Yves Guillemot is riding high this week. Ubisoft held a big event at the Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3) where it showed off a lot of big titles.
Those games included a new version of Assassin’s Creed after a one-year hiatus, a disturbing Far Cry 5 that focuses on extremism in the U.S., Just Dance 2018, and three brand new games and two virtual reality titles. It also announced a collaboration with Nintendo, dubbed Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle. The biggest surprise was all was the unveiling of Beyond Good & Evil 2, a sci-fi game that was first shown off in 2008. (Here’s our roundup of the full event).
That slate has more innovation in it than most big companies showed at E3, and it demonstrates that the big French game publisher, under Guillemot’s leadership, is still willing to invest heavily in new intellectual properties. Without such bets, sequels can become boring for gamers and lead to a franchise’s decline. I could tell that the games we saw on Ubisoft’s stage were momentous because the developers who made them — Dan Hay, creator of Far Cry 5; Davide Soliani, co-creator of Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle; and Ancel Michel, creator of Beyond Good & Evil 2 — all expressed so much emotion as their games were unveiled onstage at Ubisoft’s E3 event.
Perhaps best of all, Wall Street rewarded that sentiment. The company’s stock price has been trading near its one-year high this week, and that should enable Guillemot to hold off any hostile bid from Vivendi to take over Ubisoft. We talked with Guillemot about Ubisoft’s ongoing strategy of investing in new IP.
Here’s an edited transcript of our conversation.
GamesBeat: A lot of people are saying you have one of the best lineups at the show.
Yves Guillemot: Thank you. I hope it’s true. [laughs]
GamesBeat: A year like this might happen once every 15 years. Beyond Good and Evil 2 stirred a lot of buzz. Can you talk about the back story on how it progressed over time? There was that announcement back in 2008 that got everyone excited.
Guillemot: Yeah, it was a different product at that time. Now, as Michel Ancel said, he’s been working for three years on the technology and the world. You’ll see a few things tomorrow and he can tell you more about what’s going on, when things will happen. He’s not giving a date yet.
GamesBeat: Why did this take so long to cook?
Guillemot: Because of the ambition. Michel is very ambitious about that game. He wants to do something that hasn’t been done before. It takes a bit of time to do that.
GamesBeat: It seems like you have a lot of things that would take a few years to develop and only come out once in a while – Assassin’s Creed is no longer on the annual schedule — but they’re all here this year. What does that reflect as far as the last few years of work for Ubisoft?
Guillemot: Assassin’s is coming from the team that created Black Flag. You can see that it’s been quite a long time for them. They’ve been working to create something different, something more innovative than what the competition is doing. It’s a long process for the team, but it’s great to show the game now and get feedback. The team can see what people like and change a few things or go deeper on the things that are most appreciated.
GamesBeat: Do you see yourselves as following a “tentpole” strategy, where you have a few flagship games that pay for a lot of experiments?
Guillemot: Tentpole is more a way of thinking in the movie industry. For games, it’s more about series. It’s more like TV, where if a season is good, you continue on with other experiences on that subject. We’ve been very happy with the different seasons we’ve developed for Assassin’s Creed. This time we needed to take more time with the new iteration, and we think the value of that will show when people play the game.
GamesBeat: You’re able to get a lot of new intellectual property (IP) through the pipeline. People have pointed out how EA did 60 games in 2008 and eight games last year, with no new IPs. This year they have two new IPs, while you guys have five.
Guillemot: It’s important to give your teams the ability to create the experiences they think are the best for players. We think that’s the way to be successful. When you come with something that’s adapted to what people want to play, it’ll do well. Looking back, the new Rainbow Six, the new Ghost Recon, For Honor, these did extremely well, despite being totally different from what people expected of those properties.
GamesBeat: Your press event inspired an unusual amount of emotion this year. Even your developers were tearing up. Creating such a distance between releases, that pent-up demand for a franchise seems to generate a lot of excitement.
Guillemot: What you saw at the conference is how dedicated those creators are. They try to bring everything they have to create an experience people will like. When they talk about it, you really feel that.
GamesBeat: You have to greenlight a lot of these new games. How do you decide on something like Mario + Rabbids? Was there something about that idea as it was pitched to you that made you decide, “That’s the one we have to do?”
Guillemot: I have very talented managers. They already work on selecting between many ideas. When they come to me with their team and they have something, generally it’s in good shape. But for sure, I choose to do certain things and not others depending on how well it might sell, what it can do. What’s important is being surrounded by very talented people, though – in the studios, and also in the organization around those games, creating the mandate for new games.
GamesBeat: How far along do you feel the game industry is at this point, as far as improving and progressing to deliver the best kind of entertainment?
Guillemot: What I see is that machines are more and more powerful. We’re very much creating games now that are more social. People want to be with their friends when they play. We’re able, because of the power of those machines, to be immersed in worlds that are more and more credible. The industry is in a great place, and on top of that, we’ll soon have streaming that helps us have more interactions between people. There’s plenty of new opportunities to come.
GamesBeat: How do you feel about VR and the progression it’s had so far?
Guillemot: It’s okay. It’s a bit slower than I’d expected. But the games are increasing in quality. When it really takes off, it’ll be big.
GamesBeat: Do you think farther into the future, about things like augmented reality that we might have in five or 10 years?
Guillemot: Augmented reality is coming, certainly. We have a few players coming in with very good glasses. I’m looking forward to being impressed by that, but it’s taking a bit of time. It will be part of the ecosystem.
It’s difficult to say what eventually becomes the biggest part of the industry. We like very much that the consoles are so successful now. They’re coming back as a major entertainment medium. Interactivity is going to become the major force in entertainment as a whole.