In part one of our interview with Tony Key, SVP of Sales and Marketing at Ubisoft, we discussed the marketing on Just Dance 4. In this second entry, we shift focus to the company’s other big annual franchise: Assassin’s Creed.
[a]list: Do you feel like one of the elements to longevity in the franchise is offering up an open world experience incomparable in most other annual franchises?
Tony Key: Open world is hard. It’s something, because it’s open, that can continuously be built upon. Between all the Assassin’s Creed games and what we’ve learned about open world games from that, all that expertise helps us realize what’s great in an open world experience. To keep Assassin’s Creed fresh takes an enormous amount of resources. We have to field a top-selling, high-quality game to annualize the brand and I feel one of the primary things that makes it’s appeal so broad is the open world part. There’s never one Assassin’s Creed game being developed at any one time; they’re working on several at the same time and that’s the key to success.
Having those familiar open world elements that you recognize and connect with in a new environment helps you engage with new character and new settling. Building upon your experiences, every one of Ezio’s games were bigger than the last. Now in Assassin’s Creed III it’s on a larger scale than Assassin’s Creed Revelations. Being able to build upon that is fundamental. We hope fans understand that it’s just going to become bigger and better every year… if we don’t do that we put the whole strategy at risk!
[a]list: Do you feel like the timing was right to expand the scope of the world, introducing the new character in Connor and having the new setting in colonial America?
Tony Key: That’s not necessarily true, when you’re going from Assassin’s Creed Brotherhood to Assassin’s Creed Revelations, you’re using the same character in a bigger world. When we created a new continent with Anvil Next, that was a major undertaking, so the amount of resources put into the game is not a gauge of size or quality of the game — it depends on where the game is and what the characters is.
[a]list: I’m sure there’s a conscious effort to avoid the release of the “off year” Assassin’s Creed titles. Without naming names, some franchises have done that and damaged or outright killed themselves because of it. Fans are smart — they recognize when a game is half-hearted effort.
Tony Key: You want to avoid the appearance of a glorified add-on pack and every publisher is guilty of that at one time or another in this day and age. But now, the bar has just gotten too high for that in AAA gaming.
That goes with the marketing too, by the way. The resources to do AAA marketing are bigger than they ever have been. So the top games are selling more and the other games don’t make back their money.
[a]list: Speaking of marketing for the game, was there any concern about introducing a new protagonist and go away from a popular and well known character in Ezio, who had become something of a de facto face of the franchise?
Tony Key: Ezio got pretty old. It was never our intention to focus on one assassin, it’s a plan to have a string of assassins so it’s logical to move to a new character. It happens to be another 200 years later, but the lineage goes horizontally and vertically – we want to explore in all directions. This time was Conner and next time, we’ll see. Ezio was a great character and the world he was in was so rich and was set during a transformative era. Whether that’s true for the American frontier, we’ll see. We’ve explored plenty of different assassins using trans-media. The brand will continue to expand.
I won’t deny that you won’t get a high up mucky-muck saying, “wow no Ezio or Altair in this game” but our executive prouder has a good idea of where the brand is going and we’ve bought into that vision. The way we’ve expanded, Assassin’s Creed III got to be two times bigger than Assassin’s Creed II. So the vision is working for us. Our team in Montreal is motivated, the consumers we’re clamoring for the new assassin and the New World setting gave the brand new vigor and it’s playing well out for us.
[a]list: Assassin’s Creed III: Liberation had a prominent, live action ad for its PS Vita bundle. Was there a feeling at Ubisoft that they could help “lead” on PS Vita with Liberation?
Tony Key: Those ads were made by Sony because they’re advertising the hardware bundle; they loved the game and the bundle is selling very well. It’s an exclusive title for the Vita and it’s something that we believe in. Liberation interacts with the PS3 version of Assassin’s Creed III and they saw it as a prominent selling point and it’s been leading on that platform.
[a]list: What can you tell me about the now award winning “Rise” spot and how that plays into the greater narrative for the game?
Tony Key: Well, that was a European thing and European award, that wasn’t something we technically used. I think the Assassin’s Creed III marketing campaign is raising eyebrows and I would hope that at the Game Marketing Summit that we’ll be recognized.
[a]list: Well, speaking about that, talk to me about the differences between the Assassin’s Creed III marketing in the U.S. and Europe and whether that was planned from the beginning or evolved as a response to fan reactions?
Tony Key: There were definite tonal differences between the ads for Assassin’s Creed 3 in Europe as opposed to America. Ultimately we’re just trying to tell our story that’s relevant to the audience. To people in Europe, you’ll get a different response than in America. Our idea is to act locally and make a relevant message for the consumer; we’re not trying to be mislead and are presenting a message that’s relevant to the audience. I don’t want to shove a Founding Fathers ad in the face of an Italian consumer and that’s the conclusion our Italian counterparts came to.
One of the things to realize is the American Revolution is not something that’s been explored extensively [in games], so there’s a difference between that and World War II. Without all those pop culture references, it gave us a clean slate to not to have to deal with perceptions of what it was. Our goal was to make it cool and part of pop culture. We made people think about a war that’s exploited in the media. Again, we did people see saying, “why is the marketing different here in Europe?” but we need to keep the message simple and relevant you can’t talk to every culture the same way, not in the way that makes them want to play the game. You have to consider a different message for a person in another country and it’s not unique to Ubisoft or even this industry.
Stay tuned for part 3!