Interview: Ubisoft's Guillemot Talks Early Adoption Of Wii U
When it comes to early adoption, gamers don't have anything on Yves Guillemot.
The chairman and CEO of Ubisoft has long taken the approach that as a new gaming system approaches, his company wants to be one of the flag bearers for the launch lineup. It did it with the Xbox 360. It did it with the 3DS. And it's planning to do it once again when Nintendo's Wii U hits store shelves next year.
"We're going to continue to take this approach," says Guillemot. "We feel this console is coming with very innovative features that will change the video game industry and we want to be a part of that."
Nintendo investors were left underwhelmed with the machine, and despite its popularity on the E3 show floor last month, there were still plenty of snarky "Wii HD" comments being made under people's breath – even as they waited up to five hours to see the thing.
Guillemot, though, says he believes the familiarity of the Wii U will work in its favor. While Nintendo took a gamble and won with the introduction of a radically different game machine in 2006, to do so again could prove too jarring to the audience the company has developed this generation.
"I love that you have a screen very close to you," he says. "You can get information and send it as well. But you don't have to learn too many things."
And, ever the early adopter, Guillemot says he also believes that by having Nintendo kick off its next generation next year, Sony and Microsoft are going to be forced to roll out their new systems a bit earlier than they had hoped to.
"I think it's sending the message that the new transition is going to happen – and we're going to have new machines coming soon," he says.
Of course, as the industry evolves, Ubisoft is focusing on more than just console systems. The company has been a launch partner of OnLive and is exploring ways to tie in with the burgeoning Internet-connected television marketplace.
Neither is a real needle mover on the company's finances, so far – but it lets Ubisoft developers explore new areas and quickly build expertise there, so if they explode, the company is well positioned to take advantage of that growth.
Dedicating those resources isn't cheap, of course – especially when new systems are slow to take off. That, in part, is where Ubisoft's casual business comes to the rescue. The publisher has some big franchise hits, including Assassin's Creed and a gaggle of Tom Clancy-based franchises, but on a pure profit basis, it's things like Just Dance and Raving Rabbids that pay the bills.
"It's a balance," says Guillemot. "It's not that we changed the way we do things. We integrated the casual on top of the core. This is helping us spend more money on the high definition titles and is helping us come with more high-definition games."
In fact, while core players may scowl at games like Just Dance, they secretly should be thanking the casual audience. Guillemot says the overwhelming success of that franchise and other casual lines will allow the company to boost the number of big budget games it plans to make in the near term.
"You will see more high definition games this year and next, thanks to the fact that we've done well with casual games like Just Dance," he says. "To make Just Dance, it's just 1/10th the cost of Assassin's Creed."
Those revenues also let the company explore gaming tie-ins, such as television and film. Ubisoft's Motion Pictures team already has three film projects on its plate – focusing on Assassin's Creed, Ghost Recon and Splinter Cell - as well as one television project (a Rabbids venture).
Ironically, those two industries have a lot in common with core and casual games – the success of one can fuel the expansion of the other.
"We have to make sure we can find the right financing, because on the television side, very often you finance 100 percent," says Guillemot. "Film is a lot less risky than the television industry, but it's often less rewarding. The risk is making sure you work within your budget and achieve the quality you want."