Assassin's Creed has become one of the biggest franchises in video games along with one of its most consistent performers year after year. While some people think that this year will be a let down compared to what ever is coming down the pipe for 2012, don't say that to Ubisoft senior VP of sales and marketing Tony Key. In part two of our interview with him (the first part dealt with Rayman Origins) maintains that quality for Assassin's Creed: Revelations is very high and that it will answer questions for veterans of the series and be a good entry point for those who are new.
[a]list: I'm sure you're excited over the launch of Assassin's Creed: Revelations, given its prominent place in Ubisoft's lineup.
Tony Key: Assassin's Creed is a big brand not just for us, but for the industry. It's the third game in the Ezio trilogy and [players] want to see how it ends. One of the key things is the storyline for Ezio and Altair that Assassin's Creed: Revelations ties up in a bow.
[a]list: Of course, while it may end the story arch of Ezio and Altair, the franchise continues...
Tony Key: The meta story is supposed to be carried on forever. We can go on with this brand where we want to – that's the exciting part about the way it's constructed. As we've said all along, this is the end of Ezio's story arch; it's a great place to jump in the franchise and anyone who has played the previous games should have some satisfaction with the answers they get at the end.
[a]list: Assassin's Creed has seen some great, dramatic TV spots over the years, like the Assassin's Creed II ad where they had the bell ringing and the focus on the dead, glassy eyes. What can consumers expect this year?
Tony Key: That Assassin's Creed II ad was called “The Eyes” and we won some awards for it. This is Ezio's final appearance and he wants to leave his legacy for the world, so we looked some professional athletes that are leaving a legacy. Our TV ad features three high profile athletes all from different sports, but they're Assassin's Creed fans and their goal is to dominate on the field and in the game. It's running back Adrian Peterson, point guard Derrick Rose and UFC legend BJ Penn; each of these guys is an icon in their field like Ezio. The ad shows each of them putting the hood on and then we show Ezio doing his thing. So we're trying to reach out to people who might not know about Ezio and find out my favorite athlete into [the series]. They really love the game, so they’re going to promote the game in twitter and other ways.
[a]list: What are some of the challenges and advantages to having Assassin's Creed be a yearly franchise, as it has been the past three years, from a marketing perspective?
Tony Key: One of the difficulties is dealing with the perceptions that [we] didn't spend enough time developing the game. With [Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood] we had a hump to get over to convey that we have a huge experience that was coming out one year after Assassin's Creed II. If anyone thinks we developed the multiplayer in one year is down right wrong. So one issue of it is convincing people that there's a full-fledged multiplayer mode and a big single-player game to experience whether or not you've been a previous fan of the brand or not. Just buy this game because it's huge; we don't want people to think they can't play it without playing the previous version, and that's something we have to convince the press and consumers, and that's fair that we have to do that, but I think we've accomplished our goal.
As an advantage of having a game out every year, we have a lot of fans and the sales show that fans have been playing the previous three games extensively, so if you bought those three games or two of them or even one, [Assassin's Creed: Revelations] will complete the stories for you and that's an advantage is that anyone who's played this is already invested in the story. For me, it makes it easier to plan; get traction from the trade, we have a process with the media to make sure we have a good launch. We've got on our retailer support from all the heavy hitters, and they know what to expect, so it makes things easier in that way.
[a]list: Will this year's Assassin's Creed campaign lean more heavily towards showing the multiplayer than last year, or is it pretty much the same?
Tony Key: It was a really big story for Brotherhood to add multiplayer to that, so we knew that would dominate the messaging. We used it as a marketing tool to raise the profile, but as far as Assassin's Creed: Revelations, it's the roughly the same multiplayer but it's not the same story or location for the single player. We talk a lot about the multiplayer but the marketing campaign is more about Ezio and the story than about the multiplayer.
[a]list: Going back to the TV spot, are you looking to turn a new corner for the franchise, associating it with celebrities and saying "yes games are cool" to a larger audience?
