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In the face of a takeover threat, Ubisoft exec discusses company morale

“What comes from losing our independence, we do not want that.”

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Charlie Hall is Polygon’s tabletop editor. In 10-plus years as a journalist & photographer, he has covered simulation, strategy, and spacefaring games, as well as public policy.

With the massive media group Vivendi methodically buying up chunks of Ubisoft stock, there’s mounting concern of a takeover both inside and outside the company. While Polygon was in Paris a few weeks ago visiting the team working on Ghost Recon Wildlands we took time to speak with Xavier Poix, managing director of Ubisoft’s French studios. We asked him how morale was around the company going into the holiday season.

“Obviously [concerns about a potential takeover] has struck us at some point,” Poix said. “We are a company that has been creating and has been leading through independence and that is something that is key to our success, key to the way we are organized. Key to all the bets we ... have taken in the past.”

Much of the interview focused on Ubisoft’s relationship with Nintendo. In the past Poix’s teams have developed daring titles that make creative use of Nintendo’s unique feature set, often with varying degrees of success. For the upcoming Switch console, he said his team has been working on a title for months now, partnering closely with Nintendo’s hardware division to get the most out of the new platform.

“We were the first to believe — at some point the only one — to believe in the Wii,” Poix said. “There is no recipe for that. There is just a background that enables you to be the most creative and more of a risk-taker, and this is needed for an evolving industry such as ours. We need to know our industry very well. So we think independence is key to our model.

“What comes with losing our independence, we do not want that. When we look at all the first-party publishers in the world, none of them is dependent on a media group, and when it was the case in the past [those first-party publishers] were usually either sold or closed. We don't want that to happen.”

Ubisoft’s independence, Poix said, was key to bringing new IPs to market. A Vivendi takeover would put it at risk.

“Everyone, deep inside, knows that there is really a company culture here,” Poix said. “I don't know if it shows from the exterior, but internally we have this culture of taking bets, going for creativity and also going for creating games that we hope can at least bring something to people, that can at some point enrich people's lives.

“The historical background in the Assassin's Creed games that we are creating? We needed to push for that, for instance. The way we created Valiant Hearts, a game about the First World War, for instance, was really something that was a gamble. It was not an expensive game, but it was a controlled bet. We wanted to do something to mark this anniversary, to create this emotion based on this event.”

Valiant Hearts: The Great War reviewed well here at Polygon and at other outlets. It told the story of a group of characters trying to survive the “war to end all wars” at times with bright, cartoony graphics and bold animations. But the story itself was thoughtful, often morose and bolstered by collectibles that were pulled from historical artifacts. Originally designed for current and last-generation consoles, it’s now available on mobile devices.

“It was a game about war, we said, but not a wargame,” Poix recalled. “These bets that we have taken, it is something that we need. In order to be very creative you need to have constraints, but you don't want to have constraints that kill creativity. I think independence is there to bring us this good background, and to make good choices.”

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