It’s hard to believe that only mere months have passed since Ubisoft staved off a hostile takeover from Vivendi. From the public’s perspective at least, things are progressing nicely for the French publisher. Their recent E3 showing successfully positions the company to continue building momentum. Assassin’s Creed Odyssey, Skull and Bones, and The Division 2 constitute just a few promising titles on the horizon. Meanwhile, games like For Honor and Rainbow Six Siege constantly receive updates to keep millions of active users returning. All of this effort comes from somewhere and rests on the backs of 12,000 developers worldwide.
Years ago, even half this number for a major publisher was considered overkill. Ubisoft executives were aware of this thinking, but now pride themselves on remaining steadfast in their vision. Evidently, they have no plans to slow down either. Head of Ubisoft North America, Laurent Detoc expresses as much when he sat down with GamesBeat during E3.
“We have about 14,000 total [employees], but maybe 12,000 in active development, which is still the biggest group in the industry,” Detoc clarifies. “It shows in our conference, the breadth of content and the variety we offer is second to none in the industry today. That’s one of the benefits of having this large pool of talent.
“If you go back a few years, people were looking at us and saying we had way too many people. Financial analysts were telling us to focus, to reduce that number, to be more strategic. We would say, ‘No, this is the strategy. Games are going to need more and more people, especially as they go live. The team that works on a game has to stay on that game instead of continuing on to the next game.’ If you don’t have enough people, you have to make a choice. Those are choices you don’t want to have to make, because both outcomes are bad.”
Detoc then notes that some publishers outsource certain content for projects to ensure a game’s release schedule remains intact. For example, while Warner Bros. Montréal developed Batman: Arkham Origins single-player, Splash Damage designed the multiplayer content. Ubisoft avoids this by having multiple studios assisting each other on the same title all at once. Reportedly, about half a dozen Ubi studios are working on Assassin’s Creed Odyssey; Ubisoft Quebec leads the charge, though. Detoc continues,
“Some other companies—I believe Microsoft’s studios are each attached to one brand in particular, so they’ll work more in isolation with one another. They may use outside teams to help them, which everybody knows how to do by now. We believe in the networking of the studios, in studio collaboration. We can shift people. When we control the associate studios, we can shift 50, 100 people here or there more easily. They’re all trained and used to working together. They’ve moved from one studio to another.
“We just opened up in a few cities this year. Bordeaux is a very nice city in France, and suddenly our studio in Bordeaux is much better able to attract talented people and grow than we thought, because we have other people in studios around the world saying, “Sure, I’d like to move there.” When they do, they help attract more people from the outside. They help the studio do stronger outreach, and before you know it, there are hundreds of people in one place when we thought there would be half as many over that time. There’s a very nice virtuous cycle to our studio network.”
Considering the success Ubisoft is having, it’s hard to argue with results. They must be doing something right.