Annualised Assassin's, next-gen and ploughing fields: the boss of Ubisoft Montreal

"On the farming analogy..."

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Ubisoft Montreal CEO Yannis Mallat.

In July 2010, ahead of the release of Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood, one of the key developers behind the game told Eurogamer that the stealth action series needed a "breather".

"You can't plough a field every year," Ubisoft Montreal's Jean-Francois Boivin said. "Once every three years - or once every something - you have to let it breathe. You have to let the minerals back in. I think it's the same thing with any license, really."

Boivin was worried that the Assassin's Creed series might go the way of the music peripheral game. "We can see a lot of the music games that are releasing year after year - the interest is a lot less than it used to be," he said. "The excitement is a lot less than it used to be. You want to keep people excited. You gotta make people miss it a bit. It's like, 'Oh man! I'm so happy it's back!' But if you keep force-feeding to people then people are like, 'Yeah, enough of your Assassin's Creed'."

At the time Boivin qualified that statement by saying, "business can come back and override everything I say because at the end of the day it's about selling games", and so it proved: just a week later Ubisoft head honcho Yves Guillemot told investors Boivin's comments were "from the production team" and "the decision is not theirs". A year later, in 2011, Assassin's Creed: Revelations was released.

Now it's clear that Assassin's Creed is an annualised series, with a whopping seven studios across the globe all playing a part in the launch of each title. This year will see the release of Assassin's Creed 4: Black Flag, and, as we learned earlier this week, work is already underway on next year's game.

Some have expressed concern that Assassin's Creed's hefty fanbase may grow tired of the series now it turns up each Christmas like clockwork, as Boivin predicted. But the man in charge of Ubisoft Montreal, the principal studio behind AC, doesn't see that happening any time soon.

"No," Yannis Mallat told Eurogamer in an interview at the Game Developers Conference today. "The players will tell us. Right now there are more and more coming into the franchise, so I don't see that day.

"It's our breakthrough. When you have quality content, the frequency of coming out with the game is not an issue at all.

"On the contrary, people expect more and more of that content. So it's natural to be able to provide that content. The gamers are happy and it's our job to make them happy."

Right now, the stats back Mallat up. Assassin's Creed 3, which launched in November 2012, was the biggest game in the series, shifting a whopping 12 million copies. Indeed it was the biggest launch in Ubisoft's history, doubling the launch week sales of Assassin's Creed 2.

Mallat is confident Ubisoft will be able to maintain the high quality of each game despite the series' rigorous release schedule because of its multi-team approach to development.

There are a number of core teams within Ubisoft Montreal who work on Assassin's Creed games. The core team working on Assassin's Creed 4: Black Flag, for example, is not working on 2014's game.

"When we say we are annualising the franchise, we don't say the teams only have one year to work on a project," Mallat explained.

"Assassin's Creed is mature enough in terms of reaching the critical mass of players and community, but also in terms of envisioning enough content for years to come, and in terms of technology to sustain all that.

"And more importantly, it's mature enough in growing the talent and the core teams so we can have several core teams working on the next one and other projects on the brand.

"That's why every Assassin's Creed has one dedicated core team working more than one year on their projects. We call that a roadmap. It takes into account the creative content - the settings, the where and what - the technology and the team."

So what about poor Boivin's field ploughing?

"On the farming analogy, it is true you need to have the soil resting for a season so it can then produce more," Mallat admitted, "but it's because it's the same soil.

"What I described with the roadmap is we have several teams. So they are resting. The team that has delivered Assassin's Creed 3, they're not working on Black Flag. They're resting. They are refreshing their minds and then working on something else that is not announced."

The team that has delivered Assassin's Creed 3, they're not working on Black Flag. They're resting. They are refreshing their minds and then working on something else that is not announced.

Yannis Mallat

Speaking of unannounced games, Ubisoft, like many publishers, is currently managing the tricky transition to the next-generation of consoles: the PlayStation 4 and the next Xbox.

Mallat said Ubisoft took matters into its own hands a few years ago when it became apparent that the current console generation would last longer than the last. It began work on high-end PCs based on what its engineers thought the next-gen would look like.

"First off, we need to understand it's been a very long cycle with the 360 and the PS3," Mallat said, "much longer than we were anticipating and hoping. We are more used to a five year-ish cycle. So we had no other choice but to rely on our own vision of what next-gen could be, from our point of view.

"We didn't wait for first parties to describe their systems or deliver test kits. We already invested some time and effort on high-end PC, and we relied on our creatives to dream the dream and envision what the next-gen could be."

Mallat described the moment Sony disclosed the PlayStation 4 architecture to Ubisoft as the "cherry on the sundae".

It's well-known that their system used to be hard to tame. So we were very pleased.

Yannis Mallat

"It's well-known that their system used to be hard to tame," he said. "So we were very pleased, and doubly pleased because all the time and effort we already put on the high-end PC was really paying off. That's why we were able to showcase a good chunk of playable code of Watch Dogs at their media briefing in February. That speaks for itself in terms of how ready we are on the next-gen."

Predictably, Mallat wouldn't go into detail on what he expects from Microsoft's next-generation console, but did say he it will be "aligned with what Sony announced".

"It's going to be connected. It's going to be social. It's going to be immersive. It's going to be interactive," he said.

The connected aspects and the social components will be what will define the difference between a next-gen experience and a current-gen experience. And we're eager to be able to talk about that and show that when we're ready.

Yannis Mallat.

Ubisoft has a number of next-generation games in the works, including Assassin's Creed 4 and Watch Dogs. But both of these games will release on current-gen consoles, too. I asked Mallat what difference gamers will notice with next-gen games compared to current-gen games.

"Let's state the obvious: the easy and immediate thing is going to be the graphics," he replied. "There are some mind-blowing graphics right now on our next-gen technology, both on Watch Dogs and Assassin's Creed. That will be the entry door for anyone, even for the mainstream. It's really going to be amazing. Trust me on this one.

"That being said, the connected aspects and the social components will be what will define the difference between a next-gen experience and a current-gen experience. And we're eager to be able to talk about that and show that when we're ready."

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