Feature Article

Ubisoft CEO Talks Huge Potential Of China, Vivendi Threat, Xbox One X, And More

Q&A: We speak with Yves Guillemot.

GameSpot recently visited Ubisoft's studios in Singapore and Shanghai, while we also toured ChinaJoy and brought you pictures from the massive Chinese gaming show. As part of our trip, we had the opportunity to speak with Ubisoft CEO Yves Guillemot for a conversation about Ubisoft's efforts in Southeast Asia and other industry topics.

We'll have a bigger feature coming up that covers what we learned on the trip, but for now, you can check out our wide-ranging talk with Guillemot below. In addition to specifics about Ubisoft's steps in Singapore and Shanghai, we asked Guillemot about the latest on the Vivendi takeover situation and also quizzed him on the Xbox One X.

You can see our interview below, edited and condensed for clarity. We'll also have an interview feature coming up with Justin Farren, the creative director of Ubisoft Singapore's new pirate naval warfare game, Skull & Bones. Disclosure: Ubisoft paid for GameSpot's travel and accomodation in in Singapore and Shanghai.

GameSpot: I saw you walking around the booth yesterday at China Joy, and we were talking about how this is maybe not something every executive might do. Why it is important for you to get out there on the floor and speak directly to your fans?

Yves Guillemot: I think it's major because it's the best way to get feedback on what you do. They never hesitate to actually say what they think, so it's a clear conversation with them that gives me the reality of where we are.

GameSpot: Is there any specific piece of feedback you might have heard yesterday that you're taking to heart?

Guillemot: Yes. One feedback was, "Why don't you translate the older games from Ubisoft?" This one, it was not at all the intention of the company, and then what we will do now is check if there are many people that want that, and if it's the case we are going to actually translate. I already asked how difficult it is to translate and why not do something easy to do. What is interesting in the questions also is you realize that sometimes they think exactly the same than as other fans in another country, but sometimes they are looking at your brands differently. And when your staff is telling you the same thing, you say, "OK, I understand."

GameSpot: I guess there are 500 million gamers here in China, which is not a small number. I guess beyond the base of potential players, why does Ubisoft want to be in this part of the world?

"You can't ignore 500 million players" -- Yves Guillemot on why Ubisoft wants to be in China

Guillemot: First, you can't ignore 500 million players, and second what I like very much in China is that because it is a new business all the partners we meet with are young. They want to do new things. They want to try to work with your IPs but also with new types of experiences and gameplay and so on. It's the beginning of the industry. When we say it's old, it's 10 years old maximum. In the last five years it has been booming. Tencent was not doing mobile games four years ago. You realize that now they are bigger than all of us in the West, but it started only four years ago. This energy you see here is very attractive.

GameSpot: As you had alluded to, the industry is very young here, and I imagine Ubisoft being one of the first Western publishers to come in here and set up a big business, can you talk about what some of the growing pains have been and how you've been able to work your way through those?

Guillemot: First at the beginning of the company when we created worldwide studios, we said we have to be in Asia and in North America, so we went in Montreal for North America, and we came in Shanghai here because I came on a trip in '86 or something, and I realized that I didn't know ... You arrive, and you discover that it's a completely different huge world that is going to grow, so we said, "We have to be there." Then when you recruit lots of talent in the country, you get to be more Chinese as a company. That's what makes us consider that we can maybe understand enough so that we can invest more.

GameSpot: And maybe you can't get into specifics too much, but is there anything you can say in regards to how much Southeast Asia including Singapore and Shanghai, and Chengdu, how much they contribute to Ubisoft's bottom line overall?

Guillemot: Yeah, it's 12%, 12% to 13%, between 12% and 15%, so it's still very small. That's why we are putting more emphasis on that part of the world because it can really help the company to grow.

GameSpot: You probably haven't given guidance on how much you expect to grow, but it would suffice to say you're definitely expecting to grow.

Guillemot: That growth is coming also with the types of products. Here they consume more RPG games and team versus team and so on, so as it is changing in the Western world, service games and RPG and multiplayer will help us also to grow in this territory, and Asian territory.

A scene from Ubisoft's ChinaJoy booth
A scene from Ubisoft's ChinaJoy booth

GameSpot: Clearly there is a huge amount of economic growth opportunities here. What are some of the things maybe in this part of the world that give you pause or keep you up at night? You're working with partners instead of doing it 100% yourselves, so there's probably some margin that could be better. I just wondered if you could talk about some of those challenges?

