Alain Corre, Ubisoft's executive director for EMEA territories, has a lot of plates to spin.
As if orchestrating the company's transition to next-generation hardware wasn't enough of a challenge, he still has his eyes fixed on current-gen, keeping a steady flow of content coming to the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360's sizeable user base.
Ubisoft also continues to back Nintendo in a big way, with Watch Dogs and Assassin's Creed 4: Black Flag on the way for Wii U and, as hinted below, perhaps a return to the Nintendo 3DS for Rayman. The corporation also believes in the necessity of IPs, however big the risk, whilst also making the most of its proven franchises. And it's doing this all while trying to create a home for mobile and tablet devices and second-screen gaming experiences.
CVG spoke to Corre to discuss each facet of this broad strategy, and get an overall picture of where Ubisoft is going.
One of the realities we've come to accept is that games that launch at the start of a new console generation are almost never the best realisation of a consoles power. Over time developers get more familiar with hardware and games become better. Is that a concern with a new IP like Watch Dogs?
It does take time to master new technology, but this time we've been able to partner with Sony on PS4 and Microsoft on Xbox One early. We've been able to understand the core architecture of the console and have aligned our production capacities and creativity on what we feel they can bring.
What we see today is that, for the very first time, the first generation of games on [PS4 and Xbox One] will be miles, miles better than the first generation of games we used to have at the launch of previous consoles. That's why there's an appetite for next-gen, it's been many years without a new console and also because the quality of the products proposed at launch are second to none. There are super good games that can give you hours of gameplay and take immersion to the next level, which is really a fantastic way of showing what the technology can do.
Assassin's Creed and Watch Dogs are exploiting a good amount of the capacity of the machines already. Of course, over the years it will improve and our engineers will find some tricks to better create in the future, but at launch there are very good games.
So what does that progress with next-gen technology mean for your support of current gen hardware? Do you expect you'll continue to deliver content Xbox 360 and PS3 for long?
Actually we want to go on developing games for current-gen. There will be a moment when all the elements of graphics and power we put into the next-gen games will be complicated to squeeze and fit into the current gen, but that's in the future. For now we will continue developing for current-gen.
Watch Dogs is an open-world title, and is coming out quite close to GTA V. Do you see the two as being in direct competition in terms of popularity and quality?
I think the market is very large and there's room for everybody and for every great game. There are more and more players enjoying games; I wish there are as many good products in the market as possible, if gamers are unhappy the time and money they invest in games decreases and that's bad for all of us.
Watch Dogs is in a particular category that has proven to be successful with other games, so we hope we can we also put our stamp on this genre too. Watch Dogs certainly is one of the most awaited games on next-gen, so we'll see.
You recently released Rayman Legends, but opted not to follow in the footsteps of previous titles and release on Nintendo 3DS. Why is that?
When you look at Rayman Legends you see it's a very big game with a lot of levels. The graphics in 2D are also second to none. So, it takes time to squeeze everything and downsize it onto other formats. But we're not ruling anything out for that format. We can't say anything more for the moment, but we can't rule the format out.
How does the 3DS fit into your future plans as you're shifting focus to next-generation platforms?
The 3DS is a big success, it's selling a lot of machines in a lot of countries and if we consider a franchise, game or gameplay style that can be developed for it, we'll consider it.
And the Wii U? Ubisoft is a big investor in the Wii U currently, do you expect that to change or stay the same going forward?
Actually, I think Rayman Legends is really defining what the quality of the Wii U is. Huffington Post was saying it might be the best platformer ever created, we agree (laughs). It can really show what the Wii U is, when you play with the second screen on the GamePad, I think it's some of the best laughing moments you can have while playing agame.
We believe the Wii U has real potential and power. A machine works when you have great content on it, we feel Rayman was one, Just Dance is another one coming, with Donkey Kong and Mario from Nintendo also.
Also what is the status of the Prince of Persia franchise?
