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LOS ANGELES — Ubisoft chief executive Yves Guillemot is familiar with risk. He asks his teams at the French game publisher to make big bets on new intellectual properties all of the time. But Guillemot hopes the new games will thrive on the new platforms that are launching later this year. He has made big bets on the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One.
Here’s an edited transcript of our talk.
GamesBeat: Microsoft has started a lot of controversy over what it’s doing with used games on the Xbox One. Sony hasn’t said anything either way [Sony now says no restrictions on used games]. What’s your opinion on this? Do used games hurt the market or help it?
Yves Guillemot: Microsoft’s decision to go for no tax on what’s done in stores is the right decision, I think. It means that we can have something that’s close to what we have today, with the older generation. There’s nobody in between that takes a big fee. At Ubisoft, we’re likewise waiting to see what Sony has to say, but the first move from Microsoft is a good move.
For each transition, people will have to adapt – not only gamers, but manufacturers as well. They come up with a model. Consumers react to that model. Then they’ll have to change certain things to that it fits with what consumers want to play and the experiences they want to enjoy. You’ll see adjustments coming, so that we’ll be able to take advantage of all the software features of these consoles.
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GamesBeat: So you think they’ll adjust what they’re offering to suit the demands coming from the market?
Guillemot: Yeah. You always have your theories about who will like this or like that, but it’s not until it’s in front of your customers that they say yes or no. Then you adapt to fit what they want. Today we’re at a phase where the manufacturers are saying, “We think it should be like this,” and consumers are saying, “Well, I don’t like this,” or “I’d like some more information about that.” I think Microsoft and Sony will make sure that the experience will be good for the consumer and bring greater innovation over the older generation. I’m not too worried.
GamesBeat: Microsoft’s said that publishers can choose to charge a fee to activate used games if they want. Have you decided which way Ubisoft will go on that?
Guillemot: We’re waiting to see what all the manufacturers are doing before we settle on what we’ll do. We’re waiting now for Sony’s position and to see if Nintendo will continue as they have in the past.
GamesBeat: If Sony adopts the same policy as Microsoft has and used games do become a thing of the past, do you accept the logic that with games retailing at $60 or $70, people will just buy fewer of them?
Guillemot: From the beginning, I’ve liked used games. It gives gamers the option of taking more risks. Instead of buying three games, they can buy five or eight, and it helps to make sure that people can play different types of games and enjoy those great experiences and so on. What’s happening with boxes is that people play a game, and they come in four weeks or six weeks later to trade that game in and buy another one. I think that process is working fine. It’s just when if the guy comes in three days later to take the game back, that not going to be able to sell new ones. It’s to everyone’s benefit that we sell enough so that we can reinvest.
So the way used games happen in stores with boxes these days, I think it’s fine. There’s no reason we can’t continue like this. The only problem is how much support you have to give to those games, like with multiplayer – we need to pull in some revenue to provide support for those players. If you can sell extra content, you can pay for the post-launch team and continue to provide the experience.
We very much like the fact that players can buy many different games, because that means we can have many hits all through the year, especially at Christmas. You’re either part of that or not, so the risk increases a lot.
GamesBeat: Are publishers keeping the price of digitally delivered games artificially high? The price of a new game on Origin or uPlay is usually the same as the boxed release. Is that your choice, or do retailers require that of you?
Guillemot: It’s a difficult question. It’s hard to discount a game too much on digital if it’s in stores at a different price, because that puts retailers in trouble. A lot of consumers buy secondhand, it’s true, but there are also a lot who never do. Those guys, whether they buy online or if they buy in store, they don’t ever plan to exchange that product. For them, it’s the same thing. For a person who regularly resells their game, they still have an extra reason to go to the store.
If you look at Steam, they do a lot of discounting, but they take 60 percent of that business. Discounting digital versions isn’t going to help retail to succeed. We want retail to keep going and to grow, because those guys have people in stores who can help gamers learn about what we’re releasing. They can share that love of gaming. When you’re only buying your games online, certainly you can look at comments from other gamers, but you don’t have that relationship with another person. And it’s not only that. It’s also the visibility your games have in so many stores.
Things will change, step by step, but we’d prefer the transition to be smooth than to go too quickly.