Ubisoft is plunging headlong into the world of location-based entertainment
Assassin’s Creed movie just the start of the diversification from gaming, as Ubisoft stretches the boundaries of emerging technologies
Ubisoft, the world-leading creator, publisher and distributor of video games, is expanding into location-based entertainment. For the past 30 years Ubisoft has developed a rich and diverse portfolio of brands that includes Assassin’s Creed, Just Dance, Rabbids and the Tom Clancy game series. The company has more than 12,000 employees and 32 studios spread across five continents.
Building on its success, Ubisoft is now expanding to other forms of entertainment. Whether it is through the Assassin’s Creed movie, or the Rabbids Invasion TV show, the company is looking at new ways for fans to interact with their favourite brands.
Jean de Rivières
Jean de Rivières (above) is Senior Vice President, Location-based entertainment at Ubisoft. He was executive producer on the Assassin’s Creed movie and is working on Ubisoft’s future developments. He spoke to Blooloop about their plans for expansion.
De Rivières graduated from Wake Forest University (North Carolina) and from the Rouen Business School in France. He started his career in 1996 with Gaumont Buena Vista International, as Head of Marketing for the Disney movies. De Rivières became VP of Marketing for Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures France in 2004 and, four years later, was appointed General Manager of the company. In 2010, he joined EuropaCorp as Head of International Marketing and Distribution for France.
During his career, Jean supervised the launch and distribution of nearly 200 movies. These included Pixar movies such as Monsters Inc., Wall-E and Up, and Disney’s Pirates of the Caribbean. Other movie credits include There will be Blood, Enchanted, The Fox and the Child, and March of the Penguins.
The strategic reasoning behind expansion into LBE
“Location-based entertainment is very much a part of Ubisoft’s expansion strategy,” says de Rivières. “We have strong brands and a core expertise in designing highly engaging experiences as well as a unique understanding of emerging technologies. So, we really believed we had something to bring to the table.”
The journey started in 2013. Ubisoft’s first theme park ride opened at Futuroscope (in Poitiers, France). “This 4D Dark Ride based on the world of Rabbids was rewarded with great commercial and critical success. It confirmed our potential in location-based entertainment.”
Since then, Ubisoft has built expertise. The company opened its first Rabbids family entertainment centre in Montreal, which it also operates. It also started designing and producing its own virtual reality experiences. “Great additions were made to the team,” says de Rivières.
“Tory Webb (right) joined as Project Manager for entertainment centers, after ten years at Walt Disney Imagineering.
We also consulted with the immersive design and strategic brand-building firm Raven Sun Creative. They proved to be an incredibly dedicated partner; absolutely key in growing our understanding and presence in this market.”
Translating a story into physical space
“Our first Rabbids ride project with Futuroscope was probably the biggest learning experience,” says de Rivières. “Coming from the video game industry, we knew the importance of storytelling. However, we had never translated a story into physical space before. We then learned that the pre-show is absolutely key in setting a story and immerse the audience so we ended up putting a lot of focus there. It was rewarded with success. Most importantly, we had a great time working with Futuroscope’s creative teams. The quality of this collaboration truly dictated the quality of the end product.”
Ubisoft has been a pioneer in developing at-home gaming experiences for VR. “Ubisoft has been looking closely at opportunities specific to the location-based entertainment market,” says de Rivières. “The company realized that VRcades consumers were eager for an arcade twist to their experience. That could be a simulator, mixed reality, or multiplayer features. Therefore, our teams developed the Rabbids VR Ride. This has a motion simulator that creates real sensations of acceleration, flight, fear of heights, etc. Of course, this has brought plenty of exciting challenges to our in-house developers – and, equally, opportunities to learn. How to handle 360° perspectives or craft VR narratives are among them.”
A new learning phase with IMG Worlds of Legends
De Rivières says Ubisoft is now “entering into a new learning phase” with their first large-scale land project at IMG Worlds of Legends in Dubai. “With the experts appointed by IMG, we’re learning about master planning and design on a large scale,” he says.
Assassin’s Creed, Rabbids and Just Dance are the intellectual properties involved. “On the creative side, the challenge is combining them into the same land and imagining a holistic creative vision that drives the guest experience. Our IPs have never had to co-exist in quite the same way before.
“Another challenge is to rightfully translate the essence of our brands,” he continues. “For instance, Assassin’s Creed spans nine major games and hundreds of hours of playing time. From this, we have to write a story that’s understandable and enjoyable in a four-minute ride, for new audiences as well as game fans.”
Assassin’s Creed, Rabbids and Just Dance – Keeping a sharp focus
“Our brand portfolio is one of the most diverse of the video game industry,” says de Rivières. “We’re confident that we can develop high-quality experiences for all ages so we’re not limiting ourselves. However, Assassin’s Creed, Rabbids and Just Dance are our focus at the moment.”
He explains the three brands. “Assassin’s Creed is our most successful AAA franchise. It’s about epic adventures set in highly detailed and authentic historical environments. We seek to recreate those environments through themed lands. However, we also wish to translate the action of the brand in epic rides, physical experiences and live shows.”
Rabbids is Ubisoft’s family-friendly hit. “It is truly unique because of its strong focus on humour,” says de Rivières. “Rabbids are invaders which means that we can go anywhere as long as they’ve turned the place upside down. We’re exploring the possibility of lands and rides based on the brand. However, we’re also looking at family entertainment centres, like the one Ubisoft opened in Montreal last year.”
