Ubisoft had the most star-studded E3 event, featuring Aisha Tyler as the emcee, and bringing out at various times Matt Stone and Trey Parker (for the new South Park game, Fractured But Whole), Angela Bassett (appearing in Rainbow Six: Siege) and singer Jason Derulo to get the crowd excited for Just Dance 2016. But the newest entry in the Just Dance franchise didn’t really need someone on stage to be big news, because Ubisoft had some really big news to announce about Just Dance: You don’t need to have a camera accessory or motion detection on your console to play it any more, just a smartphone. That’s really big news, because it opens up the already successful franchise to millions more potential players.
Opening up new market possibilities requires taking risks, though. In some ways it makes marketing both harder and easier. It’s nice to be able to say you have new features or even a whole new product because people like things that are new. However, marketing new things means you may have to find ways to reach new market segments or convince people that they really need this new thing. The convergence of smartphones and consoles is an interesting area for innovation, and it’s certainly a risky one.
Ubisoft’s vice president of digital Chris Early spoke with [a]listdaily about Ubisoft’s risk-taking and where it can lead.
Ubisoft’s announcement that Just Dance 2016 won’t require a Kinect on your Xbox One or Move controllers on your PS4 seems like a huge thing, but it doesn’t seem to have gotten much attention yet. What does it mean to you?
It is a huge announcement, and you’re right, I don’t think many people got it. It really harkens back to two things. You know us as a company, we take risks. Making a smartphone work with a console is a hardware risk, and it’s something that we dug around in for a while. It took a while to get it to a place where it worked well and it synchronized well. As we were working on Just Dance Now, which is the fully mobile version of Just Dance, that’s when we perfected using the smartphone as a controller. Then we realized we could take that back to the console as well. That type of risk on the hardware side is something we’ve done with Kinect, with Wii and Wii U, and we’ve done that along the way. That risk is also there for much of our IP. I think we break more new IP than any other company. At some level, that’s kind of a dangerous position to be in as a publisher. You’re making a huge investment each time you develop an IP, and we’re thinking ‘How do we make an IP that’s a franchise ‘ It’s not just a one-time thing. It’s not lightly that we go into creating Watch Dogs or Assassins or Just Dance or anything. Maybe it works, and maybe it doesn’t along the way.
Isn’t the biggest risk for a game publisher, though, to take no risks If you just create sequels to the same game on the same platform in the same way year after year, eventually you will get caught out by a transition to a new game or a new platform, won’t you?
You’re right, it’s far riskier to just sit still and rest on your laurels. That said, I don’t think there are other companies that are taking the kind of risks that Ubisoft takes. You’ve looked at some of the things we’re doing with some of our franchises to extend them, like with Rabbids the combination of a theme park and VR. Trackmania has a Morpheus connection. We’re trying to figure out how we make games in this space. We’re not waiting.
Of course, you’re still moving forward with your big franchises, though.
We’re not going to stop making Assassin’s Creed while we experiment with VR. We have Yves [Guillemot, CEO of Ubisoft] to thank for this. He’s always encouraging the creative aspect of the dev teams. Not just the game creativity, but the freedom to try new things as well. Hardware, mechanics, engines… That’s what led to the Just Dance franchise, which sprang from a mini-game on Rayman. Now it’s the #1 music franchise in the world.