Yannis Mallat is in charge of a veritable army of video game professionals. At Ubisoft Montreal, where he took over as CEO in 2006, he leads 2,100 people who are working on some of Paris-headquartered Ubisoft's biggest games.
These games include top Ubisoft franchises Assassin's Creed
, Rainbow Six
and Far Cry
-- all of which have a strong appeal with the core games crowd, and are key to the publisher's bottom line.
But 2,100 employees working at a publicly-held company on franchises that are deep into sequel territory creates the image of -- not a studio -- but a video game factory. Mallat said it's not that way at all.
"Let's put it this way -- and I'm jumping on the image you're referring to," he told Gamasutra in an interview just prior to E3. "Even given the huge amount of people, I'm proud and happy every day to feel, coming from employees and leaders at the organization, that this studio still has somewhat of a startup [attitude]. This studio is still a family.
"We know what it takes for a creation company to be creative," he said. "This creative and innovative spirit is still very much alive, and that helps a lot. We understand what it takes to nourish and nurture employees' creativity."
Ubisoft Montreal, even with its enormous staff, has shown a consistent ability to create games that do appeal to the consumer press as well as action game fans. Mallat said Ubisoft Montreal, established in 1997, has been able to maintain a culture in which management empowers the creative staff.
"It's a mindset. We have to go back to the DNA of Ubisoft," he said. "...We trust our creative people, and we give them not only the means to express what they want to do, but we also give them super-ambitious objectives...
"Some of our projects might not make it to the finish line, but we will keep learning through all of our experiences." Mallat added, "Innovation is key, and I think that's part of our success."
But -- if we're being honest -- unbridled innovation can be extremely difficult when a company is beholden to a brand, to an audience, and to stockholders. Innovation is present, but incremental. To that, Mallat responded, "I mostly agree, but you also have to take into account that in a way, Assassin's Creed II
was innovative compared to Assassin's Creed 1
. Maybe in a more predictable way, of course, in a prescient way for the players. Assassin's Creed Brotherhood
was obviously innovative compared to the previous games.
"Yes, we still take an incremental approach towards innovation for our most established franchises," he added. "All of our brands including Far Cry
will take innovation seriously. That being said, we will still have to please the fans, and the fans understand what Assassin's Creed, Far Cry, Rainbow Six
or Splinter Cell
are all about, and we have to be faithful to that.
"The best way to make sure our creatives are still innovating is trusting our creative people... that they have the feeling they have the trust of management to explore what they want to do," Mallat said.
Now that E3 is finished (Mallat, expectedly, boasted that this would be Ubisoft's best E3 ever), we know his massive studio is also working with UK-based Ubisoft Reflections on Watch Dogs
, a newly-unveiled cyber-espionage action game that introduces new themes, and new intellectual property, for Ubisoft. E3 attendees seemed to welcome a fresh face amid the flood of sequels at the show.
Mallat said that even if Ubisoft Montreal adds to that 2,100 headcount, the company's DNA will remain the same. "I don't see danger of losing culture, because this culture is what made us successful. We're relying on brand, talent, new models in the market -- I think we're in good shape."