Finally, there is Just Dance, the biggest music video game franchise of all time. “It is an energetic, cross-generational, interactive experience that binds people together by making them dance to the latest pop songs. It appeals to kids, teens, young adults and adults so it’s an exciting material that resonates to a broad and family audience.”
Excitement in emerging markets is high
De Rivières says that Ubisoft are considering a wide range of opportunities that will bring value for both their existing fans and for theme park goers in general. “There’s been a lot of excitement around our brands in emerging markets such as the Middle East and Asia. In China, for instance, we have recently announced partnerships with local video game developers and publishers to create games tailored to the local market. All this generates opportunities. We are also exploring traditional markets like Europe and North America.”
As far as potential adaptations go, he says their only objective is to create great entertainment experiences. “We understand that certain markets have specificities and need a special treatment,” he concedes. “Which is perfectly fine as long as we stay true to our brand’s DNA.”
Virtual Rabbids: The Big Maze
At AAE (in Singapore), Ubisoft will present a unprecedented immersive experience, blending real walk-in environments and virtual reality. Virtual Rabbids: The Big Maze, is developed by Ubisoft in partnership with Asterion VR, creator of the Modulmaze concept, and distributed by French attraction-maker Polymorph.
De Rivières says, “We are looking forward to embarking all audiences in this humorous interactive adventure with the Rabbids.”
Jean de Rivières is speaking at blooloopLIVE Asia on June 13th. The full programme for the event can be viewed here and tickets can be booked via the link below:
Passionate and committed players contribute to Ubisoft
“Ubisoft has been telling highly immersive and engaging stories for years,” says de Rivières. “It is precisely that expertise that we wish to bring to location-based entertainment. We know what triggers players to stay engaged with our content for hours as well as come back for more. We believe some of those are applicable to Out-of-Home entertainment experiences.”
He also points out that the people playing their games are not just consumers. “They’re passionate and committed. So, we’re not just delivering one final product to players anymore. We’re providing a whole series of services pre-launch, launch and post-launch. Players contribute to our games by providing feedback or creating user-generated content. This means that we have developed a knowledge and understanding of our fan base that is unlike any other entertainment medium. We are in constant interaction with them. We are able to reach out to them directly.”
Looking for fresh ways to roll out FEC concepts
“We’ve started in the location-based entertainment industry by licensing our brands,” says de Rivières. “Although it is still something that we want to do, we are also looking to develop a larger skillset. We are now designing, producing and licensing our own VR experiences. Also, after the successful opening of our first Rabbids family entertainment centre, we’re looking at other models and ways that we can roll out our FEC concepts.
“Across all services, our ambition is to develop top quality immersive experiences with an absolute respect for the DNA of our games. Finding the partner that shares this ambition is key to us.”
The intuitiveness of VR broadens the range of experiences
“Ubisoft has always been an early adopter of emerging technologies,” says de Rivières. “We develop projects for new hardware very early on. So we’re considering all sorts and from various industries. We can’t limit ourselves to existing technologies if we want to stay ahead. That’s really the biggest challenge: taking months or years to develop a project and still being up to date when it’s ready.
“Among them, we consider virtual reality to be a great platform to immerse fans and families in our worlds. We believe its intuitiveness broadens the range of imaginable experiences, as well as potential audiences.
“In the end, it’s all about telling a story. Even the most basic tools, if they serve the guest experience well, are of interest to us.”
Coordinating development across the business
Changes to the Animus in the Assassin’s Creed film hint at the tantalizing possibilities of an immersive themed ride. Is Ubisoft developing games and making films with LBE in mind?
“Ubisoft is at its core a creator of video game worlds. Our portfolio of game worlds is our most important asset,” says de Rivières. “We ensure that all our internal creative resources are strongly involved in the development of every experiences based on those worlds. We work in collaboration with industry experts and partners. This is how we ensure consistency, make sure we meet gamers’ expectations, reach new audiences and make our teams proud.”
LBE becoming highly competitive
Brands from all entertainment markets (films, video games, etc.) are multiplying their interest for location-based entertainment. “This is making the industry even more competitive,” says de Rivières.
“This said, Ubisoft has already experienced very positive responses to the Rabbids attraction at Futuroscope in France and the FEC in Montreal. This allows us to position our brands strongly worldwide. We’re confident that our portfolio of existing and future brands will keep providing strong foundations for great entertainment and storytelling that transcends mediums and audiences.”
He believes that, in terms of market trends, there is an opportunity in the growing family entertainment centre business, especially in emerging countries. “We believe there is an opportunity for Ubisoft to create experiences that are interactive, personalized and repeatable.”
What are the challenges facing Ubisoft in the future? “From a technology standpoint, virtual reality is both an opportunity and a challenge,” says de Rivières.
He also points out that standing out from the crowd is always at the back of their minds. “As equipment becomes more affordable, VRcade products will have to further differentiate themselves from the home entertainment ones. As a developer of AAA content, we will also have to stand out from the crowd by offering the best quality of VR experience possible.”
So what comes next for Ubisoft? De Rivières simply says, “We are working on unannounced projects that we hope to share with you very soon.”
With invention and innovation embedded in Ubisoft’s DNA, the future is bound to be one hell of a ride!
Images and video: Ubisoft