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Interview: Ubisoft's Key Projects Blockbuster  Brotherhood  Sales Amid Holiday Competition

Interview: Ubisoft's Key Projects Blockbuster Brotherhood Sales Amid Holiday Competition

November 15, 2010 | By Kris Graft

November 15, 2010 | By Kris Graft
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[Ubisoft SVP of sales Tony Key tells Gamasutra that Assassian's Creed: Brotherhood will "rival" sales and critical acclaim of its predecessor, and that franchise annualization "makes sense if you can pull it off."]

Ubisoft's Assassin's Creed franchise, which first debuted in 2007, is one of younger series among 2010's more established holiday season brands like Halo, Call of Duty and Gran Turismo. But with around 19 million units sold worldwide across two titles, it's a blockbuster triple-A franchise all the same.

And this holiday, not only does the new multiplatform Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood have to compete against other top-selling video game franchises, but it also needs to secure mindshare in a period in which marketing campaigns for new motion controllers are blasting viewers on TV, online and elsewhere.

Ubisoft SVP of sales Tony Key tells Gamasutra that Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood is up for the holiday fight, although he acknowledges that "it's hard to get your share of voice."

The exec also expects the new Assassin's installment to "rival" its predecessor both in terms of sales and critical reception -- it'd be no small feat, as 2009's Assassin's Creed II sold-in around 9 million units and achieved a 91 percent on Metacritic.

Ubisoft said that preorders for Brotherhood had beat previous Assassin's Creed games. To what extent do you think those preorders will translate to sales?

...All I can say right now is that our reserves are tracking higher, which for us is a really good sign. We're going to have a successful launch.

Ubisoft also said that it will be conducting one of the biggest campaigns in the history of the company. Has the company found it difficult to break through the noise of the big first-person shooters and the Kinect?

It's hard to get your share of voice. It takes a lot of resources and a really good team. For us, it's important to make sure that we're spending enough money that Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood reaches its potential. ... I would say that for Assassin's Creed Brotherhood, we're sparing no expense.

We started earlier on Brotherhood than we did on Assassin's Creed II as far as marketing goes. We've done a lot of things at retail early on, which I think helps to get people to reserve the game. We've also been running some viral videos online featuring Rob Corddry. ... We have been working on building anticipation that we did on the past Assassin's Creed. Our spend has occurred over a long period of time.

As far as standing out during the busy holidays, why did it make sense to release Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood during the holidays?

Assassin's Creed is clearly one of the industry's blockbuster brands. And so I think the holiday creates an environment where that's probably one of the true barriers to entry in this period of time -- you need to be a blockbuster brand. And Assassin's Creed has proven two times before and will again this time that we're one of the blockbusters of the holiday.

We've carved out a space in the holiday launch schedule, we're usually around the same time every year, three of the last four years now, we've had this week in November that we've got to own.

I'm not arguing that Assassin's Creed isn't a blockbuster franchise, it's sold 19 million units across two games. But you've got other really really big franchises whose publishers say, "It doesn't really matter when we launch." Could Assassin's Creed hold its own say in March or April?

It doesn't change what the game is, no matter when it launches. Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood is going to be a highly-rated, critically-acclaimed, commercially-successful product. We're certain of that. So will that still be true in April, May, June? Perhaps.

It's a double-edged sword. There's something to be said about the seasonality of the holiday and what it brings to the market. Because we know especially in a recovering economy like ours, that the casual shopper is more apt to spend money at the holiday.

But at the same they have more choices. That's why you need to be one of the biggest blockbuster games. You have to be a must-have title. ... We fit into that category that can capture the casual dollar along with the core.

When you go outside the holiday, you can lose some of those casual people. But you also have less competition. So it can be beneficial to be outside the holiday, and we do release games outside the holiday. We had Splinter Cell ship in April this past year, and we did very well with that.

You had mentioned you expect the game to be highly-rated. Is that from doing internal reviews?

Yeah, from the feedback and the way we look at things, the internal reviews we do, which we can generally tell, give or take a couple Metacritic points, we tend to know where we're going to be. And we think that Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood will rival Assassin's Creed II in every way, in terms of sales, critical acclaim and quality and depth of the game and content. We think we've got something good here.

I see Assassin's Creed II ended up earning a 91 percent on Metacritic.

Our intention is to try to be there.

Assassin's Creed II just came out last year, Brotherhood is coming out this year. What's your opinion on the annualization of big franchises like this? Does that make sense and could that happen with Assassin's Creed?

Yeah it makes sense if you can pull it off. It's not easy. We've got 500 people working on Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood across the globe in four different studios. So that's a tremendous organizational effort that the company has undertaken to make this happen. ... It is possible, as long as you're innovating and keeping things fresh.

We're building on a stable technology, we're further developing the character in a creative direction that we already have. And so for us, innovating inside the game has been the focus of the development for the past year. ... Make no mistake, we didn't just start thinking about Brotherhood last December -- that takes a lot of planning.

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