Guillemot: In business you always, and like in creation, you want to have constraints because when you work under those constraints you can actually create better. What we see is in having to deal with publishers locally, we are also better learning what the market is but with our brands, so our brands become more local. The PC and console market is close to being the same here than in the West, but the mobile market is more specific. When we have to go with those Chinese publishers, first as I said they are young. They want to create something different, and it's obliging us to listen and work with people that will help us to create our brands to fit the demand here. There are difficulties, but there are also lots of opportunities linked to the fact that we can't do whatever we want.

GameSpot: Okay. And I guess beyond whatever sales data metrics that you're getting from this part of the world, what are the ways that you measure success? I know you had just briefly talked about being more culturally tapped into the region?

Guillemot: It's to have more and more players because we know that at the end of the day that's what will make a different that our brands are played by more players in China and in Asia. It's very important that there are enough players that have a chance to play with our games.

GameSpot: One of the other interesting elements that have been taking away from the presentations this week was Ubisoft's effort to have more service games, service-based games and definitely true here in China as well. I was wondering if you could just talk about why you think service-based games are kind of the way forward for the industry?

Guillemot: What I compare service based games with movies and TV series. I see it as the same difference. What we have with service games is that you can improve the game for three, five, 10 years. So you can give an experience that is improved with time. When you launch a game, and you have to come with another game two years later and so on you give an experience that is a different experience but that is probably not, in terms of game plan and multiplayer and so on as adapted to each person. Those games that are really polished with time are taking more players. That's why we are doing more of those games because people want to have experiences that are smooth, that they can learn, that they can play with their friends.

GameSpot: So that's something we can expect, probably from your brands going forward that they're gonna lean more on that bent that you're taking?

Guillemot: This is why we are including RPG elements Assassin's and so on because if it helps you to play longer with the game and to appreciate it. As people play longer you have more people coming because the more people play the more new people come. That's what makes those games last longer.

GameSpot: One of your biggest brands is Assassin's Creed. In one of the presentations this week we heard that there was a figure that, Black Flag, I believe, it was said was pirated five million times here in China. I'm just wondering if you could talk about the role piracy plays and what steps you might be either taking to combat it or is it just part of the cost of doing business?

Guillemot: It's like Windows with Microsoft. Windows when you are a student you can get it for free, so you get used to it. When you're going in a company you want Windows because that's what you know how to deal with. It's a little bit the same for us. Having access to those brands in the last 10 to 15 years allowed those brands to be known, and today when we come via Steam on the market, we have lots of people that are interested to buy the actual brands from the actual iteration but also buy four, five, 10 dollars all the games that have been doing in the past because they played them 10 years ago, 15 years ago, and they want to have the last version. There's pluses and minuses in everything. What is important is when somebody can pay that person will consider it worth putting the money than trying to go and deal with the problems you have when you download copies.

"There's no reason why we can't also adapt Assassin's Creed for [China].

GameSpot: Obviously with the censorship rules in the country, Assassin's Creed is a game that's not been officially released here. There was some talk in the discussions about how the game could be modified to have it pass the ratings board, but wouldn't be able to ship at the same time. Is this something that you're thinking about changing in the future or would you not want to modify the game such that it might potentially compromise the developer's vision for it?

Guillemot: Because it's blood. It's sometimes a few things that are almost too difficult to change. We are adapting those games in Germany with green blood. In many countries, in all the minor countries we also adapt. So there's no reason why we can't also adapt Assassin's Creed for [China]. It's just we need to be able to start that work early enough so that they can be ready for the launch.

GameSpot: And consoles; consoles came out in 2014, so they're still relatively new. They're new and then in relation to mobile devices and PC obviously they have a much, much smaller install base. I'm just wondering what are your thoughts on consoles in China? How much room do you think they have to grow? Can they get as big as the West?

Guillemot: If the government let's them grow, they have a huge potential. Just because playing on a console is easier than playing on a PC. Having said that, the PC is improving, but the console in your room with a good screen and so on is actually more comfortable. So that can grow. I don't know if it can be as big as in other countries in the West because people have been used to playing with PC, and if you remember Germany took a long time to go from PC to console. But the potential is just amazing, what we need is the Chinese manufacturers that could come with a console for China...

