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Jade's Empire: Ubisoft's Raymond looks forward
Jade's Empire: Ubisoft's Raymond looks forward Exclusive
March 13, 2012 | By Chris Morris

March 13, 2012 | By Chris Morris
More: Console/PC, Exclusive, Business/Marketing

Ubisoft Toronto managing director Jade Raymond has a lot to do in the next few months.

Her studio is about to formally unveil the latest installment of the Splinter Cell franchise. She's hiring employees for the division at the blistering pace of about 12 per month. And, in just a few months, her second child is due. But the most interesting thing in her sights -- career-wise, anyhow -- is a bit more long term.

Like a lot of people in the video game industry, Raymond is thinking about the next generation of video game consoles – as well as how to keep them relevant to a large audience as player habits shift.

With Splinter Cell debuting soon and Ubi Toronto's work on Rainbow Six: Patriots now wrapped (the studio created multiplayer maps for the game), the Toronto team is getting its next project underway. It's too soon to talk publicly about that, of course. And while Raymond didn't even imply it would be a next-gen game, Ubisoft's history of embracing new platforms makes that a distinct possibility.

Either way, Raymond recognizes the challenges the industry is facing.

"We, for sure, have to get started on the next technologies moving forward," she says. "And that's not just consoles. We have to start experimenting with mobile and social also. The gaming industry is changing rapidly."

Don't count Raymond among the growing number who think that home consoles will become obsolete. While some theorize the next generation of Xbox, PlayStation and Wii could be the last, she points out that there will be an ongoing demand for bleeding edge systems.

"There's always going to be a market for the very high end, whatever that high end is," she says. "If consoles eventually become the holodeck – and I can only have that at home, I'm going to want that. It's going to be something you can't get walking to the bus. … That high-end experience needs to be beefed up with our top hardware – but more and more we're going to have to think about what people's experiences are."

While many console developers are trying to create a chasm between the core console gaming experience and the app-centric mobile world, Raymond says she believes there is a lot to learn from those games that could make today's AAA titles stickier – and more appealing (for a longer period) for players.

Specifically, she notes how effective mobile games have been at getting people to enlist their non-gaming friends to join them.

"I think a lot of things being done on those platforms are smart and can be integrated into our console experience to make them better," she says. "A great example is Zynga's games, which are a very lightweight way to interact with friends. Some people who normally wouldn't play other Zynga games play Words With Friends. It's a very easy way to have an experience - and I think we need to think about those sorts of things in our area of games."

She also notes that level editors – even ones that are more casual friendly, like those in Little Big Planet - still remain out of the reach of most players, which creates another area console games can seek to improve themselves.

"We'll ship this game with a full map editor, but who has time to download that and who has the skills to create a good map?" she says. "I think there's interesting hints of what we can do in Dark Souls. I think there's interest in how we can recreate worlds that let people impact other people's worlds and leave a stamp without having to sit down with an editor. … I think that's the key to hooking the next generation."

While she sees plenty of room for change in the next generation, Raymond isn't a big proponent of free-to-play or cheap episodic games.

"Everyone's experimenting with free-to-play, but a lot of those [games] are expensive to create and unproven," she says. "To me, that's a big business question that I'm struggling with. … It's not clear to me that people will pay or how much they’ll pay.

"When you have that business model of a $60 box, you create a buzz and people buy it and may just play for 5 minutes and still pay $60. But then the minute you start thinking 'we're doing episodic content' – maybe one episode is enough for people. They can spend $5 and say 'ok, I got the experience'."

The goal of future games, she says, is to find a way to straddle the epic experiences of today's AAA titles and the simplicity of so-called 'snacky' portable games.

"Your objective is not to become a big event," says Raymond. "It's to become a pastime that people can share with friends and go back to. Obviously, Call of Duty has a great recipe with that. And that game does appeal to the new generation of gamer, offering a quick in and out [of a major console title]."

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k s
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I have to agree with a lot of what she is saying.

Steven An
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Interesting point about level editors. Clearly, games that allow for creativity are big sellers. SimCity, The Sims, and Minecraft come to mind. I'd love to see more such games on consoles.

