Jade Raymond, onetime producer on the Assassin’s Creed franchise, is now leading Ubisoft Toronto as managing director, guiding the studio to its new take on Splinter Cell IP. But this won’t just be another rote follow-up, as the studio is also looking into the social space.
Social game elements don’t have to be scary to developers, she said in her brief Gamasutra-attended talk at the DICE Summit in Las Vegas. Though things may appear to have changed about the industry, she feels they’re ultimately similar to the experiences developers have already been making. You just have to think about them in a somewhat different light.
Two of the biggest things to focus on have been “social proof” and “social permission.” Social proof represents things like achievements, badges, and things you can show off to your friends that let them know of your success.
Social permission is about the permission to talk to your friends in this space – keeping friendships going through small interactions. Sometimes, she says, “we need games as a way or excuse to talk to each other. Obviously the massively multiplayer games have gotten this for a while.”
She reminded the audience that these concepts aren’t coming from nowhere. “It might seem new,” she said, “but it’s been around for a while.”
Raymond was very much a proponent of the idea that the more things change, the more they stay the same. Fans are still important, for instance. “Star Trek got nearly canceled a lot of times, and got brought back from the brink by the fans,” she said.
When Raymond was working on the Sims franchise, she noted that “Will [Wright] would spend hours and hours looking at the fan stories, and what fans were doing,” and he would choose what to make an expansion about based on that, she said.
So how does all this stuff impact building a new studio? While triple-A games are having a bit of a bleed in terms of gamer retention and interest, “I like idea of our industry being able to correct course,” said Raymond. Even though times are tough, “it’s a great time to start with a blank slate,” she said, “and think about how you’re going to adapt to these new changes.”
“On Assassin’s Creed, we spent a year of pre-production thinking not just about how to make a great game,” but also how to build that franchise’s metastory and meta arch, she said. “I also realized how rare it is to get the opportunity to create a new property from scratch.” So this is why she’s making sure the studio’s new games can expand naturally into the social space.
With Assassin’s, the team spent quite a bit of time thinking about how to potentially build the franchise out further - “How to create sandboxes so each future team and future media [working on the series] would be able to experiment and come up with new ideas,” in her words.
“The best way to maintain your franchise is to make sure that people have their own area to develop and explore,” she said, asserting that stagnation does no franchise any good. And in order to successfully have a lot of story arcs, you have to rely on fans, she says.
Raymond says that when fans really love the franchise they’ll create great content. On top of that, “if they really want a franchise for themselves, and they really want to own it, they will share it with their friends.”
With Assassin’s Creed, the company was trying to create a franchise that could be handed over to other professionals. With the new IP they’re making in Toronto, “I really hope we’re creating something that we can hand over to the fans,” she says.
Back in the Ubi Montreal days, Raymond says she dedicated a lot of time to thinking about the communication strategy. “A launch of a game, in order to be a hit, has to be an entertainment event, like a film or other new IP.”
Players will buy games if they feel they need to buy them to stay relevant, she feels. “You don’t want to be that guy that doesn’t know the newest game, or new indie band.”
But Ubisoft Toronto wants to take that cooler, as she says that “games aren’t just what you talk about around the water color, they’re becoming the water cooler itself … I would hope our next new IP would become the neighborhood bar.”
Raymond says the sweet spot is if the game is not just the topic of discussion, but also the venue for it. To conclude, she summed up by saying, “instead of a game just being the next entertainment event, I’d like our next IP to be the next widely-shared pastime.”
[UPDATE: Story updated to make it clear that Ubisoft Toronto's new IP iteration is based on the already-announced Splinter Cell update, and is not brand new IP.]