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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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