Tony Key: Definitely our goal is to get above and beyond this core fanbase and build it into many different areas, whether it be on a different platform like iOS and Facebook or other entertainment - we're constantly trying to build it inside and outside the space. The universe has such reach we can do more before, like with comics with Assassins in Russia and Egypt.
[Assassin's Creed has] always had some Hollywood cache; we were always getting feedback from [actors and directors] saying it's their favorite game. I don't know what's attracting them; we've had some celebrity voice overs, but we've had tweets unprompted talking about how they love the series and what not. So that's what prompted, “Lets put some of this in our ads.”
It has a unique place in the market, but there's this mis-perception about the brand that we keep making [Assassin's Creed] once a year, and we only spend a year on it... we've got a studio in Montreal with 2000 people working on stuff. Not all are on Assassin's Creed but many are, and so are many studios around the world. Missions made in Bucharest and there's the multiplayer from Singapore. The DNA is owned and operated by Ubisoft Montreal but it is crafted by a lot of people.
[a]list: I suppose that perception will linger so long as there's a new title coming out every year, as they have for the past three years straight. I think there's a mis-perception that any AAA title just has one studio working on it any more...
Tony Key: One thing I keep hearing is, “How can you make it in one year?” We work on it a lot longer than one year and that's part of it; we have multiple studios. Assassin's Creed is a blueprint brand. What that means is it has a lot of resources focused onto it. We constantly have people thinking about it, so we have a lot of people working on future iterations, while these games are being made we're already thinking about the next one.
I hope people are getting over the idea that we rush them out; we don't make Assassin's Creed games in one year. That's something we want people to understand, and hopefully the message can get out.
[a]list: The demands of what a AAA game should be are constantly increasing and I'd imagine the bar is being set higher by Ubisoft internally.
Tony Key: It's not getting easier. It's harder, more expensive and involves more man hours than ever before and there's no way one team can do this. The quality bar has skyrocketed to where it is higher than its every been, and that's from external competition and internal benchmarking. It's healthy in that it's generating great products. The industry is going through a correction between 'if its not great, it can't go to retail' and I think consumers are wising up to that.
Consumers are thinking hard about how to shell out $60 bucks. There is a market for less than that; we're had enormous success for the Just Dance games and that's a $40 brand. We've decided that's another consumer; it's not your traditional core gamer. But those are decisions you make product to product, but I feel a true core product like Ghost Recon or Assassin's Creed is something people expect to reach a certain level of quality and sometimes we don't succeed. It's difficult for a product to hit that top bar every single time.
[a]list: That E3 trailer was quite impressive. I notice that it and many other Ubisoft trailers serve as “proof of concept” videos to show off certain gameplay elements..
Tony Key: We try to show people before we have a final game something to demonstrate what the game will have and hint at the motivations of the main character. Another really good example was the Ghost Recon trailer; we did the live action trailer with Ridley Scott that was a two minute spot and the idea was “This is what a future soldier is all about,” with a gun that can snipe from two miles away and optical camo and the shoulder mounted rocket that's designed to get players to say, “I want to use that.” There's always the gamer going, “Show me the game” but sometimes we can't show you want we have. It's the same thing with the Rainbow Six Patriots video; it's about home grown terrorists in America; it's not real gameplay and we wanted to make sure we conveyed that but it was important to show what sort of choices you'd have in the game.
[a]list: The advertising really runs the gamut from the serious to the "Literal Trailer" guys singing about the Signature Edition of Assassin's Creed: Revelations. Who thought to do that - was it mostly GameStop's doing?
Tony Key: It's a really funny ad and they did a great job for it, but when you have an annual franchise like that, you can build on it and anticipate and plan for the next one - GameStop appreciates that. Those are the types of things we can keep doing every year through better partnership with retailers like Best Buy and Walmart.
[a]list: Tony, thanks.
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