The lights are on
We spoke with Ubisoft executives last night about their vision and expectations for the next generation of consoles. What emerged was a healthy discussion about connectivity, used games, anticipated development costs, and challenges recruiting key talent.In a fairly open conversation about plans for this fall and beyond, Ubisoft chairman and CEO Yves Guillemot fielded a number of questions about planning underway at Microsoft and Sony. Unsurprisingly, Microsoft’s stance on used games and online connectivity were topics of discussion.
Interestingly, Guillemot mentioned that Microsoft had already changed its mind once. Whether this was in response to the controversy spurred by former employee Adam Orth’s controversial take on a possible “always online” future isn’t clear.
With regard to the used game policy, Guillemot expressed appreciation. “What I like is that they are not taking a fee,” he shared. “It will give us the option to look at what service we want to give and decide what we have to bring. It’s a good thing that Microsoft is not taking any fee. We come back to what we use to have. The shops can do their trading as they used to.”
He wouldn’t commit to whether Ubisoft would charge a fee, as the publisher is waiting to see what Sony has to announce. “We would like a single set of rules for both platforms,” Guillemot told us. “The manufacturers are setting the rules on the console. We didn’t know exactly what Microsoft would do. Lots of people are buying games and reselling them and then buying new ones. It gives customers the possibility of buying many games. Instead of two or three games and only a few experiences, it gives them a chance to play more games and make some mistakes from time to time. I think it has been good for the industry. We have to make sure that there isn’t too much money lost in between.”
Thankfully, Guillemot also expects that both development costs will remain flat (at least for the first two years of the new console cycle), with no upward movement in retail prices. After those two years, development costs (not game prices) may escalate due to growth offered by what Guillemot sees as a “double evolution” of graphics and social possibilities. That evolution started long before PlayStation 4 and Xbox One specs were provided, as Watch Dogs was underway before the hardware manufacturers heralded the generational shift.
Yannis Mallat, CEO of Ubisoft Montreal echoed Guillemot’s thoughts, while adding some of his own perspectives on the business. Mallat spoke about how Ubisoft has integrated the THQ Montreal staff, acquired in an auction earlier this year. Over the weekend, Assassin’s Creed creator Patrice Desilets sued his former employer for the monetary recompense and the opportunity to purchase the rights to his in-progress title, 1666: Amsterdam
Those employees are now tasked with other projects, including another unannounced title that originated at Ubisoft and was not acquired from THQ. Effectively, this makes Ubisoft’s acquisition of the rival studio nothing more than a boost in staffing. Interestingly, Mallat also opened up about the challenges Ubisoft is facing in acquiring senior talent. The publisher has even segued its junior training to focus more on improving its top creative staff.
"Over the past years, we've been hiring a lot of local talent," Mallet told us. "We've also been training a lot of young people to become experienced video game makers. We've set up a training program in Montreal that was mainly dedicated to junior people, to teach them the fundamentals of how to make games." After a number of years, that became less effective, and Ubisoft changed its focus to senior-level designers."We are in need of senior talent in Montreal," Mallat admitted. "It has been difficult because of immigration."
Despite those challenges, Ubisoft has found success pioneering a new "mini-AAA" model that has brought smaller, high production value experiences to gamers strictly as digital releases. It wasn't a conscientious decision to go in that direction, but whether it will be a model for the future is a possibility. When we asked whether that was the direction in which the publisher is moving, Mallat responded with a smile, "Why not?"
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