Yves Guillemot

Founding Europe’s third-largest independent games publisher in Europe, Yves Guillemot had his sights set on world computer domination from a young age

Feature image

Guillemot has an ambitious and wide-spanning game plan. He has made the strategic decision to target every console and gaming platform going. Sometimes, he scores a bulls eye. At other times, he shoots a little wide of the target. His incorporation of ‘shoot-em-up’ games on Facebook may not be a major revenue-generator, but he has established a loyal fan base with franchises like Assassin’s Creed, and the popular Tom Clancy shooter games.

Origins of success
He told Gamesbeat in an interview: “It’s a very interesting time for the industry, because the mobile is bringing in more and more casual people; Facebook brought new people too by using a new system to monetise. We’re at the beginning of a transition now, where you have the Wii U and the other machines coming.” He does not see free-to-play games as a waste of resources, because they often act as an effective marketing tool and help them crack new markets, which he is exploring.

“Assassin’s Creed 3 is on track to becoming the biggest launch in company history, thanks to a new hero, a new engine, new gameplay, fantastic landscapes and impressive crowd-rendering.”

Although Ubisoft has not yet extended into cloud computing, Guillemot says he has not ruled out the prospect; it will simply require better graphics than the games the company currently promotes for mobile and tablet.

Guillemot founded Ubisoft after he left business school in 1986, in collaboration with all four of his brothers. They named the company to sound like ‘ubiquity’, which conveyed their ambition to have a presence everywhere in the world. The family had grown up listening to their parents talk about business in their grocery store, and all the children went to business school. Yves attended the Institut de la PME, NDLR (IPME), after completing the Baccalaureate Sciences. After his parents’ shop began to face competition from larger agricultural cooperatives, they decided to branch into computers.

His two older brothers founded Guillemot Software, a computer shop. But collectively the five siblings decided the market with the most potential for expansion in entertainment was computer games. Guillemot describes how they treated their programmers like an extended family, hiring a château where they worked far more effectively. Despite irregular working hours they were reportedly very productive, often staying up until 2am writing code, then sleeping till midday. “They were very creative, but unused to the world of business. They did not really respect delays.” Since founding Ubisoft together, the brothers have dispersed, all successful in their own way: Claude Guillemot chairs the Guillemot Corporation in Rennes (specialising in information provision); Michel directs Gameloft in Paris (games for mobile phones); Gerard is in New York for Longtail Studios (video game scenarios); and Christian is in London for AMA (software).

The future of Ubisoft
Not content with establishing 13 production centres worldwide, in Shanghai, Casablanca, Montréal and other key strategic locations, the brothers are planning to reunite for a new venture in software for audio-conferences.

Guillemot said in an official statement for 2012: “Financial year 2012-13 should mark a turning point for Ubisoft thanks to a stronger offering for core gamers, popular casual titles, and continual momentum for our online games.” He continued: “Huge opportunities await us as we have an extraordinary line-up, whose diversity and originality aroused great admiration at E3 [Electronic Entertainment Exposition] this year.”

The company continues to invest in the shooter genre, which forms around 35 percent of console sales. Building on the success of Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon Future Soldier, it is set to release Tom Clancy’s Splinter Cell Blacklist in Spring 2013, in addition to the third in the Assassin’s Creed series. Guillemot asserted: “Assassin’s Creed 3 is on track to becoming the biggest launch in company history, thanks to a new hero, a new engine, new gameplay, fantastic landscapes and impressive crowd-rendering.”

Its platform of free-to-play games has seen extensive development since the acquisition in 2011 of Owlient Studios, which owns rights to the wildly successful Howrse, a horse breading game, among other applications. Next year it is expanding into CGI animation in a partnership with Nickelodeon on the series Raving Rabbids, for which 26 episodes have been commissioned worldwide – except France.

Building games for varied generations
At the same time, the company is creating games targeted at older generations. Guillemot professes to be personally excited about cyberpunk adventure Watchdogs. The futuristic plot involves a vigilante hacker who fights back against the system with his ability to hack into the city mainframe, and the smartphone of every passing civilian. Fiction blurs into reality, as an app for real-life smartphones enables players to see their friends’ position in the game on a virtual map. In addition to its conceptual wizardry, Ubisoft’s director has overseen some highly diplomatic financial strategies. A Canadian subsidy, or ‘factoring agreement,’ (Credit for Multimedia Titles), endowed the company with €22m of receivables in March 2012, which it is permitted to sell in the second semester. Also in March, Guillemot sold off 3,171,818 shares in the mobile games company Gameloft, which had an average price of €4.32 from November 2011 to March 2012.

The company’s current operating income grew by 90 percent in the 2012 fiscal year to €56m, and it closed with a net cash position of €84.6m in March, after the Gameloft pay out. With a combination of completely new releases and updates on existing franchises, Ubisoft hopes to capitalise on the marketing and PR it has worked so hard to build.

The release of Nintendo’s Wii U, the first of a new generation of consoles, will definitely provide further scope for expansion. Five casual titles have already been developed to complement the Just Dance product, and programmers are already brainstorming the progress of the next gaming revolution. Where there is interest in alternative realities, the gaming industry will continue to thrive.