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Ubisoft CFO Talks  Prince Of Persia ,  Far Cry 2 , Suggests Ratings Overrated
Ubisoft CFO Talks Prince Of Persia, Far Cry 2, Suggests Ratings Overrated Exclusive
December 11, 2008 | By Chris Remo

December 11, 2008 | By Chris Remo
More: Console/PC, Exclusive

Ubisoft Montreal's latest Prince of Persia title may have a significant impact on Ubisoft's financial performance, said company CFO Alain Martinez, particularly in an ever more competitive marketplace.

Speaking at the UBS Annual Global Media Conference, Martinez cautioned that it's "very early" to make definite projections on overall sales of the title, which launched this month, but the company "believes 2.5 to three million [sales] is clearly achievable."

"If it goes to four or five [million], then there is an upside factor for the company," he continued, adding, "If it goes to 1.5 million, then there is a downside factor." Martinez explained that a strong "driver" title would be welcome for Ubisoft, as the publisher has had few recent top five hits, unlike competitors Activision and Electronic Arts. He noted that in the current economic climate, hitting top sales positions has become more important.

"I would probably say competition is tougher, because there is more product," he said. Still, he remains confident in Ubisoft's prospects, pointing out, "Just as a reminder, we have raised our guidance three times this year."

The company is also hoping Ubisoft Montreal's Far Cry 2, which had an unusually mixed initial reaction, will end up being a steadier seller over the long term, rather than the explosive early seller the company had hoped for. Martinez said Ubisoft is "repromoting" the game, and now projects it to reach 2.5 to three million sales.

Part of the reception of the game may be regional -- while EA Redwood Shores' Dead Space, which targets a similar demographic, has significantly outsold Far Cry 2 in North America, the reverse has been true in Europe.

Martinez affirmed a commitment to game quality, including the widely-cited metric of average review scores, but also illustrated that Ubisoft products have frequently not seen as strong a correlation between sales and ratings as the company has predicted.

"To be honest, when Assassin's Creed launched and got 82 percent, we were desperate, and we thought we were going to die," Martinez recalled -- but the game ended up being a runaway hit, exceeding five million units by some reports.

He then noted an example to opposite effect. "If you look at our first Prince of Persia [Sands of Time], we thought it was going to do great," he said, "[but] it did two million, so we were kind of disappointed."

The CFO summed up the lesson learned: "It's not ratings that mean everything, but we think quality and innovation are the key."

Martinez also commented on Infogrames' acquisition of MMO specialist Cryptic Studios, revealing that Ubisoft had bid on the company itself.

"We lost one deal which we were a bit mad [about]," he said. "We lost Cryptic; it's a US company that was taken by Atari...we were a bit disappointed."

Ubisoft still plans to invest in acquisitions, and expects to close at least one deal soon: "We have about three deals within [the] five million euro range that we are negotiating," said Martinez. "Most probably, one or two of them will be closed in the next three or four months."

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Jr Hawkins
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I've noticed Metecritic scores tell you more about the how the sequel will sell more than the game that's reviewed. I wish more publishers would ditch mediocre reviewed series early, and give studios that funding for new IP that has a chance.

Stephen McDonough
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I've noticed a trend that Ubisoft Montreal titles tend to be beautiful looking open world games that struggle to break out of formulaic, repetitive gameplay elements. Assassin's Creed, Far Cry 2, and now Prince of Persia all have beautiful art direction and excellent scores, yet a common complaint it the repetition of gameplay elements that become stale before too long.

It's really the only weakness I can see in any of their otherwise excellent lineup.

Frank Smith
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They ought to move towards stories that pull the player along rather than the player having to push through gameplay that becomes dull and feels like a chore. At least that's what I felt Assassin's Creed and Far Cry 2 were like.

Martin Danger
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I don't think they view games as art, but only as a product. Assassin's Creed, Far Cry 2 and Prince of Persia are all very technically competent, but they lack heart. They're empty, cold and mechanical worlds, which exist to be almost a technology demo, yet sadly aren't.

Christiaan Moleman
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Sands of Time had heart in spades.

Christopher McLaren
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The character development is lacking at Ubisoft in Montreal, but when they put a feature in it is pushed to it's limits. Some impressive stuff coming out of that studio from a technical point.

Anthony Charles
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Assassins creed sold so well because there was next to nothing out for PS3 at the time. PoP wasn't marketed very well. There are a buncha variables that determine a game's success other than metacritic or even the quality of the game.

I agree about the tech demo assessment. They look better in video than they feel being played.

