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Not all game publishers have welcomed the Nintendo Wii U with open arms. But French game publisher Ubisoft has gone bananas over it, making more games for the new console than anyone else. That’s what Ubisoft usually does when someone introduces a promising new game platform. Ubisoft’s core strategy is to develop original intellectual property to launch at the debut of a new video game platform. It then follows up those hits with sequels that reap bigger and bigger revenues.
Tony Key, senior vice president of sales and marketing at Ubisoft, says his company is taking the same approach with the Wii U because it bring “second screen” gaming to life. Here’s an edited transcript of our interview with Key, who never met a new console he didn’t like.
GamesBeat: Here we are again. Another console launch.
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Tony Key: I have this conversation every time a new platform ships, but our goal is to be the number one third-party publisher on Wii U. We have six titles launching on day one, another one two weeks after, and then another one in calendar Q1. So we have eight titles in what Nintendo’s calling their launch window.
Key: We have exclusive titles for the Wii U shipping on day one: ZombiU, Rabbids Land, Your Shape: Fitness Evolved 2013, and our newly-announced partnership with ESPN called ESPN Sports Connection. Then, in Q1, our other exclusive is Rayman Legends. We also have, on day one, Assassin’s Creed III and Just Dance 4. On December 4, we have Marvel’s Avengers: Battle for Earth. Those three games are also on other platforms. You can see by the amount of exclusive titles that we’re very excited about the machine. When we were part of the Wii launch back in 2006, we only had two exclusive titles, which were Red Steel and Rayman Raving Rabbids. Those turned out to be the number two and number three best-selling Wii games of that launch, behind Zelda. We’re expecting to be heavily represented at the top of the Wii U software sales chart.
GamesBeat: What’s attractive about it, given that there’s been a lot of discussion about the potential of the machine among gamers? Some say it’s a great machine, some say it’s a bad machine. What would you point about it that tells us it’s going to do well?
Key: When the Wii came, it ushered in an era of motion gaming. It really opened things up for the industry. It was a very innovative machine, and it was hard for people to understand what value it brought until they got their hands on it. The same thing is happening with the Wii U. This type of innovation and Nintendo’s vision are going to be difficult to explain through videos and trailers, as you saw with that TV ad from the U.K. today, talking about the Wii U and the benefits of the tablet controller.
We think that this machine is ushering in a year of second-screen gaming. How the market will react to that and what kind of innovation that will bring obviously remains to be seen. Our position is, we believe in it. We’ve got all these titles we’ve been working on. We’ve had a lot of experience working on and playing games with the second-screen experience. We think it’s an innovation that’s going to have a big impact on the industry.
GamesBeat: If you look at a title like ZombiU, how do you take advantage of that second screen?
Key: I was about to say it gives you another set of issues. You’re one of the last people on earth, so you have issues, right? I meant to say it gives you another interface to utilize, to make the gameplay experience different. In ZombiU, the controller is your backpack. You’re carrying things around with this controller, but you don’t pause the game to get something out of your backpack, a new gun or a new tool. When you’re rummaging around in that thing, up on the television there could be somebody sneaking up behind you. It adds a new level of intensity to the product that wasn’t possible before.
There’s other features with ZombiU, without getting too tactical, that utilize the second screen. Finding a zoom lens and things like that. There are lots of clever ways to use it, but the thing we want to focus on is that it changes game design. It adds all kinds of possibilities. ZombiU utilizes a few of those. A game like Rayman utilizes a few of those as well. There’s a multiplayer mode, an asymmetrical multiplayer game occurring with that second screen. These are things that are hard to represent in video. We’re looking forward to that moment where a critical mass of consumers gets their hands on the hardware. That’s when people see how cool it is. I don’t see how people can be too critical of something that they haven’t had a chance to use yet.