Ubisoft's Chris Early on Assassin's Creed: Project Legacy and other 'companion games'

Ubisoft's VP of digital games, Chris Early, delivered a talk last week at SXSW Interactive on the rising phenomenon of "companion games"; small, downloadable or web games that use the same IP as and link in some way to a larger retail product. These games include Dragon Age Legends and Ubisoft's own Assassin's Creed: Project Legacy for Facebook, but also, he explained, titles like Dead Rising 2: Case Zero.

After the presentation, we talked with Early more about companion games, their value to core gamers, and how they can be used to completely dominate a player's life.

Project Legacy is a standalone game for Facebook, but it links to Brotherhood through Uplay, Ubisoft's proprietary gaming network. "Once you connect the games together," he explained, you're able to exchange currency from game to game, so when you do certain things in Brotherhood it gives you revenue in Project Legacy," and vice versa. Project Legacy also allows you to train a guild of assassins for use in Brotherhood, and thus the gameplay in Brotherhood is augmented by something you can be playing when you're supposed to be working.

"I think we could do a better job of making a game that speaks to more Facebook players and still provides great value to the core game player." - Chris Early, Ubisoft

"From a companion gaming standpoint it's ideal for me because I'm not on my couch in front of -- I wish -- my console all day long," Early said. "But I can keep that progression going, and advance those characters along. It's a very robust mechanism for exchanging value for your play, back and forth, between those products." More than promotion, more than drawing new players into the series, this is the value of a companion game, Early suggested. It keeps players "engaged" in your game by allowing them to participate when they aren't able to actually play the main game. And for spinoff games that allow you to interact via experience points, in-game currency, or other bonuses in the main product, "then you can make that a continuous form of ongoing engagement."

That means that people play your game longer (which Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood also achieves with its addition of multiplayer to the console franchise). "I think [Project Legacy] has absolutely helped boost the lifespan of the game," he said. The Facebook game's effect on Brotherhood sales hasn't been as dramatic. "I think it probably had some effect on sales, although not a tremendous amount, because we never promoted Project Legacy. It was kind of like our first experiment with it. It's had less than $10,000 of marketing in its life, which is nothing, comparatively." Instead, Project Legacy acts as a "reward vehicle" for Assassin's Creed fans. "It was more about brand engagement than about adding to the audience in this round."

Capcom's Dead Rising 2: Case Zero (pictured above), an Xbox 360-exclusive downloadable title, was a successful companion on its own, but didn't add to the "engagement" of the main game, simply because it didn't tie into Dead Rising 2 and was limited to the same console. "For me as a player," Early explained, "it doesn't let me experience Dead Rising 2 anywhere except in front of my Xbox."

Instead, it had marketing value. "The Case Zero style is engagement with the brand over a period of time when there was no other product out there," he said. "They were able to begin talking about Dead Rising 2, begin to get players interested in it." Early believes Capcom was "very successful" in delivering a standalone experience that provided value on its own.

Ubisoft's Project Legacy, Early admitted, could have provided more value to people who weren't already invested in Brotherhood. "I think they can be completely independent games; in fact, I think each one should stand on its own," he said of companion games. "With Project Legacy, I think that's an area where we're going to get better next time, because Project Legacy was very focused on catering to the Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood player."

"It was not oriented towards the broad Facebook player," Early concluded. "I think we could do a better job of making a game that speaks to more Facebook players and still provides great value to the core game player."

This article was originally published on Joystiq.