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GameON: Finance - Ubisoft’s Yannis Mallat on Breakthrough Philosophy

At the GameON: Finance conference in Toronto, Yannis Mallat discussed Ubisoft Montreal's "breakthrough" production pipeline, and how it will be applied to the new Toronto-based studio.
At the GameON: Finance conference in Toronto, Yannis Mallat discussed Ubisoft Montreal's "breakthrough" production pipeline, and how it will be applied to the new Toronto-based studio. The CEO of both Ubisoft’s massive Montreal hub and its nascent Toronto development office, which was announced in July and intended to create 800 new jobs in the next decade, spoke on the evolution of the French-headquartered firm. A somewhat humble and apologetic Mallat noted that this was his first real lecture presented in Ontario, and he wasn’t sure if GameON:Finance was an appropriate forum for the types of topics he normally covers. Having come up through the production ranks, Mallat doesn’t really see himself as a heavily business-focused CEO. Rather, he said that his real passion is his daily “rendezvous with creativity and innovation.” Ubisoft Montreal was established in 1997, which Mallat said was a big risk, as there was not much of a game industry there at that point in time. Starting from scratch, Ubisoft Montreal focused on hiring students and young talent with no game industry experience. Expectations were low, and energy was focused on growing skills and capacity. It was during these early days that the first incarnation of Ubisoft’s production pipeline was created. The first iterations of the pipeline would be familiar to most developers: conceptualization > pre-production > production > alpha/beta/release. Overall, a pretty standard stage-gate process. As the processes evolved and the talent grew more experienced, Ubisoft Montreal produced early successes like Splinter Cell, Ghost Recon 3, and Prince of Persia: Sands of Time. This helped to evolve the production pipeline, and led to a new “breakthrough” gate being added to the start of the pipeline. This initial gate forces a team to take risks, be player-focused and seek breakthrough innovation. During this phase, the team is usually 10-12 people. They focus on prototyping in order to validate their breakthrough ideas, before getting approval to move into actual conceptualization. Mallat applied this breakthrough philosophy to the company as a whole. As a specific example, their breakthrough approach has fueled convergence between games and film. Mallat boldly stated that Ubisoft’s extensive commitment to convergence is itself a breakthrough. More specifically, Mallat discussed the creation of Ubisoft’s internal “digital arts” department in 2007, and the later acquisition of animation/VFX studio Hybride (300, Sin City) in 2008. And, more recently, the partnership with James Cameron on the Avatar game+film project, as well as the Assassin’s Creed 2 live-action short films. In closing, Mallat reemphasized the importance of creativity and innovation. And, ensured that the same breakthrough philosophy, and pipeline, that drove success and growth in Montreal will be applied to the newly established studio in Toronto. [Jason Della Rocca spent nine years leading the International Game Developers Association. Recently, he left IGDA to found Perimeter Partners, a consultancy focused on building the game industry via consulting on economic and cluster development efforts around the globe.]

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