Ubisoft's Michael De Plater tells us what went right and what went wrong.
EndWar, last year’s voice command-controlled real-time strategy game from Ubisoft Shanghai, was good, but not great, both in terms of quality and sales (releasing at the same time as Gears of War 2 probably wasn’t the best idea). This is something creative director Michael De Plater admits. Last week at the Develop conference in Brighton, he told fellow developers, in a session called Tom Clancy’s EndWar: An After Action Report, what went right and what went wrong. We caught up with him for our own personal after action report, just for you, and discovered that the game was more of a success than we first thought, and, hush hush, has justified a follow-up.
VideoGamer.com: What are you up to at the moment?
Michael De Plater: After the end of EndWar in Shanghai, I moved back and I’m still with Ubisoft, but I’m with Ubisoft France and I’ve just moved down to Montpellier.
VideoGamer.com: What’s happening down there?
MDP: It’s… can’t say yet! But it’s a really, really good team. It’s a bunch of the guys who worked on Ghost Recon Advanced Warfighter. A really cool team.
VideoGamer.com: You’re talking about EndWar here at Develop. Now that you’ve had time to reflect on it, what do you feel the game achieved and what did you fail to nail?
MDP: I think the big achievements were the accessibility and the immersion of the game. Making an RTS that not only works on console and is easy to play, but immerses you and puts the players down on the battlefield as well. Those two things were big breakthroughs. The biggest two that came back as learnings were… actually it’s interesting because they weren’t failures of implementation, they weren’t things that we didn’t manage to pull off, they were mistakes in judgement. We didn’t give attention to the single-player and the story enough, because we perceived the game as being very multiplayer focused, like a Battlefield or a Warhawk or whatever. We failed to realise how important capturing people in the single-player is for bringing them into multiplayer. The other one, we did the same thing Halo Wars did, we overestimated how much to simplify the core game for the console audience. Through the course of our play test we stripped a lot of stuff out in terms of streamlining things. We made something very accessible but we went a little bit too far on the accessibility. But that’s a good place to be because it’s really easy to peddle that back. Now we’ve got a very good idea of where that point is. The third big learning is don’t ship on the same day as Gears of War 2 if you’re launching a new IP! That’s probably number three.
VideoGamer.com: Why did that happen? It seemed like a curious decision.
MDP: That’s not something I can answer. The scheduling decisions and the launching decisions are dealt with higher up. Basically publishers have their schedules, so they’re not just trying to fit around each other, they’re trying to fit around the products in their own portfolio as well. They’re trying to set up the best release date for Far Cry 2 and for Prince of Persia and for us, and for HAWX. They’ve got all these games and they all have to slip into slots and we got a bad one.
VideoGamer.com: That touches upon a more broad issue that the Christmas period is overrun with games, and some really good games are getting lost in the mix. Are publishers learning the lesson or is it just always going to be like that?
MDP: Again it’s kind of a marketing question more than my area of expertise, but one thing I have noticed since our release is a lot of exactly the same things. In particular EA have talked about in regards to Mirror’s Edge, of launching an innovative new IP. Christmas is always going to be massive, but it’s, I would guess, going to be a place to be populated by big blockbuster sequels. You’ve only got to look at this year – it’s Assassin’s Creed 2, Modern Warfare 2, Halo 3: ODST, Left 4 Dead 2, although Left 4 Dead is the one that actually did really well, but again it was coming from that big pedigree of Valve. Christmas is always going to be big but there’s going to be more stuff moving through the rest of the year. The problem that feeds into it is as games get bigger, the production budgets get bigger, so everybody’s trying to be in that top ten, and if you’re trying to be in the top ten, you’re trying to be at Christmas, so it’s almost as if by definition, if you’re trying to be a triple-A you’re trying to be a Christmas triple-A. So those two forces feed into each other.