GameSpot: One of the other things that kind of leads into or that makes me think about is Nintendo has a lot of very family friendly brands that might not need to be adjusted too much or at all to be released here, so you're probably hoping that Nintendo brings the Switch here.

Guillemot: We do.

GameSpot: China and Southeast Asia, Singapore, everywhere, is a massive region as we talked about. Are there others in the world that you are looking at as saying, "Hey, maybe we want to be the first here." I know you've announced a theme park in Malaysia, and that's obviously very close to Singapore. Are you constantly just strategically looking around the world for new places to grow and expand?

Guillemot: Yeah. The next destination will be Korea where we have to ... There's a huge potential in eSports, and the players in Korea are very dedicated players. We know it has a huge influence on your communities. That's really where we want to put also more emphasis.

GameSpot: I've learned a lot on this trip myself, and I'm wondering every time you travel somewhere do you learn something new too, and if so what did you take away from this trip?

Guillemot: I do. I'm always amazed when I come in China, for example, because things are changing so rapidly that you're part of that evolution. What you learn is that, first, they go faster here than we do in the other countries because the growth of the market is huge. Also because it's full of new opportunities. Each time I come here I see some different approaches that we could have, and we try to quickly adapt the company and where we deliver our products.

GameSpot: One of the elements that could impact Ubisoft's efforts globally is the elephant in the room, the impending Vivendi situation. I'm wonder if there is ... I know you've said already a number of things about it, but I'm wondering if you could update us on the latest in that situation and why you think a takeover would be very problematic?

"We like very much what they are doing because instead of having a Kinect or something this time the industry went after more power for the machine" -- Yves Guillemot on the Xbox One X

Guillemot: What we see is that if we perform well it would be more difficult for an outside company to come and take control because our shareholders are working with us with what we do. There's no reason for them to let somebody come and pick up the management of the company. I think that that depends on their appetite. They can always put a bid on the company at a very high level. It's just it's becoming more expensive, and it could have a negative effect on our capacity to create and being agile and take risk. That's why we fight against ... We aren't fighting against Vivendi. We are fighting against corporations that have many fields they invest in, and will not understand that our industry of video games is changing all the time, and if you just manage this business like you manage older businesses you're not going to make it grow and take the opportunities that come regularly.

GameSpot: One of the hottest topics has been the new Xbox One X console coming out in November. It is a very powerful console, and Ubisoft makes really big, rich games that would theoretically take advantage of that in a big way. I'm just wondering if you could talk about your company's plans for that console? Do you plan to release updates for new games or just what's your general take on it?

Guillemot: We did a deal with Microsoft on Assassin's Creed: Origins, which is taking really good advantage of the power of the machine. We like very much what they are doing because instead of having a Kinect or something this time the industry went after more power for the machine, so more immersion, better AI, and overall better games. We like that because it means the industry will grow because the better the experiences, the more people want to have it. We think it has a good potential. If Microsoft is really behind it, it can do well.

Got a news tip or want to contact us directly? Email news@gamespot.com

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lorddaggeroff

Please have my babies Vivendi (*-*), NOT YOU UBISOFT. <('-_-)

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capocrimeboss

Go get 'em Vivendi. Go get 'em. And destroy them. Ruin them. WRECK THEM.

Avatar image for gkmogglemog
GKMoggleMog

Yeah, catering to China is what bad movie companies are doing too. Think the company behind the DC movies said that they don't have to worry about making good movies because they will make most of their money off the Chinese. Not surprised Ubi would think the same with how bad their games are. Really hoping Vevindi succeeds in taking them over. WoW was at its best when Blizz was owned by Vevindi. After that WoW became a huge pile of garbage that has only got worse with time.

Avatar image for ltjohnnyrico
LTJohnnyRico

@gkmogglemog: You do realize the Chinese market is massive ? and if you can get into business there it would no doubt be very lucrative !

Avatar image for Cikatriz_ESP
Cikatriz_ESP

@ltjohnnyrico: It sounds like he understands that just fine.

Avatar image for d_
D_

Wait, so consoles didn’t officially become available in China til 2014…even Hong Kong? Thats news to me & pretty crazy when they could be easily had in just about every other SE Asian country as far back as I can remember, & its ironic since they’re like, made in China. PC & handhelds still reign supreme by a high margin tho & I don’t see that changing anytime soon.

Avatar image for R4gn4r0k
R4gn4r0k

Ubisoft will use the power available in Xbox One X to create better AI am confirmed.

