The Ubisoft of today is far different from the company it was a decade or more earlier. Back then, franchises such as Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon were tough simulations limited to the PC, while these days you are more likely to find the serieson consoles as an accessible third person shooter. Legacy franchises such as Rayman have buckled industry trends by not only going back to its 2D roots, but expanding beyond consoles to show up on handhelds and smartphones. Then there is new IP such as Assassin’s Creed that have demonstrated the publisher’s versatility and commitment to bringing “core” gaming experiences to gamers in an increasingly social and free-to-play landscape.
To find out how Ubisoft has made the transition from being a modest third party publisher to one of the leading publishing houses in the industry, PC World caught up with Ubisoft APAC regional online group manager, Matthew Tang, in the lead-up to the 2012 Chrismas season.
Ubisoft has been showing off a lot of online, smartphone and free-to-play titles at consumer events recently. Has digital already become a major part of your business? Or is this just the beginning?
Ubisoft APAC regional online group manager, Matthew Tang (MT): For Ubisoft, this is very much the beginning but an area we are very serious about. For example, when you look at Asia, their physical console/PC market has suffered a huge downturn to the point of non-existence due to piracy and a difference in consumer requirements. The free-to-play model offers consumers in Asia a more favoured approach due to several factors such as the social aspect of gaming with friends in Internet cafés and the lower incomes in some countries. It’s a model that offers options for developers to try a different approach with audiences in other markets as well. Other digital and mobile content is being developed to go after new markets with exciting new content.
There has been some speculation by both the media and industry experts that all games will be free-to-play in the future. Do you foresee this happening?
MT: I don’t think we’ll be seeing a complete change to the business model for all games, more so the potential inclusion of free-to-play content within the overall package. For those markets that still have a viable console market it makes sense to look to way to maintain this, but also seek ways to bring in potentially new customers to a franchise that might be used to playing and purchasing their games differently.
Gamers are still somewhat suspicious about the free-to-play model. Will this ever change?
MT: Yes. It’s only natural for gamers to be suspicious, as playing an entire game for free sounds too good to be true. Once gamers learn and spread the word that with some games the free-to-play model offers just that, with additional micro-transactions always at the discretion of the player, we think gamers will embrace the free-to-play option.
Franchises such as Rayman have shown up on just about every platform, from console to tablets to social networks. Are huge multi-platform rollouts such as this the inevitable future for your titles?
MT: Developers will look for ways to bring successful franchises to bigger audiences, and naturally this involves making them available on additional platforms to cater for different types of gamers all looking to enjoy these games.
Ubisoft has also used digital platforms to explore its legacy brands such as Rayman with Rayman Jungle Run. Do you see this trend continuing?
MT: Rayman Jungle Run was recently awarded the iPhone Game Of The Year, which is testament to the focus Ubisoft has for making great games. With the success of this title, I’m sure our development teams will look for further Ubisoft brands that could achieve similar success.
There are a lot of people who would love to see additional instalments of classic yet dormant Ubisoft games. Is there hope for them as digital releases?
MT: The Ubisoft development teams are always looking into our vault of Ubisoft titles to see what could be interesting to revisit for our customers. The Beyond Good & Evil game is a great example of taking a much loved game and making it available as a HD version.
On the PC front, Ubisoft seems to have made strides with finding workarounds to its controversial always-on DRM. Is that a sign that Ubisoft is developing a new approach to match the evolution of the industry as a whole?
MT: Ubisoft has always tried to find a way to maintain its intellectual property whilst working to give our customers a good experience. It has also shown that it listens to its customers and will make decisions as a result of finding a better way to support them.
With the next console generation approaching, and a the current era of multi-platform release schedules, do you think Ubisoft be making and releasing fewer titles?
MT: Ubisoft has shown to be a strong supporter of new consoles, with six launch titles for the recent Wii U launch. We will always look for the best opportunities to support any future console releases. Although we have a strong stable of established brands, we’re also always looking for opportunities to develop new brand IPs, and the launch of new consoles often provides the ideal platform on which to do this.
What are your expectation for the next generation Xbox and PlayStation consoles?
MT: It’s still a little early for us to comment on what’s around the corner for consoles. However, I’ve no doubt the next generation consoles will offer improvements in the overall gaming experience, from the way the games will look and to how they will be played.
Since the Wii U is already out, are you able to speculate on how they will be different?
MT: As I mentioned, it’s a little too early for us to speculate on what the new consoles will bring.
Nintendo is going with the new idea of dual screen entertainment with the Wii U, as a lot of people are already interacting with both a large and small screen device simultaneously in one form or another. Is this where the market is headed in the future?
MT: I think developers are understanding their customers better, knowing that people tend to multitask across several mediums at any one time, such as watching TV & using your iPad. If gaming can allow simultaneous play with one or more people interacting with various devices, developers will look for opportunities to make this happen.
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