The game of the week for this week's Retro Weekly is one that is very close to my heart: The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time.
Ubisoft’s Jade Raymond: “We’re Underestimating Our Audience.”
Jade Raymond, who came to fame as producer on the first Assassin’s Creed, gave her views on the future of the company, and the industry in general, in an interview with GamesIndustry International. One of the most interesting points she makes is how she thinks that “…to some extent, and I talked about this to some extent last year, that we’re underestimating our audience”. She also says that she thinks there’s “a kind of machismo that’s embedded in the franchise or the tone of the game and there’s an assumption that that’s what the kids want to see.” This is interesting because essentially it invalidates the argument that gamers just want gung-ho action, and that games which don’t include this won’t sell as well.
She also claims that the current generation of young people are “more involved in policy and politics” than before, and thus game developers have to follow that development, as young people are “looking for more meaning in their games and entertainment.” According to Raymond, publishers need to take responsibility and take more risks if the industry is going to change. At the moment, it seems like it’s mostly indie developers who are truly trying new things and experimenting with uncommon themes. Raymond thinks indie developers pretty much take the same risk as big developers, but “don’t really have the money to foot the bill if those risks don’t pay off.” She also makes the point that many interactive experiences would benefit from being in the hands of big developers, as they have bigger budgets that can handle expensive technology. She gives an example as playing as an elderly person where simply getting to the bus station is difficult, saying “I think the best way to do that is in a high-def game.”
Jade Raymond also offers her opinion on female characters in games, saying that “there’s a belief that games with female characters won’t sell as well,” and cites Tomb Raider as a counter-example of that belief. Unfortunately, that’s not the best example as Tomb Raider missed its sales target. To be fair, the target was ridiculously high with an expected sale of about 5 to 6 million copies. However, she is probably right in saying that the reason games with female characters sell badly is related to misunderstanding the audience, and what it wants.
Later on in the interview, she praises Ubisoft for their innovation, citing Assassin’s Creed and Far Cry as franchises where the first installments tried something new, and didn’t fully “realize [their] vision”, but the developers were allowed freer hands for the sequels. You could say they were testing the waters to see whether there was an actual interest in what the games were doing.
It’s interesting to see a producer being this open about how the industry could be more diverse in terms of what games are developed, and I think she makes a lot of very good points. Particularly when it comes to including more relevant and contemporary themes in triple-A games, and the belief that major publishers should be taking more risks, because ultimately it could be more profitably than milking the same franchises year after year.