How Ubisoft strikes fast, early on new hardware

Ubisoft SVP of sales and marketing Tony Key details the publisher's aggressive plans for Wii U, and outlines the company's strategy for making it big on new and emerging consoles.
Whenever a new console heads to market, you can rest assured that Ubisoft will likely have at least one game in the platform's launch lineup. The publisher has made a tradition of aggressively pursuing new hardware, and according to Tony Key, SVP of sales and marketing, you can expect to see that signature Ubisoft launch game rush on the upcoming Nintendo Wii U. "We have big plans for Wii U. Our intention is to be the number one third-party on Wii U, just like we were on Kinect and just like we were on 3DS," Key told Gamasutra in a recent interview. Ubisoft will try to leave as little to chance as possible when chasing that goal. It's just the way the company deals with new hardware, whether talking about Microsoft's Kinect, the Nintendo 3DS or the Wii -- strike fast and early, beating competition to the new market and establish yourself before anyone else. Ubisoft has a particularly strong relationship with Nintendo, and that has given them an advantage as a third-party to get their hands on key tools that will give them a jump on the competition. Confirmed Ubisoft Wii U launch games are already stacking up, with announcements for Tom Clancy's Ghost Recon Online, Raving Rabbids, Killer Freaks from Outer Space and Assassin's Creed 3. "We've always had a really close relationship with Nintendo, so I'd venture to say that we did have an advantage in getting dev kits earlier than other people," Key said. "I'm not saying we got them earlier than everyone, but I do think we got them early. "They came to us and asked us to make Red Steel. The thing is, once these dev kits show up in the building, you've got these other teams peeking around the curtain going, 'Hey, what's that?' Before you know it, there's three projects being developed for the Wii in that one room, and then another guy from another studio just happens to be visiting and brings back some ideas..." But like any other major partner to the first-parties like Sony, Microsoft and Nintendo, there's still a lot of educated guessing that goes on before any of the final hardware specs or SDKs arrive. "We've always had this affinity for new hardware," said Key. "We're always trying to figure out what we would do on that next system. What we're trying to figure out is: What will it probably be? What will the specs probably be?" He added, "When we finally get a dev kit or some specs from the hardware company, we're hoping that we were right. For example, we were working with cameras long before the Kinect SDK showed up, so we had a lot of ideas already in play already. It let us be very strong on Kinect. ... We've got a lot of real smart technology guys who have a pretty good handle on what can be done and what can't be done. "If you're lucky, by the time you get a dev kit and by the time you get to launch, you've had a chance to build something good because, generally, by the time the dev kits show up -- between that time and launch -- it's not enough time to make a whole game. You'd better be pretty far along in your ideas before that thing shows up," he said. Key said that the Wii's debut was especially prolific, as development began with Red Steel and -- thanks to developer interest -- eventually grew to include Rayman Raving Rabbids, GT Pro Series, and more. "We do encourage that kind of experimentation, especially if we think the platform is commercially viable," said Key. "[Ubisoft CEO] Yves Guillemot will say, 'Let's put a few guys on it, and let's try it.' So if they come up with a great idea, then we'll roll with it." "That's what happened on the Wii; we were so engaged with it after getting the kits for Red Steel that suddenly Rayman came out of that, and before you knew it we had seven titles in the launch window because the dev studios got so excited about the hardware." In a previous interview with Gamasutra, Guillemot said Ubisoft is similarly excited about the Wii U, as its increased specs and tablet controller could allow for some unique experiences for both traditional and casual audiences. Reflecting on the what the next generation of consoles might bring, Key said he hopes that future machines will offer more online connectivity, and thus give Ubisoft a more direct line to interact with its audience. "It would be great to have everybody connected because that would allow us to do a lot more stuff," he said. With modern hardware, many players never even connect to the internet, making it difficult to create online-based content. "One of the big frustrations we have when we're making games is that we have all these ideas to cater to people if they were connected all the time, but we have to make sure it's not an integral part of the game because otherwise you're leaving a chunk of people out of the picture."

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