Ubisoft on becoming Kinect's 'top third-party publisher,' and on its history with 3D camera tech

Last night, Ubisoft held a Kinect-specific event in downtown San Francisco. There, president Laurent Detoc and senior VP of marketing and sales, Tony Key, talked about the company's strategy for Kinect and why it's investing so heavily to become the biggest third-party supporter of the device at launch.

"I think today is a pretty good testament that we think Kinect will do well because this is an event only about Kinect, so that's our statement on how well we think it's going to do," said Detoc in his opening presentation. It's a technology the company believes is the future of gaming and it's not afraid to say it -- Detoc's next few minutes addressing attendees proved that.

"The thing is, for the last 20 years we've been in this business, and we've always seen that technology helps the industry move forward and grow. Historically, we've been in the business of entertainment experiences, and we've seen the experiences change. One constant generation after another, we'd see, 'Wow, great graphics!' that would make our experiences different, and over the last few years now, counting less and less cycles, we've seen the experiences change because of interactivity -- the big appearance of the accessories, the introduction of the DS stylus, for instance, and obviously the Wiimote."

"What I think is that, with the graphics, people are saying, 'It's not going to happen again; we're not going to see such a revolutionary difference for the next generation.' What I know is that Kinect certainly brings that leapfrog to the interactivity -- it's a very clear change in evolution and innovation from what we've seen so far. I believe Ubisoft is well positioned to be the leading third-party company in that genre, on this machine [Xbox 360]."

But it's not just about aligning itself with the preceived future of gaming, it's about comfort level for Ubisoft. The company has been working with 3D camera technology even before Microsoft announced it would license PrimeSense's 3D-sensing technology back in March. Ubisoft had actually met the Israel-based company back in 2007, during GDC here in San Francisco, Detoc revealed.

"To give you a bit of history on 3D cameras: We've been into 3D cameras for a long time, it started in 2007 -- in fact, at GDC in San Francisco, when I happened to have met the guys from PrimeSense, who wanted to show the technology to publishers. I have a friend whose son is a friend of these guys in Israel and he asked me if I could meet them, so I said 'sure.' Soon after that, these guys went to see our studios in France and we started to work with them and started working with 3D camera

"We think we're more advanced than the competition." - Tony Key, Ubisoft

"One thing that they knew about already, but they were asking me was, 'How do we work together? What's going to happen? How can we make a big deal out of this?' And something I believed was that Ubisoft was going to make a big deal out of this because I very much believed, from day one, in the fact that you could play without any controller.

"As a true evolution, the fact is that they had to be bundled with the hardware, so they had to go to a first party. Eventually, Microsoft made that dream come true and is going to bring 3D cameras to the mass market. I think that's wonderful for both the industry and a great thing for gamers in general.

"So when we met those guys, at the onset, we thought the best way to represent how the camera works was with what we call 'Player Projection' -- 1:1 relationship with the screen and yourself. At the beginning we also went with a game in the fitness genre, because it made a lot of sense."

The "Player Projection" philosophy is evident in all of Ubisoft's launch offerings, as players directly impact the gameplay based on their movements without any delay between real-world action and in-game action. Whether it's something like Child of Eden or Your Shape: Fitness Evolved, player action immediately impacts what is happening on the screen.

But what about PlayStation Move? Why devote so much to this untested tech (due to launch on November 4), when Sony is offering something as close to proven as you can get: a Wii clone? Publishers have been tripping over themselves since the launch of Nintendo's Wii to get in on the motion-control phenomenon. Why not align more with Sony's new peripheral, which itself employs camera technology? Ubisoft's senior VP of marketing and sales, Tony Key, broke it down for us.

"We'll be coming with plenty of stuff on the Move." -Tony Key

"The Kinect system is a clear opportunity for the industry -- it's a chance to do something fresh and new," Key argued. "We all know the industry could use that. For Ubisoft, we've been interested in this 3D technology for a long time. We've always had this vision that you could be controller-free in video games. Everything has kind of pointed this way: movies, TV, virtual-reality situation (where you brought yourself into a virtual reality environment). This is the first step, I think, towards that. Put yourself in the game and you become the player in the game. I think that's cool and I think we're just touching the tip of the iceberg with that.

"We like the Move, we had two launch titles on Move -- I don't know how many third-party publishers had more than two. So the fact is: we are supporting the Move system; but the Kinect system is something we've been working on for so much longer. Ubisoft, as a company, is of course very interested in the Move. A lot of the same mechanics occur that are on the Wii. We were there on the Wii, and a lot of the reason we were there is because we had dev kits early. We believed in it early. We got behind it early.

"And the same thing happened with the 3D technology -- it wasn't Kinect that got us into 3D technology, we were already doing it. So Kinect came along and we felt like we were just a year ahead of all of the competition, and we were already working on this stuff. So that wasn't the case with the Move, we weren't ahead. We'll be coming with plenty of stuff on the Move, but Kinect, for us, is a huge opportunity because we think we're more advanced than the competition."

And what of risk versus reward? Ubisoft is clearly positioning itself as a big supporter of Kinect, well before launch, whereas other companies have adopted a "wait and see" attitude. According to Key, it's all about being ahead of the competition and learning from doing.

"I think that if you look back at Ubisoft, we've always been that company that has lots of titles at the beginning of a new system's launch. We were there for the DS; we were there for the Xbox; we were there, in a big way, on the Wii. We had more titles than any other third-party publisher and ended up having more market share in that first year.

"It's going to be sold out all over the place." - Tony Key

"We feel like, on the Kinect, we can do that again. We intend to be the top third-party publisher on the system. We see this as an opportunity to create new brands; to create new ideas; gameplay mechanics; and get one step ahead of the competition. You only learn by doing and by creating these products and making the investments in R&D, we're taking our developers to the next level.

"Now they're creating, after this round of games, the next level of the next games, which will be even better. You wanna hang back? You're still going to have that learning curve of putting a game out into the market, learning what people like and don't like, with your first game. We feel like we have a big advantage coming early and going hot and heavy on this thing."

Finally, we asked Key what he thought about Kinect's cautiously announced $150 price tag. "New hardware always has a high price because you have to cover some of your costs, for paying for a lot of that R&D," he said. "It's not a surprise to anyone, I don't think, that Kinect is perceived to be expensive, but it's not perceived to be expensive to those people who run out and buy it. So is it too expensive? It's a matter of opinion."

For Key, it "doesn't really matter, because I think it's going to be sold out all over the place; no matter what the price is. It's not a problem is for us as a third-party. No matter what the price is, you won't be able to get one if you wait until later on. We think it's going to be hot and hard to get."

This article was originally published on Joystiq.