Ubisoft sets its sights on the future.
The last time I spoke to Yves Guillemot he was in the midst of defending Ubisoft, a company he started with his brothers, from a hostile takeover. His focus was on extolling the virtues of Ubisoft's independence, not allowing outsiders to disrupt the creative rhythm of its developers, and ensuring that it can continue to operate with the agility that has allowed it to become one of the biggest publishers in the video game industry.
Having successfully protected his company from Vivendi, Guillemot is now casting his gaze outward. Prior to the start of Gamescom, he sent out a statement in which he took stock of where gaming is now and where it's headed. "In the coming decade, games not only will continue to benefit from human advancement and technological disruptions," he said. "And as more people become players, I am confident that the collective power of play will have an increasingly positive role in our world.
"Games soon will do more than leverage the latest technologies and trends. They will become a force for change, the alternative reality that improves reality … Our next challenge, collectively, is to push beyond the boundaries of entertainment, and to create experiences that show the world the potential that games and play have in positively shaping all of our lives."
During the show, GameSpot had the opportunity to talk to Guillemot once again, and in addition to discussing the state of some of Ubisoft's biggest franchises, we also talked about this statement, his vision for the future of gaming, how Ubisoft is approaching one of today's biggest gaming trends, and its blossoming relationship with Nintendo.
The last time we spoke it was around the time when you were dealing with Vivendi, and you were quite candid about how that was. With that behind you, what's Ubisoft like now, what is your mind state, and how are the developers at Ubisoft feeling now?
First, we are very happy they are gone. And what we like in the industry is that there are always new challenges and new opportunities. So our teams are really looking at how they can create the next experiences that will use the potential of the new technologies, so we are very excited about the promise of technology to transform the video game industry.
The big things you talked about when discussing the state of Ubisoft and defending against Vivendi were creativity and agility. Until now, however, we've seen quite similar experiences like the Assassin's games--which took a break and now is back--but we're still seeing a lot of familiar franchises. How long do you think it's going to be before we start seeing the fruits of those labors, the new experiences you're working on now?
On Assassin's, we had a game [in 2018] and we have one this year, but we are not going to have a full-fledged Assassin's next year. It's just because the team were working separately, so we have two games now, one year after the other. But next year you're not going to have a fully fledged one.
Okay, so it's going to be a smaller one, or just no new Assassin's?
What you'll have is lots of content coming on [Assassin's Creed Odyssey]. The team really want to give, on a regular basis, some new possibilities for play, so when you get [Odyssey] this year, you're going to get in for a couple of years, actually.
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When you took that year off for Origins, it was to revitalize the series. What has the impact of that been? How has Origins been received internally. Do you feel like it's rejuvenated the franchise?
Yeah, so I think it really gave the team the possibility to really bring what they wanted to and the community has been responding very, very well to it, and when I see what we are coming with Odyssey, I know that the community that got back in with Origins will be amazed.
Agility was one of the other things that you mentioned, and you guys have been agile in a bunch of different ways. One of those is sticking with your properties long-term. What's the thinking on why you do that? You've done it with Rainbow Six Siege, you've done it with Wildlands, and The Crew. How do you rationalize that decision and what has that taught you about sticking with games?
Mm-hmm. First, what is fantastic in doing that is the creators of the game can really put in that experience everything they wanted, so it gives them a chance to get the feedback from the community, improve the thing that they wanted to improve, and also what the community's feedback is telling them to improve. So it's a fantastic experience to be able to really deliver a great experience for players. So that is a huge motivation, and on top, what we have seen is when a game continues to be played, there are a lot more people that come to join, so that the more players you have on a game, the more new players come, so that's just if I offer the investment because it's costly to continue to improve and bring content, bring new experiences in the game, but the fact that its popularity helps to [attract new players] is something that helps those new games to live a long time.
Do you think that the mindset of the general gaming audience has changed to accept that? There still kind of is an expectation that when a game launches, it needs to be perfect, it needs to be that peak experience. Have you seen the attitude start to change, where people are more willing to accept flaws initially and stick with games long-term?
Yeah, I think it's very important to come and check the quality of the game on a regular basis, but our goal is each time to come at first with the best experience possible. [When it launches as a good game it can continue to live] and you can continue to perfect the experiences. In some cases, like Wildlands for example, it was a complete reboot of the franchise. So when you come with something totally new, you can't be perfect on everything. So in that case, they were happy with what they had, but they knew they would have to continue to update the game to make it the best possible. So that happens on some games. It doesn't happen on all the games.
I think that, you know, we have also The Crew 2 that is coming with [updates]. That game was not everything that we had on The Crew 1, and it was criticized for that, but what we see is that now, step by step, we are bringing the 2.0 version of what we had on the The Crew 1, but it was very difficult to bring everything 2.0 at first because it's going to take quite a while to make sure everything is perfect. So we want to bring each experience at the right level when we can.
You have got incredible mileage out of launching not perfect but then making [games] really interesting over time. What's it been like for you to see a game like Rainbow Six Siege do as well as it did, considering its origins as Patriots and the response to that?
The team we have working on Rainbow Six is a fantastic team, and they have a vision that really they delivered, and they were very strong in making sure they could perfect that vision, and today they are thrilled by the response from all the players and the community around, and that gives them a lot of energy to continue to improve and find new things to amaze those players.
