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For the French game publisher Ubisoft, new platform launches represent an opportunity to test new ideas in the market and release new intellectual properties. With the Wii U, Ubisoft lined up eight games to come out at or near the launch of Nintendo’s new game machine. Nintendo sold 3 million Wii Us in its first season, but its expectations are falling short for the quarter ending March 31. So did Ubisoft make a mistake in backing the Wii U so heavily?
Xavier Poix runs Ubisoft France, overseeing the publisher’s three main studios, with more than 700 developers. He is in charge of the Just Dance, Raving Rabbids, Rayman, and Ghost Recon franchises. He gave a talk yesterday on leveraging new technology for games at the DICE Summit, an elite game industry event in Las Vegas. We caught up with him for an interview. Here’s an edited transcript of our talk.
GamesBeat: What is the gist of your talk?
Xavier Poix: It’s focused on leveraging new technology in order to change the way we play. It’s about how we can mix the creativity that we have with what we want to do in terms of new design and the innovation that’s brought by new technology. In France, we have two main studios — Montpelier and Annecy. Especially at Montpelier in Paris, we’ve focused on designing games for new consoles.
I’m sure you can imagine that when you’re designing for launch technology — when you need to be there at the launch of the console — at this point you have no benchmarks. There are no games out there using that technology. You can talk about it, but you can’t playtest it. It’s a time where it’s about your intuition and only your intuition. It’s about knowing that technology presents a lot of opportunities but also constraints. The tech is built by you and empowered by you. It’s quite complex.
The purpose of the talk is to explain that it’s at those moments, when you have so many new constraints and opportunities, that you can face new changes in gameplay. I have a lot of examples, from Ghost Recon, which we brought to the Xbox 360 at launch, to Rabbids and Red Steel on the Wii. There’s Just Dance, which came after that. And now on the Wii U, with ZombiU and Rayman Legends.
GamesBeat: How many titles have you shipped on the Wii U? You had eight in the works, right?
Poix: We did four in France. There was also Assassin’s Creed, which was done in Quebec, and a sports game we did in Barcelona.
GamesBeat: You guys report earnings on Thursday.
Poix: Yes. [Chuckles]
GamesBeat: So you can’t really say how well they did, but do you have some kind of postmortem on the process of getting those games out at launch?
Poix: Yeah. Our focus in this case is that we needed to make sure that we found the new innovation that the console is bringing. I think we’ve done a good job as far as what we’ve been able to provide in terms of asymmetrical gameplay. Our goal was to find new ways of playing with that, and we’ve done it.
Of course, it’s the launch window, so you need to wait for the final results. Nintendo is talking about that a lot. The figures aren’t as high as what they were expecting. But for us it’s been good. What we’ve discovered building games on this technology at launch — on the multiscreen approach, on having another kind of controller in the living room. It will bring something very new in terms of gaming. It wasn’t as easy and obvious for them, compared to the Wii, to communicate those ideas. It will take some time. But we’re very proud of what we’ve done. Since we have so many games that we’ll be releasing, the people who will buy the console will eventually play good games on it. We think that especially with ZombiU, for instance, and Rayman Legends, they’ll have something to play for a long time.
GamesBeat: What else is still coming on the Wii U?
Poix: I can’t disclose any other projects. Today our focus is on Rayman Legends. I don’t know if you had the chance to play it, but it brings something that hasn’t been seen on the Wii U so far, with the multiple gameplay types. It’s very interesting. The demo showed some, but we have so many more to show in the next month.
GamesBeat: Was there any feedback from gamers that was interesting to you, as far as playing your games on the Wii U?
Poix: One good example came from ZombiU. ZombiU was very challenging for us because it’s very innovative, in terms of both what Nintendo’s console brings and what we wanted to convey with the experience and gameplay. We decided to go for a very hardcore approach. Death is permanent. You need to start the game over again when you lose. We got a really good response from fans about that.
What was also widely talked about was a social feature that we added to the game. When your character dies, you can see them as an enemy afterwards. You can also see guys from another console that are dead coming over into your world. That’s the kind of stuff we really appreciate. Another nice feature that was quite new is the fact that you can write messages to other players at certain points. “There are zombies coming!” When you’re in your own experience and your own world, you see where other survivors have written stuff on the walls. It’s really interesting. The response from fans was ideal.