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Ubisoft bets big on open world in wake of  Watch Dogs  success

Ubisoft bets big on open world in wake of Watch Dogs success

June 10, 2014 | By Kris Graft

Ubisoft CEO Yves Guillemot has a pretty good reason to direct his company toward more investment in open world games: people sure do like to buy them.

“We think that gamers want more freedom, and they also want games that they can play for quite a while, because there are less [triple-A] games now,” Guillemot told us at E3 this week.

“So, open world is giving us the possibility to give different gamers different types of experiences," he said. "… I think it’s a trend for the industry — there will be more and more open world games, because gamers really buy those games more than the others.”

No matter how you feel about that trend, staying on top of it makes sense for Ubisoft. The newly-released Watch Dogs is an open world game in the vein of Grand Theft Auto, and sold 4 million units in its first week, which is a significant achievement for a brand new triple-A, high-budget franchise.

Guillemot has said in past Ubisoft earnings reports that his company would be investing heavily in open world games going forward. That investment remains high particularly when Ubisoft annualizes a franchise, as it did with fellow open world franchise Assassin’s Creed.

Guillemot said Ubisoft has yet to decide whether Watch Dogs would be annualized as well, but you can bet with the success of the first game, the company is putting that under very serious consideration.

“We need to first make sure we give time for Watch Dogs’ second iteration, that we can use perfectly all the tools we created, plus create new ones,” he said. “Then we’ll see how many teams we can create to come up with some innovative stuff regularly. But it’s too early to say what we’ll do on different properties. It depends on the teams and the level of quality we can hit.”

Open world games aside, Guillemot has also previously said it will place heavy investment in its digital strategy. That includes free-to-play games on mobile and PC.

And when talking about free-to-play on PC, it’s hard not to bring up Riot Entertainment’s hugely successful game League of Legends. Guillemot is watching the “MOBA” space, but admits with Riot’s dominance, finding success would be difficult for Ubisoft.

Asked if Ubisoft has a MOBA in the works, Guillemot said, “Nothing to say yet. We all know that now that there is one that is extremely popular, it’s extremely difficult to take that space.”

He acknowledged that there is also Dota 2 from Valve, sold on Steam. “But [selling Dota 2] makes sense for them, because they have their own platform, and they can push and push and they can achieve more,” he said. “We have Uplay, but we don’t have people as regularly coming back to the platform as they do. So it’s possible [to find MOBA success], but it’s not easy to establish.”

While the big, most heavily-marketed projects will be open world games at Ubisoft, the publisher wants to make sure it covers all the bases, getting into as many genres and business models as it can.

“What we decided to do in the last few years is to invest more in triple-A, and also more in free-to-play,” Guillemot said. “We have to create more free-to-play, but we also have to create more brands in triple-A. Creating more brands means that some of them won’t be successful.”

Entering the free-to-play market also means evolving development practices to fit those markets. A common method for mobile game companies is to dump a game and move onto the next, if it doesn’t stick and become a good business in a relatively short period of time.

Guillemot said that while that might work in mobile free-to-play, “on PC, it’s becoming more expensive now. It’s more complex [when games cost] $5 million.”

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