Matt Glanville
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I agree with Stephen and Martin's comments. The two key games (Assassin's Creed and Far Cry 2) both have excellent vertical slices and are a lot of fun if you play them for around 15 minutes or so. However, the slice is the same around the whole cake, and any other 15 minutes of gameplay is pretty much the same.

Paul Lazenby
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AC and FC2 both lacked soul, and the latter lacked a "reason to believe" storyline.

I've asked friends who've worked in Montreal about this (at Ubi) and the overall thought seems to be that while the teams are very competent, but also extraordinarily arrogant. Not that this is entirely unusual in the development world - but teams like those often require strong management that can keep them focused (on gameplay and other items that matter) and less on superfluous endeavors.

Jake Forbes
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I had a totally different experience than the majority of commenters here with Far Cry 2, especially when it comes to what constitutes "heart." FC2 shows how powerful an emergent narrative by creating a fully realized sandbox that never feels like a sandbox. Having a buddy down and wounded after I used my last syringe so that I had to put him out of his misery was a more emotionally moving moment than anything with the dog in Fable 2 or Elika in PoP because the repercussions were lasting, meaningful and a direct result of my choices. The use of fire, explosives, sound design, visceral first aid, seamless driving, buddies, etc. added up to a cinematic experience MORE than the some of its parts. Sure, there's not a lot of variety to the mission objectives, but how you tackle them is completely open ended.The Halo, GoW and CoD franchises have incredible scripted sequences that feel very cinematic, but playing FC2 was the first time in a video game that I felt like I really was the star of my own action movie. Of course, your mileage may vary.

Evan Combs
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To repeat what Bill Boggess said all games have repetition. Repetition isn't the problem. Repetition is something only noticed when there is something else wrong with the game. Maybe the story sucks, maybe the repetitious task is just boring, or maybe it just isn't your cup of tea. I know in my opinion the Half-Life series is the most boring and repetitious games I have ever played.

Phil RA
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All I can say is that we have a tendency to develop "systems" rather than "sequences".

I think it will pay off long term. Hopefully so anyway.

But of course, making a highly linear game with limited technical challengers but strong use of scripted events that are used to break repetition (like Gears of War, God of War, etc.), is an alternative development process that IMO can be very safe, yet once that is sadly ignored if not outright misunderstood at Ubisoft.

Let's see how well the sequels will do:)

Stephen McDonough
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Scripted events and single sequences that switch things up are only one way to break repetition. I would agree that having a strong 'system' as a base gameplay model is more important, and certainly there is risk involved in diverging from a core system for a one off 'driving sequence' or the something similar.

But exploration and flexibility within a system gives it depth. The duels in Prince of Persia are a good example. The various boss characters have subtle differences (being immune to certain attacks or not taking damage during the 'cornered' sequences, being able to disable Elika with certain attacks) which play on the duel system. This prevents the longest combination attack becoming a dominant strategy for the player. The way defeat was handled in particular in boss battles was very well done, pushing the player to adapt themselves to the winning strategy for that opponent and apply it consistently without heavily punishing the player while they adapt.

It is surprising, then, to find that although there was quite a variety across each boss, a very formulaic approach was taken to facing them, often seeing very similar scenarios each time you faced them within their respective realms.

Differences such as the Warrior King 'pillar' fight (As opposed to the more common 'just knock him off the edge to win' battles) could have been implemented more often to keep each battle different by larger degrees and serve to further challenge the player to adapt their strategy for each fight.

I do very much enjoy Ubisoft Montreal games and I look forward to the sequels.

George Nobles
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Martin Danger
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Bill Boggess,

I know your post wasn't directed at me, but when I said that Assassin's Creed lacks heart, I mean that it's beautiful, but not deep. Playing around with the engine is a lot of fun. The graphics are pretty, the climbing is incredible and the controls are tight.

Then you actually start playing the game.

Every single mission in the game boils down to climbing a bunch of towers, saving some peasants, pickpocketing a couple guys and sitting on a bench listening to some conversations. Then you can go and stab some other guy, and run out of the town. The first time, this is fun, but every mission is exactly the same. As the game progresses, you get more and more powerful, so the game throws more guys at you - the fights don't get any more difficult, they just take longer. You're running the same mission over and over again, with the only substantial difference being that instead of fighting five guards, you fight seven guards.

I am awed by Assassin's Creed on some level, but not by the gameplay, but rather the technical side of it - the amount of control that one has over the environment is remarkable. Ultimately though it felt like an engine with a game tacked on, rather than a game.