Fifteen years ago, after playing Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time, Laura Courouble and her cousins fantasized about what it might be like to work at Ubisoft one day. Today, Courouble is an associate producer for Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon Wildlands, and just celebrated her eighth anniversary at Ubisoft.
Growing up, Courouble was interested in science before studying literature at university. Unsure of what sort of career to pursue given her varied interests, she decided to chase her childhood dream of making videogames. After university, Courouble attended Supinfogame – the first French school fully dedicated to videogames – for four years. While she originally intended to be a designer, she quickly learned that her communication skills across multiple disciplines made her an ideal producer.
Courouble interned at Ubisoft before being hired on as a project coordinator on Just Dance. After three years working on Just Dance, she was brought onto the Ghost Recon Wildlands team as an associate producer focusing on art and world-building.
How did you know you wanted to be a producer?
Laura Courouble: I only realized it after I arrived at Supinfogame. There, I discovered that I was a good communicator, and had the skills needed for organizing and planning. The nice thing is that while I was in school, I developed a base level of understanding of so many different disciplines. So now, as an associate producer, I can understand people on multiple teams. It’s key for associate producers to be able to understand what is most important, so you can help your teams work efficiently and prioritize. You’re the oil between the gears.
Does having such an intimate knowledge of game production change the way you play games?
LC: Well, I don’t have nearly as much time to play as I used to (laughs). But it’s funny, there was one time I was playing games with my cousin, the same one I played with as a child, and he did something and I asked him to go back and do it again, because I was fascinated with how the game spawned AI and I wanted to see it again. He just looked at me like I was crazy!
Almost any time I’m playing a game, I’m looking at how its systems work. I can’t turn it off, but it’s actually more interesting to me than playing them sometimes (laughs). I’m always trying to see what’s going on behind the scenes. I think it goes back to my time at school because we used to have to do game analysis studies where we’d play a specific part of the game and then have to deconstruct and analyze different parts of it. It was my favorite class, which is why I still do that when I play.
Producers have such a wide variety of roles that change throughout the production cycle of a game. Is there one particular aspect of your job that is your favorite?
LC: Closing. It’s when I can say “no” (laughs). It’s not that I’m saying “no,” it’s just time to ship the game. We’re going to finally do it, finally have all our hard work pay off by finishing the game. Closing time is when your vision becomes most exact, and you can see the light at the end of the tunnel.
With Ghost Recon Wildlands, we had four years to work on the world-building. When we arrived at closing time, we were in really good shape. Of course, there were issues, and we had things to work on, but we were in a really good place where we just needed to do some quality improvements.
World-building is a really important part of Ubisoft’s open-world games. What goes into creating a compelling open world?
LC: Wildlands was very special, because our purpose from the start was to make a procedural world, but one that felt handcrafted. We started everything with procedural generation; we believed in the process, and it helped us produce the largest open world of any Ubisoft game up to that point. We needed to show that we could fulfill our vision of producing a compelling world procedurally. We have one of the best art and world-building teams imaginable, so I trusted them and we did it.
You said you’re a good communicator and planner; where do those qualities come from?
LC: It comes from my family. In my family, we talk and share a lot. Because we talk a lot, we are good at understanding why. Why is this person saying something in this way? It helps us read people, so that we understand not only what they are saying, but how they are choosing to say it, which can tell you how they really feel. It’s a type of analysis, and it requires understanding what drives people. My family really helped me, so that when I met new people I could get to know them better.
Everyone has a goal, and most of the time, those goals aren’t the same. For example, one person’s goal may be to have an interesting story and as a consequence that person is primarily focused on that aspect of the game, whereas for someone else, the story does not matter as much, only the gameplay features do. You need to understand what each person’s goal is, and help them find common ground where they can understand each other, or at least recognize each other’s goals.
When I was first starting out, I would go to meetings and not say much, but I would really listen. I would see, for example, that everyone decided they wanted to use green for a specific color of something, and they all agreed on green, but I was pretty sure they were each talking about a different shade of green. It’s important to be able to detect things like that and say, “Hey, I don’t think we’re on the same page, can we just take a few more minutes to make sure we’re all aligned?”
Did you notice a gender disparity while you were in school?
LC: Oh, absolutely. When I first started out, it was only me and one other woman, and it eventually grew to four of us. But when I came to Ubisoft and started working on Just Dance, it was much better, but still there were more men than women. But I do feel like the gap is closing more and more recently.
When I was young, I was teased a lot and called a “tomboy” just because I like videogames and I like sports. It was awful, and it really hurt my feelings. I didn’t think I was a tomboy; I was just a girl who liked these other things. It’s important to show that this isn’t about being a boy or a girl, it’s about just liking what you like.
Did you think it’s important to have female role models in a male-dominated industry?
LC: Of course, I definitely would have benefitted from that. I’ve had plenty of male role models, but I think I would’ve felt more reassured to have had a female role model. One of the creative directors of Just Dance was a woman. The game is sort of socially flagged as a “girl game,” so it wasn’t surprising to me. She was very inspiring, she said what she thought, and said what needed to be said, even if it wasn’t “nice.”
I’ve been in gaming for 12 years now, and I’ve been absolutely appalled by some of the hate you see directed at women in this industry. But I must say, I’ve never had any of that directed at me. I never felt like I was being treated differently because I am a woman. My colleagues have always treated me with respect. I think the industry is getting older, and getting more respectful towards people who are different.
What’s the best advice you’ve ever been given?
LC: When I started, one of my producers told me something that completely changed the way I saw things. He told me there are always at least three solutions to one problem. I used to think “we can either do this or that,” which was silly, because one problem can be solved in so many different ways.
One of my other managers once told me something when I came to him for advice. I was still a project coordinator, and I wanted to know what I needed to do to move up, so I asked him, “What am I doing wrong?” He told me, “Laura, it’s not about what you’re doing wrong, it’s about what we’re waiting for you to do, where you could be, where you should be.” It totally changed my perspective from moving from one small task to the next to having more of a global vision. I could solve this one problem, or I could look at it at a larger scale and help create a situation to eliminate this problem from coming up ever again.
What advice would you give to young women who want to do what you do?
LC: Just do it. You’ll be surprised by how much you can achieve once you commit to something. You block yourself out of so many opportunities by thinking that something is too hard or too difficult to break into. Sometimes you have to just jump into the pool and start swimming, just to see if you can.
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