream of every publisher. When we are bringing a new IP, we hope that it will please a lot of fans and that they will go on playing. We’re going to go on feeding this game with new things along the way. So ideally if the fans respond positively, it will have a long life in the future.”
Gods & Monsters is also an attempt to appeal to families and tap into a younger market, Corre continues: “What we would like is to convince not only the hardcore gamers but also a more casual audience to be able to play altogether in their living room, to spend many hours together to play the game. It’s something that we have done for a while, to reach this kind of population, and we wanted to have one of our best teams to work on such a game so that we can also get more variation into our portfolio. We think that Gods & Monsters will please and surprise a lot of people when it comes out.”
Ubisoft’s plan to attract a younger audience is reminiscent of its similar efforts last year with toys-to-life title Starlink: Battle for Atlas, though the firm had to stop manufacturing the physical toys that accompany the franchise after sales for the game fell below expectations.
But Corre says Ubisoft learnt a lot from Starlink and is now ready to approach the family market once again: “We were expecting more out of Starlink… [But] I think we gained a lot of experience working on this franchise, [which] helps us shape our plans for family games that are coming. We always capitalise on everything we have done in the past. And on Starlink, we have a lot of fans still playing and who are happy to play – families playing with their kids. So I think we have pleased these fans and families and that’s what’s most important for us,” he says.
HEAD IN THE CLOUDS
Gods & Monsters is one of the many Ubisoft titles that has been announced for a release on Stadia. Ubisoft has historically been an early adopter of new technologies and business models, and Google’s new cloud gaming platform is no exception.
“We have [moved] very early on a lot of new technologies in the past, whether it’s the Wii with the Wiimote or the Kinect for example,” Corre confirms. “And we feel that streaming and cloud gaming technologies are bringing something additional to our industry. We like the idea of the consumer having more options to consume games. Whether they consume traditionally by buying a physical game, by downloading, or if they prefer to stream games, it’s giving them new possibilities. And we will attract new categories of players thanks to this.”
He expands on this thought: “Some people don’t want to buy a physical machine or physical goods, or people in some countries feel it’s more convenient to stream games – and there are plenty in the world.
“So streaming will give us two things. First is the possibility to create different games. With the capacities of the servers in the cloud, we’ll be able to bring a new generation of games in a few years. The servers will help our creators to put more AI into games, more characters, more NPCs. And that will be I think a real disruption. And also, again, streaming will appeal to some people in some countries that have never been able to consume games before. So I think the combination of the two will grow the market and we very much like this idea.
“With the capacities of cloud servers, we’ll be able to bring a new generation of games in a few years. And that will be a real disruption.”
“So, yes, we are one of the strong supporters of Stadia because
The same logic applies for the Epic Games Store, Corre says: Ubisoft just wants to “offer many possibilities for [its] players to consume games.” He adds: “We want to give them some choices. Our duty is to create the best possible games and to improve them and to please the communities so that they can grow and that we can carry on franchises in the future, bring these communities [together]. That’s really what we want to do. That’s what we’ve been doing for a long time. We have more than 100m players on Assassin’s Creed today, we have passed 50m on Rainbow Six, after four years, and it’s going on growing.”
Another way to service these communities is Ubisoft’s own subscription service, Uplay+, which soft launched with a free trial this month, before it kicks off on October 1st for £12.99/month (and launches on Stadia in 2020). With more and more subscription services out there, Uplay+ will have to work hard to set itself apart from PlayStation Plus, Xbox Game Pass or EA Access.
“Uplay+ is, for us, another way of giving a choice to our fans to consume our products,” Corre says. “Subscription is a different way of consuming and there are some fans that will prefer that versus buying games one by one. At Ubisoft we have a very deep back catalogue of franchises, of games that are selling in the long run, so we can offer a hundred games in this Uplay+ experience at launch, plus all the services and advantages that go with it.
“We will regularly have new games also that will enter Uplay+, starting with Ghost Recon [Breakpoint] when it comes out. So it’s a very good proposition for the fans and we can do that, again, because we have growing franchises, so it can be a lively service and we have big ambitions for it.”