Avatar image for catsimboy
catsimboy

Pfft. He talks about multiplayer and games as a service, they couldn't even support For Honor properly. If they couldn't keep good servers for For Honor's niche player base how are they going to keep good servers for the burgeoning population of China?

Avatar image for Kisalon
Kisalon

@catsimboy: Easy. By demanding that they pay an extra $100 for Online features.

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catsimboy

@Kisalon: Well they're going to do that no matter what with microtransactions. The problem is they won't give the games the support they need.

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Gegeforce

Finally, an article that gives insight into the Chinese gaming market. I want MORE! It is really hard to gain insight into the gaming market on a worldwide scale and the Chinese market is a very interesting part of it. Dear Gamespot, somehow it would be very interesting if you could also get more info about southeast Asia and south Korea.

Maybe it is possible to make a special article or video about these markets.

Avatar image for Cikatriz_ESP
Cikatriz_ESP

TL;DR version: Jackie Chan is going to voice the main character of every Ubisoft game going forward.

Avatar image for darthrevenx
DarthRevenX

@Cikatriz_ESP: LOLZ, okay Tom from Myspace......heh

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speed45823

Hope Vivendi takes over Ubishit and rids us off of one of the worst video game companies ever.

Avatar image for Thanatos2k
Thanatos2k

@speed45823: Why would Vivendi buy Ubisoft to get rid of them? Please tell me how that makes any logical sense whatsoever?

Avatar image for razor_rj
razor_rj

@speed45823: ubisoft is actually brining new ips,they care about players even though people bitch all the time,they do listen,and their games like it or not,are very artistic.

EA has killed 20 ips in only 10 years,even their AAA brands like mass effect and dragon age have been kicked to the curb, me is in the doghouse untill it learns to behave,and dragon age is on marriage counseling,if the next one doesnt deliver its another dead ip.

acvision,does it even do games there are not mobile or rehashes ?

Bethesda just publishes now,and their games are either long fetch quests, or short technical demos.

Avatar image for gkmogglemog
GKMoggleMog

@razor_rj: Ubi doesn't care about players, they contentiously ignore them. They're greedy and controlling and ruined all their IP's. They push their incredibly bad DRM on people and don't fix it when it breaks, uPlay is garbage, they are trying to keep people from modding their games, they make a really uninteresting pirate ship game that no one wants when people ask for another Black Flag, they're afraid to have a political message in their new Far Cry about Christians screwing up America as they tend to do, Far Cry Primal is bland and empty even though it was a really good setting and idea for a game.

EA, Acti, and Beth are all just as bad as Ubi.

Avatar image for darthrevenx
DarthRevenX

@razor_rj: Ubisoft games are all derivative, they're all the same thing over and over again, long fetch quests in Bethesda???

far cry 3,4 and primal was all fetch quests or kill these or whatever other nonsense.....

assassins creed story no longer makes any sense.....and each game is just bad anymore.....

they've ran Tom Clancy's name [in gaming] into the ground....and none of the games are remotely appealing

EA is just retarded......not a lot of their games are all that appealing either....NFS is dead yet they keep going on it

they killed Mass Effect, their sports games aren't my bag, I really don't care for what DICE makes, Dead Space started well but quickly ended up being BS.....it's like the first game was Terminator and the second one was Terminator 3 and the third game was Terminator genisys and Alien Resurrection combined.....naww man the devs ruined their own games there.....or EA ordered it, either way both sides are at fault cus if the dev can't stand up and say no then both sides are guilty and the whole system is broken.....

Activision has killed more games than EA.....prototype, THPS, Guitar Hero, Spiderman games, COD, Destiny and i don't mean shutting games down, i mean ruining the fun of stuff by running em into the ground or forcing devs to do stupid crap or keeping things on the market even though they really shouldn't.....

these yearly games.....imagine how much money they'd make if they kept em active 5 years and supported with DLC expansions???

what if the way everyone did it was day one you get the game, play for a few weeks and get a couple free DLC's then a month in get a paid DLC that's big and adds a lot to the game then another free DLC a few weeks later, a paid DLC a month after that...and so it goes.....for 3 years at least before they start transitioning to the new game in dev but you still get a few freebies here and there and one last paid thing the last year then the new game is announced.....it'd be a lot better....and the paid things could be new campaigns, new missions and what not....