Raymond Grier
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I also think high-end consoles are here to stay. Of course high-end needs to mean more than just better graphics and new input methods. Although many games have been marketed as having awesomely realistic physics none of them really do and character AI is something that is still not very well developed in games. A specially designed AI coprocessor that's easy for developers to use and speeds up the kinds of processing they need for AI might help inspire a shift towards games that focus more on AI behaviour.

Alexander Jhin
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Remember a couple years ago when people were asking, "Are Desktop PC's dead as gaming devices?" Now people are asking, "Are consoles dead as gaming devices?" I wonder what future platform or form factor will dethrone mobile and social game platforms in a couple of years?

Carlo Delallana
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The history of games is a continuous move toward user-centric devices that remove barriers for play. Arcades had the inconvenience of distance and were replaced by home consoles and portable systems, cartridge systems had the inconvenience of cost and data storage (N64/NeoGeo days) and were replaced by discs. Smartphones and tablets are combining power, mobility, and utility. A trifecta of user-centric features that makes them attractive.

Each leap is about the removal of a barrier and opening up the experiences that one can have when playing a game.

So, what future platform will dethrone mobile/social game platforms? I think (and maybe this is too futuristic for me to even consider) the next (last?) barrier is technology and hardware. We experience our games through these devices and platforms, what if these were removed from the equation? By removed i mean the player's awareness of tech and hardware.

Matthew Cooper
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The Matrix is a system, Neo.

Ramon Carroll
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I wonder how far away we are from developing mobile devices with the processing and graphical power of today's modern consoles.

John Flush
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@Carlo - barriers are hardly why gaming is moving forward. Social acceptance perhaps. Is that a barrier? Regardless this generation gave everyone that complains about gaming as a lazy/sitdown event a reason to buy one. Barrier removed? maybe.

If each piece of new hardware is a barrier removed I don't buy it. It is only a more acceptable medium for consuming gaming. It helps that generations are growing up that have been gaming and don't think of it as a stigma for their own kids seeming they "turned out fine".

The gaming industry is doing all it can in raising as many "barriers" as they take down with DLC, monetization, DRM and the like. The next step isn't the removal of the hardware. It is the removal of the BS.

@Alex - Everything is 'dead' as it ages. Right now consoles have been around so long people are moving to computers again to stay at top of the graphic fidelity curve. When the next console comes out it will shift people back to consoles. The key is not losing the fanbase and consumer groups that want gaming "their way". That pushes gaming towards wider acceptance and expands the market.

tony oakden
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Jade has great hair. I think that's what's missing with most senior developers these days. That and great teeth

Heng Yoeung
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Hair and teeth are turn-ons for you? Really? I need to get out more!

Tomas Majernik
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Agree. This and great teeth would make games much better!! :)

Denis Nickoleff
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Off topic : your name play got me excited., dammit.

Matt Ployhar
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If what we saw happen with Skyrim on Steam is any indication of the viability of level editors/mods/etc & what the community can do with a game - IF - given the chance; then I'd recommend altering the Game Design to be PC First, optimized for Digital Distribution, and some DLC elements. Withold some key value props in the game - that can be monitored closely to minimize Piracy. IF she wants the 'Holodeck' experience - then she'll have to optimize for the PC 1st. They'll likely never get that off of a Console. Going 'PC' will also give the game a longer 'tail'. Do a 3 month pre-release on the PC - avoid the $7-10 dollar Console Royalty (or whatever it is these days) - then release for all 3 Consoles later to hit that down-scale market. I'm tired of seeing good quality games/franchises like this dummied down for glorified DVR boxes & gameplay slowed down to accomodate Gamepad users. Truly not worthy of UbiSoft to keep doing that to themselves. It's perfectly fine to bring it to the Console (Current or Next Gen) - but seriously... there are so many trade-offs necessary now for 7th Gen Consoles that compromises the design teams 'vision' for the game that it's like taking a $50 dollar T-Bone steak & running it through a meat-grinder. Ack!