Prince of Persia is and has always been a very important brand for Ubisoft. We are iterating on all our games and we are analysing when the best moment is to bring a new game in the franchise out and see what is comeback that is best suited for it. But, definitely, Prince of Persia is one our best brands. We want to protect it and want it to impress when it comes back.
Most of Ubisoft's upcoming titles, Watch Dogs, The Crew, The Division, have embedded multiplayer. Is that how Ubisoft is defining next-generation experiences?
What we consider is that multiplayer brings another aspect that's rich and completely part of the equation of what consumers of today, the kids of today, the youth of today, want. They want to be sharing, to be always connected with their friends, and multiplayer is making that natural.
We've always thought that creating open world would be the future of our game industry, or a big part of it, because it gives more freedom. You can get in and out, do what you want.
In Watch Dogs you can hang around in the streets with your car if you want, you can get into a mission or not. You can play, and you can have friends that can help you while you play, or they can try to block you while you play. All this is to make living worlds that are more real, and that brings you better immersion.
Can we expect these types of open-world, embedded multiplayer experiences to be at the core of more of your next-gen titles then? Perhaps for other franchises such as Rayman?
Yes, that's clearly something that's important for our games. We are still doing some experiences that are different. Valiant Hearts, for example, is a solo experience. But we consider multiplayer as something that is becoming absolutely necessary to the experience. What's good is that because the new technology enables that, the fact that tablets and smartphones, the second screens, bring in new gameplay that wasn't possible before. This is something that is also becoming the centrepiece of our creations.
What we like is that somebody who is playing a game such as Assassin's Creed can continue playing while on the tube, can always be immersed with the hero, and can do that today. For Assassin's Creed 4: Black Flag he or she can prepare maps, perpare his fleet or treasure hunting expeditions. When he gets back he can carry on playing.
For us, open world is important, multiplayer is important and second screen is becoming a key part too.
They way your games bring people together in a single world, they're starting to feel almost like MMOs, but Ubisoft hasn't explored that genre much. Is that something you aim to do in the future?
We are iterating all the time on different types of gameplay and ideas. That's something that could happen in the future for us if it feels like it makes sense and the studio is motivated to do an experience of that kind.
You've relied quite heavily on Assassin's Creed recently, but now have Watch Dogs, The Crew and The Divison on the way. Are these new IPs an effort to take the pressure off Assassin's Creed?
We are trying to create worlds that bring immersion to consumers. When there are a lot of consumers happy and playing our games we've done our job. We have explored the Assassin's Creed universe and are continuing to expand this, it's super rich, our playground is history.
But we wanted to also try and offer experiences for other types of games. Watch Dogs is one of them, when the studio came up with the idea many years ago they had a very good pitch and videos, we've seen how it's come along so well and we're hoping we can convince consumers that it can offer something different, then we can build and expand on that for future iterations.
"For the very first time, the first generation of games on [PS4 and Xbox One] will be miles, miles better than the first generation of games we used to have"
Activision's Eric Hershberg recently said the company is very focused on making the most of the IPs it currently has, like Call of Duty, for example. Ubisoft on the other hand is really focused on internally developing IPs, what does that mean to you as a company?
I think at the core of Ubisoft is creativity, we have fantastic studios that are really brimming with ideas and we want to experiment, take risks and make bets on games that are unusual. For example, Valiant Hearts and Child of Light are two of those, they're both unique experiences.
As a group of thousands of talented creators we have to give them the possibility to take those bets and create something that they have in their hearts if it makes sense in terms of the idea.
How is uPlay evolving for next-gen?
uPlay is a service for our consumers, we want it to be the best possible version. We want it on all formats and be able to reward our consumers with extra content and services. All this is for the comfort of the end user and we feel it's our duty as game makers to take care of our customers the best we can, uPlay allows us to do this.
Do you anticipate uPlay's continued evolution to incorporate more controls on used-games in the future?
We don't want to control, we want consumers to have the freedom to play games the way they want. uPlay is a Ubisoft service, so obviously we can provide extras to consumers; information, sometimes advantages and other rewards, if they wish they can come to uPlay for that. But it really is their choice, we don't want to block anyone.