Ghost Recon Breakpoint launches on October 4th on all platforms including Uplay+ and will be on Stadia when the latter launches in November too. With physical sales generally in decline, launching day-on-date on a subscription service seems like the way forward, with Microsoft having shown the way with its successful
Xbox Game Pass.
CHILDREN OF THE REVOLUTION
Between new triple-A IPs and new business models, Ubisoft is also testing the waters on other fronts. On the topic of creating new genres and new IPs, Corre says it’s “also one of the reasons that [Ubisoft] is entering the free-to-play market with Roller Champions.”
This is an unexpected move for Ubisoft, which retired many of its early free-to-play titles at the end of 2016, such as Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon Phantoms.
“Roller Champions is made by a very experienced team in Montreal. They’ve done a lot of great games before and they wanted to do something different,” Corre says.
“It’s something completely new for us because we have never done free-to-play on the high end. But I think it’s still interesting today to take bets on new IPs because the market is ready for that and will grow. So the fans are ready to try something different with the new technologies.”
When we ask him how important free-to-play will be going forward for Ubisoft, Corre simply replies: “We have our triple-A or quadruple-A games, and we are trying different angles of products with Roller Champions. So that’s something we want to pursue in parallel moving forward.”
Another goal the company wants to pursue – and that could go hand in hand with free-to-play – is the conquest of the Asian markets, with titles such as The Settlers, rebooted and scheduled for 2020 with the ambition of being a global franchise.
“Asia is today the biggest video game market in the world if you also include the mobile business,” Corre notes. “And for us it’s super important that we go on growing in these territories. We are already very strong in Japan.”
Rainbow Six Siege, for instance, is a massive hit in the country, Corre adds, with tickets for the Rainbow Six Pro League Season X Finals in Japan in November bought at lightning speed: “We could have sold five times more!” he enthuses. “So it’s a good sign that Rainbow Six as a franchise is huge in Japan. It’s a fantastic market for us now, and also on console. It took time for us to establish our franchises in Japan because they also have very strong local IPs but now franchises like Assassin’s Creed, The Division, Rainbow Six and Ghost Recon are super strong.
“So we are focusing a lot on Japan and we’re focusing a lot on all the countries of the Southeast Asian market because they are now developing super fast – Thailand, Indonesia, Philippines. So we are really taking care of these countries now and more deeply, with local currency possibilities of buying online. And we see that it’s changing our world. In Korea, we have just entered into the PC Bang business [South Korean LAN gaming centers] and it’s really another step for us on Rainbow Six. And the Korean market is also very strong now on PlayStation and Nintendo Switch. So that’s also an area which is growing.”
And then of course there’s China, with Tencent now being one of Ubisoft’s long-term investors, having been instrumental in helping Ubisoft to get rid of Vivendi.
“We will release four games on PC with Tencent in the next few months,” Corre says. “China is a fascinating country and Chinese players are really passionate about gaming. We have really good hopes for Rainbow Six and The Division 2 in China.”
“Watch Dogs: Legion’s gameplay is something that will be a revolution – we are innovating, we’re taking some risks, but I think it will pay off.”
At this point of the interview, we’ve already been pressed to ask our last question by the PR – and have pushed it already by asking two more. But we can’t leave the room without talking about another of Ubisoft’s big releases for next year – one we’re particularly looking forward to at MCV, being London-based: Watch Dogs: Legion.
“We have a big hopes for Watch Dogs: Legion,” Corre says. “I think that the innovation that we’re bringing, which is being able to play with any character in the game, and also for all the characters and the interactions you do to be remembered when you come back to a place, and differently if you use one character or another, is really something that was not easy to understand because it’s the first time this kind of gameplay exists. But now that people have been able to play, experience it, they feel like it brings a lot of richness to the gameplay experience.
“And so we are very excited about launching this one. This is one of our best franchises, Watch Dogs, and the fact it is also in London is something we are [excited about]. The gameplay itself I think is something that will be a revolution – we are innovating there, we’re taking some risks there, but I think it will pay off.”