Tuesday, 31 August 2010

Ubisoft: "Only AAA Titles Are Profitable On Consoles"

Ubisoft's Alain Corre has revealed his opinion of how to sell games on consoles: kill innovation, catch sequelitis, and market hard.

In addressing whether or not a company should try to push the envelope or remain safe with a narrow, Activision-like view on proceedings, Mr. Corre is clear:
"The games that are not triple-A are not profitable anymore, and that’s changed in the last 18 months."

"When you have a triple-A blockbuster it costs more money to develop, but at the end of the day there’s also the chance of a good return on it because there’s a concentration at the top of the charts. To a certain extent it becomes less risky to invest more in a single game or franchise than spreading your investment between three or four games. Because if those three or four games are not at the right quality level, you are sure to lose money. So the business model has changed and we’re changing our way of making hardcore games. With hardcore games that we’re not sure are reaching the right level, we stop work on them. And that’s why we concentrate more on key franchises, because that’s what the market wants - something new with huge quality production behind it. The market is not supporting the full range of product that it used to anymore."
Mr. Corre has shown us what I like to call a "self-fulfilling prophecy". By Mr. Corre's logic, the only way to make money is to pour all of your resources - really, all of your marketing muscle - into a guaranteed seller. Unfortunately, this is dangerous logic because the gaming public is fickle; they get bored quickly.

I do agree with Mr. Corre that it can be painful - even fatal for a company - to try to heavily market a new IP, only to see it fail because gamers would rather buy another damned Madden game (and I LIKE Madden). But where do AAA franchises come from? Wasn't Assassin's Creed a risk? Wasn't H.A.W.X. a risk? Isn't this the company that just put out the brilliant Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World: The Game? The results don't seem to match up with the words.

Furthermore, consider Limbo, which had a team of about five people, but soared to high sales based on word of mouth; no one can argue that Limbo wasn't profitable. Even games with mixed results are becoming "franchises" now, if EA's Dead Space and Mirror's Edge are indicative. There is a degree of truth to what Mr. Corre is saying - just check the box office numbers for that Scott Pilgrim movie, as a cross-referenced example - but I think there's definitely room for smaller-developed titles on consoles, both via downloadable media like Xbox Live and PSN and via retail. If Ubisoft or Activision won't fill that demand, someone else surely will.

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