As the Game Developers Conference kicked off in San Francisco on Monday, Ubisoft held a special event to highlight three pillars of its corporate strategy for the future: a bigger push into virtual reality; using tools like the Snowdrop engine to enable developers to do more; and live, post-launch support for games, with a focus on community.
Ubisoft’s VP of Live Ops, Anne Blondel-Jouin, opened with a talk about Ubisoft’s current approach to supporting games after launch, which involves ongoing support for players through new content, competitions, and community-focused events. It’s an approach that’s worked well for online games like The Crew, The Division, and especially Rainbow Six Siege, with the latter going stronger than ever thanks to a continuous cycle of introducing high-quality new content, implementing community feedback, and promoting top players through high-profile competitions.
“Not that long ago… we had that ‘one hit after the other’ approach, whether it was every year or every other year,” said Blondel-Jouin, “But now gamers’ playing habits have changed, and we’re changing the way we produce to a live environment. We still have core games, obviously, but the core game isn’t the box anymore by itself, it’s more than that. It’s events… it’s tools that we provide the community, like in Steep. It’s also expansions… and updates on the fly, like we’re doing right now with For Honor.”
Next, VP of Digital Publishing Chris Early stepped up to talk about Ubisoft and virtual reality. After showing off Virtual Rabbids, which will be exclusive to the Daydream by Google VR platform, Early shifted gears and dropped some truth bombs about what Ubisoft has learned from making VR games.
“We all knew – or at least, we all thought we knew – a few years ago that there were some truths about VR,” said Early. “First off, you can’t really move around much or it makes people ill. Second, the sessions have to be really short, because you don’t want to be in a headset for very long. And third, VR is inherently antisocial. I say we knew them, but we actually just believed them, because we found that none of these were true.
“If it’s done poorly, it could be true, but that hasn’t been our experience so far,” Early added.
For examples, Early drew on two recent Ubisoft VR games, Eagle Flight and Werewolves Within. In Eagle Flight, the developers used dynamic blinders and an always-present beaky “nose” to give players a constant frame of reference and cut down on any disorientation. Werewolves Within, meanwhile, is an inherently social game (as is the upcoming Star Trek: Bridge Crew), using lip- and head-syncing animation to help lend other players a simulated sense of presence. Also, while the initial planned session length for both games was 10 minutes, 73% of Eagle Flight sessions are longer than that, while 43% of Werewolves Within sessions run for an hour or more.
In fact, Early said, a Google survey of PS4 players found a high level of interest for seeing more traditional, involved, games coming to VR. “We think we’re on the right track with the types of games we’re making,” says “They’re all longer games. They’re all 20-40-hour games that we’re delivering. Players seem to want that level of experience, and they’re willing to spend that time in-session, in-headset, to get a great play experience.”
Finally, Bjorn Lindberg, online technical director at Massive Entertainment, led the presentation for Snowdrop. The engine was the force behind The Division (also developed by Massive), and is currently being used in other upcoming Ubisoft projects, including South Park: The Fractured But Whole. Underlining the engine’s approach of providing a collection of modular tools that can be cherry-picked to fit individual projects, Lindberg described the engine’s flexibility, as well as its philosophy of empowering content creators to tweak aspects of the game without needing direct programming support.
“We have an integrated editor in the game, which is very useful if you’re building content,” said Lindberg. “You can run around in-game and say, ‘this door doesn’t make any sense, it’s too far to the left.’ You can bring up the editor while you’re playing, move the door a little bit, and continue as you go.”
The presentation concluded with the announcement of a new game set in James Cameron’s Avatar universe, which is being developed by Massive using the Snowdrop engine. Check out our full story here, and for more on what’s ahead, keep your eye on UbiBlog.