Ubisoft’s Alain Corre on PS4, second-hand games and defying the transitional slump
After a strong set of financial results and our first glimpse of PS4 on February 20th, we spoke to Ubisoft’s EMEA executive director Alain Corre to get the inside story of how the publisher has defied the transition and what Corre thinks of PlayStation 4.
How was the PlayStation 4 event for Ubisoft? Are you relieved that you can finally start talking more openly about next-gen platforms?
Obviously the current generation is in its seventh or eighth year and we were all waiting for a refresh of technology and I think it’s very good news that Sony has announced a new machine at the end of this year. I think it will re-invigorate the market a lot and it will again give anticipation to a lot of gamers, developers and also lapsed gamers coming back to gaming.
When would you want PS4 to launch?
We always hope that it can be earlier than later. Sony said yesterday it was holiday so hopefully holiday – we want it as early as possible this year.
How much do you think it’ll cost?
We really don’t know – that’s really Sony’s remit and they haven’t communicated on that so we can’t speculate. Obviously what we want is for our games to be spread as quickly as they can to as many people as is possible so when the price is lower than higher it is better.
It all seems set up for Microsoft to make the next move now – when do you expect confirmation of the next Xbox?
That’s really for them to decide – we don’t have information on that. I think Sony was the first one to show the way, and I think they were right to do so because this market has been down for the last three years so it was important that the haeommorraging stops. It’s really getting a good buzz. PS4 showed the way – let’s see what the others will do.
What’s Ubisoft’s stance on second-hand games for next-gen platforms. Would you welcome or oppose a block on trade-ins?
I heard that Sony won’t block second hand which I think shows a certain respect to the product strategy that they had before. Obviously these guys are defining the rules of the market and so far I think second-hand is a double-edged sword – to a certain extent it helps players to invest in more new games by bringing back their old ones so they buy more, so that is positive. So if Sony decided to go that route we will adapt.
The thing is we are partners with the manufacturers – we are content creators and we have to adapt to the systems that are proposed. So we’ll see if it happens. Today we are going along with the logic we know with PS3 and moving to PS4. Depending on what news is coming elsewhere, we’ll see and we’ll adjust.
Your last set of financials showed strong digital revenues and you expanded the uPlay catalogue recently. Are you increasingly moving away from disc-based games?
I think digital is progressively gaining ground, because when the new generation they are not only internet-native but they are mobile-native. And so this generation, which is a big part of our consumer, they are used to consuming products without having a disc.
And so the more it goes the more these guys are coming into our market and automatically the possibilities in our digital business is growing. It is a new means of consumption. What is important is that our fans can get to our content wherever they want. What’s important for us is the service we can provide them and uPlay is super important because it enables us to know our consumers better – we have a direct relationship with them and we can use their feedback to improve what we do. We are giving all of that feedback back to the studio so we can improve our games. And so uPlay and these types of services are instrumental and key. We need to know our consumers better and have a relationship with them.
They are more and more connected – they always know what’s going on, they are always on the internet and on social networks. And the fact that we are now representing games from partnerships with EA and Warner. It’s a chance to increase the service we can offer.
There’s a lot of talk around transition right now – we’ve seen a lot of studio closures, physical game sales in decline and THQ go bankrupt in the last year. And yet if you look at the financial results Ubisoft seems to have defied this slump – why?
What matters most is quality and innovation. We took the decision four years ago to reduce the number of products we are producing every year but make sure that each of them is more polished and bigger. We think the fruits of that strategy are happening and last Christmas showed clearly that we had three games in the top five in the UK – the three games we call our magic trio – Assassin’s Creed III, Far Cry 3 and Just Dance 4 – these games were in three different categories. Action-adventure for Assassin’s, casual for Just Dance and FPS for Far Cry 3. And what we are trying to do is to get key franchises for all of the big genres because I think it gives us greater stability. And the next pillar we are trying to build with Watch Dogs is the open world GTA game.
I think yes, the market was tough last year but it shows again that when you have quality and innovation and sustainability in your relationship with consumers you can surprise and they follow you.
Does that mean a wider focus? More free to play and mobile games, for example?
With all of our products we want to create a brand so if it’s no good on one platform it is damaging to the brand. It’s very demanding because it’s pushing our studios to adapt each version to each platform.
Are the likes of Ouya and GameStick part of that plan?
We are looking and analysing what is going on with those platforms for sure. That’s two and I am sure there will be more. In the next few years what we see is that the critical mass is important to succeed. We are open to everything and so if we have the bandwidth for new opportunities we will look into them.
You can read more about what Corre thinks of Wii U’s price point and his vision for Watch Dogs through the links.