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Ubisoft CEO: Video games ‘offer players the ability to shine as individuals’

Inside The 2014 E3 Electronic Entertainment ExpoInside The 2014 E3 Electronic Entertainment Expo
Yves Guillemot, chairman and CEO of Ubisoft, speaks before the 2014 E3 Electronic Entertainment Expo in Los Angeles. Patrick T. Fallon--Bloomberg via Getty Images

French video game publisher Ubisoft has emerged as one of the largest third-party game companies in the world today. Best known by gamers for hit franchises like Assassin’s Creed, Far Cry and the Tom Clancy-branded games, the developer has also captured mainstream  attention with its Rabbids and Just Dance titles.

According to Wedbush Securities video game analyst Michael Pachter, Ubisoft consistently sells 10 million copies of each Assassin’s Creed game, while its Far Cry titles sell between 6 and 8 million copies and Rabbids games routinely sell over 2 million copies. Ubisoft’s Just Dance franchise is nearing global sales of 50 million copies.

Ubisoft has an instant hit with its open world action game, Watch Dogs, which has already sold over 4 million copies in just its first week at retail. The game introduces a virtual world of Chicago and a new IP for Ubisoft to build from moving forward.

“It’s been the case many times in the industry that new consoles have allowed us to launch new brands that bring something new,” said Yves Guillemot, CEO and co-founder of Ubisoft. “With Watch Dogs we have seamless offline and online gameplay and the ability to have mobile gamers play alongside console gamers with a free mobile game. These are things that we couldn’t even conceive when we launched games on the old platforms.”

The success of Watch Dogs, which was delayed from a Fall 2013 release, also shows the industry that there’s an appetite for big games year-round. The game industry still weighs most of its big releases in the crowded Q4 release window as publishers try to capitalize on the busy holiday shopping season.

“Watch Dogs’ success shows that gamers want to play all year long and it’s very important to give them something attractive to play at different time frames,” said Guillemot. “It’s something that happened in the past, if you remember Driver was launched in June 1999. The game industry can benefit from taking advantage of releasing games at different times in the year.”

Ubisoft is using the Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3) in Los Angeles June 9-12 to showcase its new lineup of games. The company will be releasing games this holiday, but also has games launching in each quarter through 2015. One of its big releases for this fall is Assassin’s Creed Unity, which puts gamers into the heart of the French Revolution.

“What’s interesting with Assassin’s Creed is the fact that because it’s released on a regular basis and it has a global community, it’s a franchise that offers a lot of possibilities to innovate,” said Guillemot. “We can put lots of different teams working on new innovative elements, but they know they can take risks because they have that built-in fan base.”

Ubisoft continues the Tom Clancy legacy with new games set in the near-future like Tom Clancy’s The Division. The company has had success first working directly with the late author on games like The Sum of All Fears, Ghost Recon and later expanding into original games like H.A.W.X. and EndWar. New Clancy games at E3 are The Division and Rainbow Six Siege.

“Tom Clancy is really a man that was able to create the future because he spent a lot of time exploring current day situations and anticipating how those situations will impact what will happen next,” said Guillemot. “What you find in these games is the ability to explore the near future with new tools that are not yet available today but very often are based on prototypes that can give you an idea of what the world of tomorrow will be.”

Like Watch Dogs, both The Division and Assassin’s Creed Unity offer gamers open worlds to explore on their own.

“The goal is to use as much possible capacity from the new consoles and the PC to deliver open-world experiences,” said Guillemot. “We’re very good at creating game engines that are extremely powerful and that are helping to create worlds that are at a level of fidelity and quality that has never been seen before. We’re combining the improvement of technology with the fact that our customers are more connected now than ever before.”

Gamers are also more sophisticated. According to the Entertainment Software Agency, the average American gamer is 31 and the average age of the most frequent U.S. game purchaser is 35. This has allowed Ubisoft to explore topics like government spying and the intricacies of hacking in Watch Dogs, as well as bio terrorism in The Division and the French Revolution in Assassin’s Creed Unity.

“This is something that is very important when you compare video games to Hollywood or other media. We offer players the ability to shine as individuals,” said Guillemot.  “What’s extremely attractive for consumers is that these games aren’t about one story. It’s really about living your experience, not the experience of one Hollywood director. That’s what is going to attract more people to the video game industry.”

Ubisoft is blending Hollywood and gaming with its November release, Rabbids Invasion: The Interactive TV Show. Launched last Fall, Guillemot said the computer-animated TV show has been watched by over 300 million people worldwide through networks like Nickelodeon. Ubisoft is taking 20 episodes of the show and adding multiplayer interactivity through the Xbox Kinect and PlayStation Camera.

“Television is even closer to video games than movies because it offers longer entertainment experiences through seasons, so it’s something that can live on at the same time the video game is out,” said Guillemot. “Rabbids has been a major success with the show being in the Top 5 in the U.S. for best TV series for kids and its popular in many countries. We’ve already signed on for Season two, and this series is going to continue for quite a while now. It will continue to help build the brand across media.”