Assassin's Creed producer talks new IP

DICE 2011: Toronto studio managing director Jade Raymond explains what she'd like to see from Ubisoft's next game.

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Who was there: Assassin's Creed producer Jade Raymond earned a new role in 2009 as the managing director of Ubisoft's new Toronto-based studio. That studio is in the midst of creating a new property for Ubisoft, and Raymond offered her insight into how she is approaching that development in a session titled "Creating Blockbuster IP for Generation C."

Jade Raymond has big plans for the social aspects of Ubisoft's next new IP.
Jade Raymond has big plans for the social aspects of Ubisoft's next new IP.

What they talked about: After giving a brief rundown of how she landed her current gig at Ubisoft, Raymond took a step back to look at current trends in the gaming industry. Social and casual gaming were up first as Raymond talked about the top games in the industry in terms of players and revenue generated. At the top of this list were Facebook titles.

Raymond went on to say that the proliferation of platforms has helped change the way she thinks about gaming. There are a ton of new screens and platforms that gaming developers can target, she said. More importantly, there are a number of new ways to interface with games, from the Wii and the Kinect to touch screens on mobile phones.

What's most exciting, she said, is that the explosion of devices is changing the way we think and impacting the cognitive process. The world has gone from one of undivided attention to multitasking to partial engagement to continuous partial engagement. This impacts the way we make games, too, she said.

Further, she said that social and mobile are colliding in such a way that we "finally have the ability to be like the Borg." There's this all-powerful cloud, she said, and it's all connected to infinite computing power. We have real-time sensors blanketing the earth, which are attached to individual people as well, and these devices are becoming personal social beacons. It impacts the way we can build relationships, and there's a lot of interesting opportunities there, she said.

She went on to note that games are a mass-market industry now, and keeping up on games is just as important to our customers as it is to keeping up on the latest hit movie, current event, or viral YouTube video. "We aren't selling games to just nerds in their basements," she said. "We are selling games to people who don't really even consider themselves gamers."

What's changing thus addressed, she also said that a number of game-industry tenets continue to hold true. She posed the question, "Why do people play games?" In her opinion, it is to learn. "It's the satisfaction of feeling progression, knowing that you're doing well, and mastering something," she said, going on to say that we are wired in a Darwinain way to get satisfaction from progression.

Raymond also said that games still remain a multiplayer endeavor. Humans are ultimately much more fun to play with than AI, she contended, and as such, incorporating social mechanics into games is important. Social proof, or a badge that indicates status, also remains important, though it has evolved from the olden days when that was represented by a stack of money on a poker table.

Continuing with the poker analogy, she said that social permission also remains relevant, as people would gather in the Wild West ostensibly to play poker and as a way to socialize with others. "We need games as an excuse to talk to each other," she said.

Raymond then advocated the importance of fans. While working for famed SimCity designer Will Wright, she said that she was always surprised by how much time Wright spent looking at fan reaction in The Sims.

So how does all of this apply to creating Ubisoft's new IP? Raymond said she thinks it is a great time to start with a blank slate, so as to think about how the studio can incorporate the interaction between new and old trends to take advantage of these changes. Thinking about a new IP, she said, continues to be an evolution, rather than a revolution.

On Assassin's Creed, she said that the team spent a year of preproduction thinking about where the franchise could go if the original game proved to be a hit. She said the team wanted to make sure the groundwork was there to bring the IP to new mediums, if possible, and it spent a lot of time thinking about sandboxes that future teams in other media could experiment with.

Step two was handing over creative ownership to the fans. Why? There is the proliferation of platforms, for one. While Assassin's Creed has enough hooks to create eight or 10 teams, she said, the goal is to have 60 or more story arcs going at once. To do this successfully, the fans are needed. Further, fans will also keep a franchise fresh and relevant, as the younger generation has their way with it.

When fans really get into the franchise, they love it and will create great content, she argued. If they really want a franchise for themselves and feel they own it, they will also share it with their friends. Where Assassin's Creed was a franchise created to hand over to professionals, Raymond's team wants the next franchise to be handed over to the fans.

As one last insight, Raymond said that to become a blockbuster hit, it's important to build and maintain buzz leading up to launch. This has to be on par with film or TV, she said. The thing that's evolving is that games aren't so much just a topic of conversation around the water cooler; they're becoming the water cooler itself. She said that she hopes the studio's new IP will be both the context and the place of conversation and that it will be a widely shared pastime.

Quote: "If World of Warcraft is the new golf and Call of Duty is the new bowling, I'd like our next IP to be the new bar."--Jade Raymond, on the direction of Ubisoft's next big IP.

Takeaway: While Raymond's team at Ubisoft appears to be making a big-budget new IP for Ubisoft, it is clearly pulling elements from a number of popular trends within the current gaming-industry landscape. Further, whereas Raymond's work on Assassin's Creed was to create a transmedia property, the new IP is being designed so that fans will be in charge of its future.

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