Founded in France in 1986, Ubisoft is the world’s third largest independent video game publisher with a renowned portfolio that includes global phenomenon, Assassins Creed. More recently, they have expanded into other entertainment arenas including motion pictures and theme parks.
Jean De Rivières is head of the company's new theme park division, Associate Producer at Ubisoft Motion Pictures and the man behind the success of the award-winning Rabbids Time Machine ride at Futuroscope. The former Walt Disney Studios France executive talks about his latest projects and his vision for the ‘Next Gen’ theme park (see news item here).
Can you explain Ubisoft’s vision for its role within the theme park industry? Do you see yourself as an IP licensor, ride designer or something else?
4 years ago we created Ubisoft Motion Pictures, a division within Ubisoft that aims at developing the Ubisoft 360 strategy (meaning everything but games, the core business of our company). We produced a TV show on Rabbids with Nickelodeon and France television, Season 2 is on air right now around the world. We also have Assassins Creed long feature in pre-production with Michael Fassbender starring (below). Aside from TV series and movies we believe in storytelling and strongly believe our IPs can expand in amusement parks. In 2013 we opened a successful (TEA award) ride at the Futuroscope in France. The result is a 20% rise of attendance.
The strength of our IPs, our expertise in media production, and this first Futuroscope success leads us to think that we are in a great position to become a main player of this amusement park industry in the next few years.
More than this, the Ubisoft core experience is to engage with the audience in our games. Our project is to bring that experience in the park industry. We are creating Next Gen parks, "the Ubisoft play park ". The idea is the first park you can play. To have the audience be more than a guest: a player.
You spoke at blooloopLIVE Asia about the shift from ‘guests’ to ‘players’. Can you tell us more about your approach to the guest experience in a theme park from a video game publisher’s perspective?
In 25 years, Ubisoft became the third biggest independent video game publisher and has collected a unique expertise in engaging audiences. Human nature loves playing. I don’t mean only video games, I mean playing. And, these playing experiences follow very specific rules that we have studied closely. The idea is to optimise and adapt the curve of motivation of our future visitors.
What have you learnt from gamers’ behaviours & motivations that applies to theme parks?
We have learnt how to engage players through challenge/reward loops, and how to address the different player profiles (adrenaline fans, adventure seekers…), which we apply in our theme park approach.
You are working on a Next Gen theme park concept; can you tell us more about it? How big will it be? Who is your audience and which countries are you targeting?
We have advanced discussions in Southeast Asia that I think will be our first project. We will pay a lot of attention to making it right and expand from there. The audience is family oriented with a slice of teen excitement with IPs such as Assassins Creed. (See news item here.)
Storytelling is very different in gaming than it is in movies. Is this what makes a video game publishing company like Ubisoft poised to become the next “Universal” of theme parks?
What other key factors will contribute to the success of a Next Gen theme park by Ubisoft?
A good partner that will help us give birth to the vision we have of what a Next Gen park should be. Quality is key. On that matter, I really want to express that Futuroscope and Compagnie des Alpes was a fabulous partner in France last year.
Increasingly, the role of our industry is to bring families together and foster real human interactions as opposed to social media, multiple devices, home gaming, etc. Is this something Ubisoft can achieve? If so, how?
Families are varied – Rabbids are irreverent and hilarious, we have the strongest dance IP – Just Dance, we have one of the most beloved adventure games of the industry – Assassins Creed. We think all this, associated with the above skills, is a good place to bring the families together.
You’ve just released a new Oculus-based Rabbids ride concept. Can you tell us more about it? What is the experience like? Who is it for?
It is a bobsleigh ride set in the wacky universe of the raving Rabbids. Virtual reality offers full immersion – anywhere you look, you're there, with the Rabbids! – and we synchronise it with real movement thanks to a D-Box motion-seat, which gives true roller coaster sensations.
It is for all ages above 10 (due to the headset and motion seat). In a theme park it will attract the tech-curious, the Rabbids fans, and all those who want fun and emotions but are scared of roller coasters. Moreover, the Rabbids brand is very humorous and not that many theme park rides are based on humour. (Image below – preview of Rabbids VR at blooloopLIVE Asia)
In a recent post by Noah Nelson in the Huffington Post the author is asking “Will the next great theme park be on your face?”. What are your thoughts around VR and its application to theme parks?
Full immersion in an imaginary universe and virtual content that can be easily renewed to attract returning users.
What’s your reaction to an entirely VR-based theme park such as the L.I.V.E. Centre by Landmark Entertainment Group?
We have followed VR-attraction announcements, like The Void or L.I.V.E. centres, with great interest. However, in our opinion, people going to a park wouldn’t want to wear a helmet all day. They need a good balance of immersion, interactivity and physical escapism.
Another industry trend is LARP (Live-Action-Role-Play), which will see its first dedicated theme park at the upcoming Planet J in Macau. Is it something people will find in the Next Gen Theme Parks?
We are also looking into it.
Image Credits: Ubisoft, Blooloop and Joravision (Lapins Cretin at Futuroscope)