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Interview: Ubisoft's Chris Early On Taking  Ghost Recon  To Facebook

Interview: Ubisoft's Chris Early On Taking Ghost Recon To Facebook

June 6, 2011 | By Kyle Orland




Ubisoft seems eager to extend the Ghost Recon brand as far as it can go. Today's announcements of Ghost Recon: Commander -- a Facebook and mobile title for the franchise -- comes on top of the previously announced multi-console release of Future Soldier and the recently announced, free-to-play PC title Ghost Recon Online, all planned for release early next year.

But while all three titles are their own independent games, Ubisoft VP of digital games Chris Early says the coordinated release is defining the future of what he calls "companion gaming" -- games that are interlinked so that success in one helps lead to success in the others.

"By playing Commander before Future Soldier comes out, it's going to let you accumulate a little bit of wealth and some weapons so you have some sort of advantage [in Future Soldier]," Early said. "I know there's a time when I'm going to sit down in front of my console and play that game, and I know there's going to be a time when I have a few minutes to spare in between, and if I can use some of that time to generate consumables or generate an advantage in another game, I'm going to do that."

It's a model Ubisoft has tried once before, by linking Assassin's Creed Brotherhood on consoles with Assassin's Creed: Project Legacy on Facebook, such that players could earn items in one game by playing the other. In that case, 80 percent of the Facebook players were playing the game on consoles as well, which to Early showed that "core gamers will play games on Facebook, especially when it's tied into the IP they're interested in," he said.

This kind of achievement-linking and well-known branding are somewhat necessary to attract a core audience to Facebook games, Early said, because of the platform's overwhelming reputation as a place for more casual fare.

"I think traditional gamers have avoided the Facebook platform, or they've had an early experience... they were in there when it was HTML-based gaming and not much more, so maybe it left a sour taste," he said. "I think projects like this will help reintroduce them to the platform. They may not play the majority of Facebook games or the majority of social network games, but my belief is they'll play any game that has a good mechanic."

By focusing on Commander and releasing it alongside an established brand outside of Facebook, Early also hopes the game will be able to avoid some of the problems the company ran into in its first foray into Facebook gaming, where a dozen near-simultaneous releases mostly struggled to find a significant audience."

"When we launched our big rush of Facebook games, in retrospect that probably wasn't the best idea," he said. "Every one of them was acquiring customers at the same time. I wouldn't say any of them did well enough to compete with ourselves, but we were never able to move people from one to the other." One partial exception was CSI: Crime City, another branded Facebook game that was able to attract a somewhat sizable following, Early said.

Early teased more Facebook projects for Ubisoft coming around the corner, saying that a quarter of the company is now working on digital content and most of what they're developing hasn't been seen yet. And while he doesn't think the company is going to beat Zynga, necessarily, he think Ubisoft will be able to find its own value in taking its franchises onto the social platform.

"When we do something like Ghost Recon or like CSI: Crime City, I guess technically we're competing [with Zynga] because we're on the same platform, but not really because those are brand experiences of their own," he said. "So anybody who loves or plays that brand is going to play those games."


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