Almost a year after taking office as Managing Director, Marie-Sophie de Waubert takes stock of the Ubisoft Paris Studio’s evolution and the challenges that will be the year 2021. Last October, for its print magazine production, the Stories team spoke with Marie-Sophie de Waubert, Managing Director of Ubisoft Paris. In the interview, we discuss the Covid-19 crisis, the Studio’s upcoming projects, and the value of diversity in the industry.[Find the original article alongside much other content on Stories]
YOU BECAME MANAGING DIRECTOR IN MARCH 2020. A FEW DAYS AFTER YOU TOOK OFFICE, FRANCE BEGAN ITS LOCKDOWN. HOW DID UBISOFT PARIS STUDIO GO THROUGH THIS AND KEEP OPERATING?
MARIE-SOPHIE : The first few days were pretty crazy! We immediately set up a crisis-cell daily meeting with IT, HR, Workplace, Finance, Communication, and Producing representatives. Seeing everyone assemble, locally and at the Group level, has been impressive. In addition to logistics, it was key for us to continue to inform, reassure and unite teams among themselves and in the life of the Studio. When the Studio reopened in mid-May, the health crisis remained very complex to manage. We devised return-to-work waves, considering the projects’ needs and each employee’s individual situation. Despite all these obstacles and the second lockdown, we managed to deliver up to expectations. The teams moved mountains with outstanding commitment and professionalism. Now we can’t wait to meet more regularly “in real life”!
WILL THIS CRISIS, WHICH CONTINUES TO HAVE A MAJOR IMPACT IN THE COUNTRY, CHANGE THE WAY WE WORK IN A STUDIO LIKE UBISOFT PARIS? IF SO, IN WHAT WAY?
M.-S. Since last May, Lockdown enabled structural discussions on how we will work in the future. We read many studies on remote work, organized a hundred interviews and thirty workshops, job after job, and took a complete look at creating our games remotely and protecting ourselves from passing trends.
Furthermore, as we have a planned expansion of our premises in the coming months at the Studio, it seemed essential to think about telework and new facilities to make a difference in our offices and boost creativity and quality. Lockdown has shown that there are many advantages to working remotely. It has many benefits; however, it should not be idealized and become the ultimate solution in the long run. It does not apply equally for all, depending on our home, family situation, or hyper-connectivity requirements. What I’m trying to put in place is a bit of the best of both worlds, between remote work and being physically present. Our premises’ goal is to be a real creative hub where developers can meet and share their talents (we want to double the spaces dedicated to collaboration) and go back to remote work when it is more efficient and fulfilling for them. Ubisoft Paris is currently a trial site where we’ve been testing many ways of working for over six months, and I can’t wait to see it all happen at a larger scale!
YOU’VE BEEN AT UBISOFT FOR TWENTY YEARS. YOU’VE WORKED IN DIFFERENT JOBS. HOW HAVE YOU SEEN THE VIDEO GAME INDUSTRY EVOLVE OVER THE YEARS, AND WHAT ARE YOU PASSIONATE ABOUT IN THIS INDUSTRY?
M.-S. I did not see those twenty years pass! What inspires me is that video games are at the crossroads between technological innovation and powerful artistic concepts. For more than thirty years, we have pushed the boundaries of accessibility and immersion for players, “the sky is the limit” in our industry. It is a privilege that few artistic fields have, making for exciting internal interactions and teamwork. Today, we are a creative and cultural industry known and recognized around the world. With notable successes and great power comes great responsibility, as everyone knows. Our sector is a place that reflects on many social issues: health, education, tolerance, respect, diversity. With two billion players globally, a continually growing figure, our impact can be tremendous. We have the means to increase our positive footprint, both in our games’ content and how they are created, whether in our teams’ composition, the choice of location of our sites, or our productions’ ecological impact.
DIVERSITY ISSUES WITHIN THE INDUSTRY ARE MORE IMPORTANT THAN EVER. IN YOUR OPINION, HOW CAN THIS GLOBAL DIVERSITY BE ENCOURAGED AND ACCELERATED?
M.-S. Diversity rhymes with creativity; at least everyone now agrees. Gender diversity in France is often the only one that can be statistically measured, so we focus on it, and we are right to do so because we have to be proactive and set goals. We aim to reach 25% of women at the Studio in 2023 (21% today).