We are big fans of what Mr. Miyamoto and his team is creating, so that helps the creators at Ubisoft to work with the Nintendo teams because they learn so much.
What's your feeling on battle royale, and even chasing that trend? Titles that are coming out now like Battlefield 5 and Black Ops 4 have these battle royale modes, but they seem like they were added last minute. I'm sure they were thought out and properly implemented, but it seems very responsive. What's your take on that? Is that something that you want to do?
You know, I think it's like capture the flag at one point. Capture the flag became a very good gameplay [mode] and very appealing, very attractive, and so on. So here we have a new way to play, and it's good to make it available. It's not only the mode that you want to make available, it's the possibility to actually play with your friends, even with your friend you're still independent so it's a solo and multi experience at the same time. So there are plenty of discoveries that we make in watching those new modes, and you will see that we are learning a lot from what's happening, and what we like is there are also a lot of new players, younger players, that are coming in the industry because they love that experience.
From your perspective, do you think it's better for Ubisoft to build a new experience around battle royale or figure out a way to introduce that into existing franchises? A lot of battle royale players right now, because of Fortnite, are very young, and if you are like, "Alright, let's introduce it into For Honor, for example, or Wildlands," you're not hitting that audience because those games may not be age-appropriate for them.
No, that's right, it's more important to look at what do I learn from that experience, and how can I keep an experience that can give the same emotions than what this game is giving? It doesn't mean it's battle royale. It is something where many people are playing together. Each one has the possibility to perform differently. There are plenty of rules there that can be used in other games.
Is that something that you guys are actually exploring and looking at how to capitalize on that massive audience now?
Each time there's something new, all our teams are looking at what they can learn from it.
The next thing I wanted to talk about is your relationship with Nintendo, which is fascinating to me because Nintendo seems to be so comfortable with giving you their characters, and you're one of the few companies Nintendo seem to have taken a shine to. How have you managed to do that, and what does it mean to you?
It's a long-term relationship, so we've been working with them on all the machines they launched, and so from the beginning of the Wii to the Wii U, Switch, we were always there with them, and so we have been working closely while it was going out, when it was more difficult, so we are real partners that are happy to work together, and that helps a lot.
We like what they do also. We are big fans of what Mr. Miyamoto and his team is creating, so that helps the creators at Ubisoft to work with the Nintendo teams because they learn so much.
Very few companies can actually put, like, Star Fox, on their marketing, as with Starlink. Bringing Star Fox into Starlink, what was that discussion like? Was it really easy to get that onboard, and did it make sense?
It's never ... it's always ... you know, when you work with the brands of another publisher, it's never easy, because you really have to understand the spirit of it, you have to really bring something that can help that to continue to grow. So it's not easy, but as we know each other well, they are confident that we can really bring high quality experiences, so that helps.
Can we expect to see that relationship continue in the same way that it has resulted in stuff like Mario + Rabbids, where it's not just a character cameoing but full experiences built around Nintendo and its properties?
I can't say.
Basically I'm asking can we get Mario + Rabbids 2?
[Laughs] I can't give you an answer yet.
Prior to Gamescom you sent out a letter about the state of play and the future of the industry and the way it's going. Could you talk about where you see the industry going now and how you expect games are going to change in the future?
We will see again big revolutions, and that's really positive because it will give players the possibility to play different types of games, different experiences, so that's very appealing for us because we always liked in the industry the fact that, with new consoles, with the power of improvement of machines, we could do more things, so here we are in front of also big changes with the potential of streaming.
What we like in streaming is not only the fact that AAA games can be played by many people, which is something very interesting because it means that with a low-end PC you will still be able to play a AAA game, or even on mobile you will play a AAA game, so that's one thing we like. But the second thing we also love is the fact that instead of having a PC or console limitation, we can have huge processes on big farm servers that will allow us to have different experiences [that are] more connected, more alive, closer to what we can live in real life. So there are lots of new challenges, but also lots of new opportunities that would be fantastic.
We still have to have 5G, we still have to have a few things to make sure this experience is going to be good, but when it's going to be there and work perfectly, there's the potential of having a machine which is 10,000 times more powerful than what we have today and gives you something full of possibilities.
What does that mean for relationships like the relationship between Ubisoft and Sony, and Ubisoft and Microsoft, Steam? Obviously you have these dynamics with other partners that are important.
It's a combination actually. Some providers of technology, like the big guys in the industry, will give us a chance to have servers all over the planet, so we will, in working with them, be able to give good service to players for certain types of games that we need that power and proximity for. So we will do games that we will supply directly to players, but there are also some games that we'll need to use the potential of all those capacities the big internet companies have today. So it would be a mix. Ourselves, using Amazon Cloud, but also working with big players that will have a system that will allow us to create games that will leverage their network capacity.
Last question, I'll have to switch gears quickly because there's one thing that I have to ask about: Can you provide an update on the future of Splinter Cell? Obviously you guys keep bringing back Sam Fisher, he keeps appearing in other projects. But there's now a space [in that genre] with Konami backing off Metal Gear Solid and Solid Snake. Can we expect Sam Fisher to return, can we expect the Splinter Cell franchise to come back soon?
So I will disappoint you because I don't have an answer to give you exactly, but each brand we have, and each character, we want them to live in the long-term, so one day you will see something, but I can't give you more details.