In June Ubisoft opened its 20th studio – in Brazil – while at the same time continuing to grow one of its first studios, the busy 2,000-man operation in Montreal. We spoke to executive director of worldwide studios Christine Burgess-Quemard about the impressive growth of the publisher’s development resource…
Develop: What major lessons have you learnt from the expansion of Ubisoft’s development business?
Christine Burgess-Quemard: It takes time – a lot of it! And whether it’s your first or your twentieth studio, each time it’s a challenge. When we open a new studio, we always ensure that we go into places that have a large, highly educated talent pool and, in the end, each new studio brings a fresh group of young, motivated talents that are eager to learn and put their skills to work. It reminds all of us that creative people are the heart and soul of our industry, and our consistent expansion has ensured that we’ve never forgotten that it’s the talents that are the key.
That’s why our current challenge is not only to continue to seek out new talent, but to move beyond the typical recruitment process. With all of our titles, especially in the Games For Everyone line, we need to ensure that we are thinking differently about the gameplay process, and creating games that are intuitive to play. By infusing a development team with non-traditional profiles who don’t come from a typical games development background, we can think differently about creating and about playing, and bring our games even closer to our consumer.
D: With new studios in Brazil, India and Africa, Ubisoft’s emergent market strategy is clearly important. How will it evolve further?
CBQ: Ubisoft is always on the look-out for opportunities to expand our studios and to move into untapped areas of creativity. But what is really important is that each new recruit – whether in a new studio or a more established studio – brings to us their own background, experience and culture. The video game market is changing and we need to change with it. The industry has become increasingly international in the past few years, so it only seems natural that development teams reflect that.
Even more importantly, video games have often been made by gamers for gamers, and now that video games are being adopted by more non-traditional audiences, we need to ensure that we have non-traditional people creating those games. It’s a real challenge for us because these people don’t spontaneously think of video game development as a career option, so we need to be creative about going out and finding them since they don’t necessarily come and find us. They could have experience in the music industry, in industrial design, or anything where they have to take great but complex technical ideas and make them easy and fun for people to use.
For example, we’re looking for creative profiles that have worked on toys, ad campaigns, video clips or web services. The more we can get people behind the scenes who understand or have similar profiles to these new gamers, the more we can make games that speak to this new audience.
D: Ubisoft has garnered a reputation for itself as keenly pursuing emergent markets of late (Sony’s Shuhei Yoshida specifically told Develop he was ‘amazed’ at the activity). How important amongst the industry is it that you prove there are new markets out there?
CBQ: Actually, we don’t feel we have anything to prove in the industry. We were the first developer to open a studio in places like Romania or Shanghai, and the industry has followed us. But our strategy is about what works best for Ubisoft, and what has proved to help us succeed. And that means growing organically in areas that have good infrastructure, and a promising educated talent pool. It may take us longer to get up and running as there is obviously a lot of training to do, but the end result is worth it.
When we created our studio in Romania, I’m not sure that we could have predicted that they would be so adept at making air combat games. Each new development studio we open brings its own personality and its own culture to Ubisoft and that culture gets shared throughout all of our studios, since we encourage mobility and knowledge sharing across all studio locations.
D: How important are government subsidies for how you expand the Ubisoft studios? Are you prepared for what could happen if that support was to disappear?
CBQ: The most important element for us is talent. We go where the talent is. But an environment with a competitive advantage allows us to invest more, and more quickly.
We work hand-in-hand with local governments and, although we have to be prepared for the possibility of doing business without tax credits, I think it’s quite clear that they create a win-win situation for both business and government – and ultimately the industry as a whole.
D: Are there any universal elements/rules you abide to when opening a new studio? (eg. Each studio must do X, Y, Z, etc.) Or is each one different?
CBQ: The keys are infrastructure, education, creativity and competitive costs. If we feel that a city or region has those four factors in place then we can consider expansion there.
After that, we look to simultaneously recruit local talent while also bringing in experienced Ubisoft creators so that they can share their knowledge and train individuals at the studio. Each studio brings something new to the group, and that is exactly what we are looking for.
We encourage mobility so you find rather quickly that each Ubisoft studio infuses some of its talent, creativity and culture into other Ubisoft studios. It’s our strength and our corporate culture at Ubisoft.
And people don’t need to stay for a lifetime – even short-term missions to other studios means that there is a constant cross-pollination of talent and culture.