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Ubisoft's Laurent Detoc On The Fight Against Innovation

Ubisoft's Laurent Detoc On The Fight Against Innovation Exclusive

November 1, 2011 | By Chris Morris

[Ubisoft's North American executive director Laurent Detoc talks with Gamasutra about Rocksmith's lukewarm reception, and says, "As much as [gamers] claim they want innovation, they don't."]

Gamers, as a species, clamor for innovation. While there's nothing wrong with the existing genres of gameplay, it's always nice (in theory, at least) to try something new. But all too often, when players get their hands on that something new, they rip it to shreds in forums and lambaste it publicly.

In fairness, that criticism is sometimes warranted. EA's Majestic, for example, was a fascinating idea that started strong but never entirely found its footing. Sometimes that criticism - and the poor sales that accompany it - sentences something that could have evolved into a welcomed gameplay style to a premature death.

Laurent Detoc, executive director of North America for Ubisoft, has seen this a few times in his 21 years with the company - and it has never sat well with him.

It's something he says the company is currently facing with Rocksmith, Ubisoft's entry in the evolving music genre. A guitar game that is meant to actually teach people how to play the instrument, Rocksmith has met with lukewarm reviews - currently only boasting a 77 score on Metacritic.

Detoc, though, says he has been quite satisfied with the game's sales, noting that the company doesn't have to record Guitar Hero numbers for it to be significant. But he takes issue with the tone of some reviews of the title.

"As much as they claim they want innovation, they don't," he says. "What I see when I read the reviews is a lack of enthusiasm for something that is new. ... We, as human beings, tend to like what we know. But more importantly, we call ourselves gamers. Are we gamers - or players?"

"I think the 'gamer' label has actually been hurting the industry. As our industry evolves, we need to be more mature and find a way to look at content and judge it as if we were real consumers instead of as gamers."

Detoc, it's worth noting, wasn't on a rant against critics in his exclusive conversation with Gamasutra. He explicitly said that he understands and appreciates the need for them and believes they are a necessary part of the process to get developers to constantly raise the bar. However, he said, too often they're tasked with reviewing too many types of games - and are expected to be fully knowledgeable about each genre.

And while many of those sites maintain an editorial independence, he believes they're ultimately part of the video game industry, rather than a separate entity that reports on it.

"[Review sites] are a part of this industry," he says. "We need to judge the products for what they are. You can't compare, say, a Just Dance to an Assassin's Creed. We can't expect critics to be experts at everything."

A similar struggle is taking place these days as the industry evolves in new directions, specifically to social network sites and mobile devices. Many core gamers (and gaming press) are pooh-poohing those products, saying they can't compare to AAA games on consoles.

Detoc notes that one is not necessarily better than the other.

"There are different types of entertainment experiences for different people and different appetites for quality," he says. "For example, today when you watch 'The Price is Right' on TV, it's free and supported by advertising. The actors in that show are mainly people like you and I, and the cost is somewhat low."

"Compare that to wanting to go see, say, 'Tintin' with your wife on date night. You're going to pay for the movie tickets and parking. Maybe there's a babysitter involved. You may want to go to dinner. By the time it's done, it's a $200 night -- but it's a different entertainment experience. That, to me, is like what's happening with consoles versus other types of play. It depends on what you want to do as an entertainment experience."

The situation's not much different with casual games, either. Detoc notes that when the first Just Dance came out, some reviews were brutal - literally begging readers not to buy the game.

Word of mouth in the mass market led to that game becoming a massive hit, though - one that actually helps fund AAA core games like Assassin's Creed.

"Casual has been falling in and out of fashion for a while," he says. "But [casual and core] are businesses that can exist side-by-side. We're going to continue to make games that appeal to a lot of people who don't need to be experts with a gamepad. Time will enable us [as an industry] to stop bashing casual games."

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