It is also essential to take into account social, generational, and cultural diversity. And as with women, this topic takes root well ahead of the labor market. It is up to all actors to fight perception biases and better represent society in our industry and within the training courses that prepare for it from an early age. I am delighted to have contributed to France’s setup of the association Fusion Jeunesse in 2019. Our partnership with Loisirs Numérique association contributes to the same effort by funding scholarships to support and accompany students who do not have the financial means to access quality training in the video game industry. We are delighted with both financial and skill sponsorships. I would also like to focus on another kind of diversity: people who would not come from our industry. Sometimes we tend to think that our industry is “so complex and unique that you almost have to be born in it to be legitimate.” If the first part of the sentence is correct, the second part is not necessarily true. Let us not deprive ourselves of a pool of very competent candidates from sectors that are sometimes more mature than us in terms of diversity, especially on women’s profiles.
UBISOFT PARIS ALSO LAUNCHED AN INITIATIVE LAST YEAR FOR YOUNG WOMEN WHO WANT TO JOIN THE INDUSTRY: WOMXN DEVELOP AT UBISOFT. CAN YOU INTRODUCE US TO THIS PROJECT? WHAT IS YOUR ASSESSMENT OF THE FIRST EDITION AND WHAT DO YOU EXPECT FROM THE NEXT EDITION?
M.-S. The “WomXn Develop at Ubisoft” project is a mentoring program for young women who want to get into programming and game design. We were one of the first two studios to launch it in 2019, and that resulted in 33 submissions in game design and 37 in programming. The craze was very strong, and the concept grew since three studios have already revived the project (Toronto, San Francisco, and Kyiv), and another eight are interested in it this year, including Paris, of course. We also have a partnership with Women in Games at Ubisoft in France. For instance, we organize coaching workshops where the recruitment team is fully involved advising about twenty members on their CVs, job interviews, or portfolios. We can also mention the launch of workshops that supports women at work in the Studio and their daily lives. We relied, among other things, on their testimonials and brainstormings to create the Studio’s Diversity – Inclusion roadmap. Other initiatives have been launched and will continue to grow throughout the year.
WHAT WILL BE THE BIG STAKES FOR UBISOFT PARIS’ STUDIO FOR 2021?
M.-S. We have amazing brands at the Paris Studio, each with enormous potential and strong challenges. Just Dance celebrated its 10th-anniversary last year, which is eons from a sociological point of view. Our next year’s ambition is to be the go-to brand associated with the motivating and universally positive feelings shared by dance. Just Dance has a lot to say in terms of fun, learning, competition, dating, and we have accurately identified how to continue to appeal to a broader audience. The collaborations on Skull and Bones (led by Singapore) and Beyond Good & Evil 2 (Montpellier project) bring us valuable lessons in technology, design, and business models. We also have other brands on which wonderful things are brewing! From a more cross-cutting point of view, our future will indeed depend on pursuing an ambitious tech roadmap.
The competition is tough, and it is essential to put tech at the heart of our project and studio strategy. We must also continue to develop storytelling and directing. Players expect stories and experiences with depth and subtlety, without complexity, and conform to their favorite brand’s DNA. It’s a real creative challenge. Finally, since I arrived, one of my main obsessions is: “How do we bring out the talents of tomorrow from our teams?” Last November, we launched a small internal “incubator” at the Studio called Next Gem. There is considerable enthusiasm for this program, which has short, medium, and long-term benefits.
FROM A MORE PERSONAL POINT OF VIEW, WHAT DO YOU HOPE FOR THIS NEW YEAR?
M.-S. 2021 promises to be an exciting one. I wish everybody to stay healthy, of course, and a lot of kindness for oneself and others. For my part, while the sacred fire still inspires me with as much intensity as the last 20 years, I feel that I also have more experience, wisdom and that I improve the quality of everything. These are the benefits of personal growth; it seems! I hope, of course, that our market continues to expand, with a flourishing foundation for consoles. Like everyone else, I am very curious to see how all these opportunities will shake up our habits, especially with the arrival of new big digital players on our market. I hope my teams will continue to share beautiful love stories with our players and that many more will be born thanks to our passion for our job. For everything else and for all the challenges that lie ahead, I believe in our ability to bounce back and never surrender.
Written by Vincent Manilève
Find the original article here.