Chris Early on Ubisoft’s digital strategy

Chris Early on Ubisoft's digital strategy

Not many industry execs can lay claim to the coining of a gaming term, since most of the words and phrases used in discussion of the pastime were born in the community. Having come up with the term ‘companion gaming’, to describe interactive brand extensions such as Fable III Kingmaker and Assassin’s Creed Recollection, Ubisoft’s vice president of digital publishing Chris Early is therefore part of an elite group. We talk to him about how gaming’s evolution is encouraging a new type of entertainment to emerge across multiple platforms.

Ubisoft's strategy

"I think it’s to find a way to continue to extend our experiences to our players across all devices in the places they like to play, when they like to play. And so that relates to our core games: when you think about it, we extend games like Assassin’s Creed, or Ghost Recon, and make either the game itself available digitally, or extensions, add-ons or other content that helps enhance the player’s experience of that brand across different devices. 

"It's also about introducing new brands, across iDevices, or tablets, or social games, in a way that’s meaningful coming from our history of creating games. Really focusing on developing innovative experiences and catering to the player, and what they like to play."

Moving away from discs in boxes

"I’d say that the history of what I’m doing specifically isn’t related to boxes per se, but more to what’s in those boxes, and the company itself remains a strong innovator and fosterer of the creative spirit. 

"The big difference today is that some of those experiences are a little smaller than they’ve been in the past. They aren’t always, you know, 40-plus hours of gameplay. Some of them are five hours, some of them are extensions for another ten hours on top of your core experience. 

"Over the last 25 years it’s certainly morphed quite a bit from somebody playing basically on a PC or a couple of significantly dedicated consoles to today. I use my son as a case study: he’s 19 and he sits there in a room with two televisions. He’s got his laptop where he’s theoretically working on school work, and then his iPhone. In that kind of a multiscreen environment, how do we create content that lets you engage in our brands and our franchises as much as you want to?"


Assassin's Creed Recollection

The effect on retail

"I’m often asked: 'Are you killing the retail channel?' I don’t think that at all. I see retailers figuring out how they’re going to participate in the digital space. Some of them are opening web portals of their own where they’re selling digital games, some are selling digital codes at retail, or cards for a particular game. 

"I think the distribution of digital at retail is probably going to be one of the stronger areas of digital growth in the next year or two. The fact is, most people still buy their games physically, and as a result that’s a tremendous merchandising opportunity for all the content related to a particular game. Activision saw it recently with Elite, where they saw more subscriptions to Elite sold at retail – And all because some store personnel said ‘Would you like fries with that?’

"From my distribution standpoint, that’s awesome. From a player’s standpoint, that retail channel provides things that they can’t get sometimes at other places. You can’t pay in cash online; it’s tougher for grandma to give a gift card from a digital place, because grandma might not know how to get that digital gift card. So I think that there are payment methods available through retail that aren’t available through other places, for a whole variety of gamers."

Discoverability

"It's a real problem, and and I’ve seen it actually turn people off because they don’t know what to choose, so then they pick something and it’s a marginal experience. And then they think games aren't for them, or they're stupid. It’s almost harking back to the old days in mobile when you were on carriers’ decks and you had 30 characters to describe what your game was. It was hit or miss whether [developers] found the right gamer, or [gamers] found the right content. There was no try before you buy or anything like that, so it was tough. At least now there’s more of an opportunity to download something and try it out. 

"Most people are focusing on some kind of free trial, so that the consumers who end up buying the game are doing so on a semi-informed basis. But it’s also kind of a pain to just have to download one after another trying them out. So how does the platform holder create, based on the behaviour they know – because they can track what people are playing and what they’re doing with it – what might be the best recommendations for that player? That, I think, would go a long way towards discoverability and making tens of thousands, or hundreds of thousands of pieces of content more manageable. Because I, as a player, don’t really need tens of thousands of pieces of content. I just need a few that I’m going to like; the question is, how do I find them?

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