Ubisoft: Even non-gamers are gamers now

"Every human is a gamer. It is inherent in our DNA."

So says Chris Early, VP of Digital Publishing at Ubisoft, in a one-to-one briefing with Pocket-lint in London's Covent Garden Hotel.

"I don't mean that from a standpoint of playing a console game, but that chemical feeling of when you have a win."

We've been sitting in the interview for around 15 minutes chatting games, and impressing Early with our over-sized digital voice recorder, but the conversation has moved on to whether mobile games will replace console games in the future.

With the closure of more than 200 GAME stores in the UK, video game sales in decline and app purchases on the rise, it is a consumer shift that has massive implications on what companies like Ubisoft do to react in the coming years.

"If we only made PC games - like we did 20 years ago - we would have failed a long time ago. Our focus is less about the business environment and more about what you as the player are doing. If we are doing what you like, we will do well," Early tells us before getting back to the question at hand: mobile vs console.

"Is the buzz around mobile and social justified? Absolutely," he sparks, with quite some enthusiasm. "Is it the death of other forms of gaming? Absolutely not."

According to Early it all comes down to what type of gaming experience you want and at what particular time you want it. Citing how the introduction of the television didn't kill the cinema but just gave us another medium on which to watch movies, Early believes that console games aren't going to be disappearing any time soon.

Why? Well for one, console games give us something that mobile games still can't deliver - a "high-definition experience", explains the man from Ubisoft.

"As we start to open up other platforms, we are going to see that time shift, and the overall demographics of the game player change from that small group of people, that we used to say are hardcore gamers, and the person on the street that if, you asked, would say they aren't a gamer, and they will begin to merge."

That merging and popularising of "the gamer" has created, according to Early, a group of people that, while they don't seem themselves as gamers, are just that.

"There is a large percentage of the population who will never play console games who are now gaming. Even though they won't say they're a gamer, if you looked at their iPhone, the majority of applications would be games. Every human is a gamer."

Previously head of Windows Gaming, Early likes games a lot; no matter who makes them. He's flown to the UK for a couple of days to give a speech in London. It seems he can multitask rather well. 

"I'm playing a lot of games. I am currently playing Mass Effect 3. I was a gamer when it cost $10 an hour playing online. My favourite game on Facebook is our new Ghost Recon Commander. I am playing the new builds as they are released internally," says Early, not that you would believe him when looking at him.

He doesn't look like your average hardcore gamer who is likely to blast every which way but Sunday. He's mid fifties, grey haired, wearing a tweed jacket and someone, dare we say it, you would expect to see on the golf course with your dad rather than taking heavy fire in a hot zone. 

Early is typical of many gamers today. They want both the high-def experience and the casual gaming hit on the go, the common nature of which he is very aware.

"I believe there is share shift that takes place where people have a limited amount of time and I think gamers enjoy a good game mechanic. So, when they find a good game mechanic, regardless of the platform, they are going to play that game.

"As there are more platforms on which to experience those good game mechanics, people are going to shift their share around to those different platforms. The advantage some of those platforms have over the traditional core console game is one of time commitment.

"It is unlikely that I am going to sit down at lunch with my sandwich and go to play a Ghost Recon or Assassin's Creed 3, but I'd probably play a mobile game instead."

Taking the belief that we don't care for the platform, Ubisoft has started creating games to complement its console titles and build up an entire eco-system around each gaming franchise.

"The concept of companion gaming is, 'How do I let you, the player, experience the franchise', whatever that franchise is, 'in a way that's comfortable to you wherever you might be', and for that play to be meaningful and relevant."

The concept of companion gaming will be seen in action with the company's latest Ghost Recon title - Ghost Recon Future Soldier. First debuted at E3 in 2011, the game is due out in the UK on 25 May and comes with a Facebook tie-in game called Ghost Recon Commander.

Gamers who play both will get extra rewards with the Facebook game helping to unlock currency, weapons, and extra features.

That's a very different approach to what many games companies have done previously. This isn't the same game for multiple platforms, but different approaches and gameplay for different platform experiences.

"As a fan of that franchise you will be able to get deeper into the lore without seeing the same cookie-cutter experience across all the different platforms we now support. Regardless of which device you have, you can experience that franchise in the best way that the platform you have at the time can deliver it."

It's not all gaming, gaming, gaming either. In Ghost Recon Future Soldier, Ubisoft has allowed gamers to manage their armoury away from the console, in a separate mobile app called Gunsmith. The information is then saved and uploaded to the game via a central server.

"This type of a helper application is absolutely the way of extending the brand as well," Early says.

The train journey home will never have to be wasted ever again. Once you do get home your mobile phone or tablet experience is unlikely to stop once you pick up a games controller.

Early, who hasn't stopped smiling all interview, believes with systems like the Nintendo Wii U, due out later this year, there is plenty in store for companion gaming. It's clear from talking to him that he isn't just passionate about this area of gaming, but also really excited - and now it's becoming infectious. 

"I see the Wii U as an incredible creation opportunity," he sparkles. "With the Wii U, you know that every unit that ships is going to have a companion tablet. Sony has been doing it for a while with the PSP that connects as a secondary screen with the PS3. That's fine if you wanted to make the assumption that your PS3 also happens to have a PSP and has gone through the steps to make the link."

"With the Wii U, you know that it is shipping with it. So then the question is - how do we take advantage of that? How do we create a strategic map when you are playing a first-person shooter? How do we create a hidden board when you are playing a strategy game with other players? There are lots of opportunities and that's very exciting from a game creation standpoint and the abilities we will have."

We ask Early whether he sees the tablet interactivity coming to the other consoles; the Xbox 360 combined with a Windows 8 tablet or Windows Phone device. He does.

"It's not just about the TV not being one screen, it's about all of your devices connecting. In terms of the Wii U and the consoles you mention, how do we design for that multiple screen that is taking place there and does it even have to be an exact support of it?"

"What if I have my iPhone? Is there a reason why my iPhone - even though it might not be tied to the PS3 - couldn't, through a back end service we provide, still be as involved? Maybe not as real-time as something on the Wii U on the screen, but a support of the same game system?"

Early is clearly getting excited and, keen to add fuel to his fire, we mention the iPad becoming an inventory system or a dedicated chat channel.

"I think those are awesome design challenges that are partly driven by the Wii U tablet and screen capability, as we look at other consoles we have to see what they bring out from a hardware standpoint, what they support cross platform-wise and what the penetration might be across all the different devices."

But, just as we're really starting to bounce back and forth the kind of ideas that we all hope happens in game developer offices everywhere, our 30 minutes are up. Buzzing with ideas on a new way of gaming to come, we reluctantly turn off the voice recorder, grab our coat, and look forward to a spot of mobile gaming on the train back to the office. Now, what to play...

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