personally I'd be far more inclined to buy DLC if it was quality stuff and not just cars, guns, uniforms or otherwise pointless BS, you make that the free stuff, you make the big missions and campaigns paid...with racers you make small collections of cars 2-4 free and larger sets 5+ and road courses and what not the paid stuff.....maybe offer single road courses for free but collections of 3+ is paid.....i think in fighting games like Injustice a better way to do em is have a couple fighters be free DLC and the rest you have to buy and I mean you pay the $60 get the 30 or so fighters a whole game but later they add new fighters and stages.....

companies would make more if they offered a few freebies here and there.....yeah we pay for the big stuff but some small stuff we get for free?? it's a fair deal IMO...

we need to ditch this yearly released crap, there's too much that comes out in a year and not all of it is good but if devs took longer to make their games and made sure everything was good they'd see more money in the end.....part of why Assassins is so bad lately is the yearly process and having 1 extra year in dev won't help it......

sorry for the length.....

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razor_rj

@darthrevenx: no problem, i apreciate your reply.

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wayneextremity

@7tizz: I havent commented on a GS article for months, seems the GS community is even more toxic now.

The guy above obviously doesnt like gaming anymore. And he's blaming these companies? Ubisoft may make mistakes but they have some AMAZING games. Siege is my favorite shooter of this gen. Far Cry 3 one of my all time favorite games. Watch Dogs 1 and 2 were awesome. Far Cry 4 was beautiful and fresh. Assassins creed Black Flag and Syndicate were two awesome games. Black Flag was something no other game has been able to touch.

Also, if the game industry was so bad, I wouldnt have spent today, my day off, playing Fallout for 8 hours. Fallout 4, amazing too.

Avatar image for b00me
B00ME

@speed45823: You think Vivendi would be, or do, better at making video games? You should do more research about them before you jump in that boat. While I understand you hate Ubi and their games, it would be bad for the industry if they were taken over by them. Especially if it's a messy take over, the Guillemot's would end up being bought out, and could take the development talent with them.

There's only so many big 3rd party game publishers, losing one means less games.

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RestatBonfire

@speed45823: are you high? They’re games aren’t great but Ubisoft definitely has a good amount of gems.

Avatar image for jhawk
jhawk

@speed45823: Their games may not have been the best lately, but to say they're one of the worst video game companies ever is quite a stretch. This is the company that also gave us the Splinter Cell, Prince of Persia, and Far Cry series and for that I'm grateful. Do they make too many Assassin's Creeds for their own good, yes they do, however I will say they can still turn their fortunes around with Far Cry 5, from what I've seen so far it looks promising and I'm willing to give it a chance.

Avatar image for speed45823
speed45823

@jhawk: They "gave" as in past tense. But they have all but ruined each and every one of their franchise by milking them dry and having the same copy paste mechanic from one game to another. When you play a Ubisoft game, it feels like you're playing that other game from last year. And then there's the many anti-consumer practices like constant false advertising, downgrades, outrageous microtransactions, always online DRM, crappy servers / no dedicated servers with disconnects in the middle of the game, outrageous pre-order schemes and prices, cut / paste contents and slap them as "Season passes", uPlay and more.

As for Far Cry 5, that ship sailed ago with Far Cry 3. Everything after that were crap. We thought the same about FC4 and Primal but both were disappointment, especially FC Primal. Ubisoft is not the company they were like 10-15 years ago. They've become greedy, unimaginative, lazy, anti-consumer and they deserve every criticism and flak that's coming their way.

Avatar image for restatbonfire
RestatBonfire

@speed45823: everything’s an opinion. I enjoy far cry 4 so did a lot of my friends

Avatar image for Thanatos2k
Thanatos2k

Ubisoft: "China is a huge market we want to exploit"

Vivendi: "Ubisoft is a huge company we want to exploit"

Ubisoft: "No, that's bad!"

Avatar image for edwardnygma
EdwardNygma

@Thanatos2k: HAHA!

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KhanWasHere

Huh... it's interesting that Guillemot didn't mention anything about more power and better immersion having an effect on games making them suck. Could the trolley gamers on the internet be wrong about such things? Perhaps it IS possible to make good games look good too.

Avatar image for blablazer
blablazer

@khanwashere: Thats more then power only look at something like Uncharted 4 with a standard PS4. The PC is a great example how even the most powerfull machines dont make a game look great. Or what is more special letting a car drive fast by putting a huge engine in there or innovate and make a car more efficiënt with a new engine.