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Interviews

Jade Raymond: male fantasies, "innovate or die" and gaming for grown-ups

The queen of Splinter Cell on the industry's future

She rose to fame as the face of Assassin's Creed, but now Jade Raymond is the boss of Ubisoft Toronto. Her mission: to build a new generation of Splinter Cell games, and make them more engaging before we all get bored of shooting people. We spoke to her about how she sees it working out.

You've talked about the importance of the games industry growing up and embracing more mature themes. Is that something you get to do at Ubisoft?

I think we have to. Honestly, I think we are underestimating our audience - they're looking for something more. I mean, just based on the people I work with, the new generation of gamers want games to be about something else than just a context for killing 500 people within ten hours.

I think we have to embrace more mature themes. Ubisoft is a great company for that because our chief creative officer is always pushing teams to think about the meaning and what we want to say, and how to develop game systems and stories that will get players thinking. We are encouraged to take risks, although obviously not on every project, because sometimes you have to ship a game within a certain timeline and there just isn't time to think about those things.

Any time you are trying to innovate or come up with new gameplay, deal with new subject matter, maybe even come up with a new genre, it obviously takes a lot of time to get the recipe right. Fun will always win, so if you try something and it's not fun then you're going to go back to the tried and true recipes.

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You're working on Splinter Cell at the moment, which is quite uncomplicated and gung-ho. Is it possible to 'get players thinking' within that framework?

Well I can't say too much about Splinter Cell, but we have been spending a lot of time on the brand because Ubisoft isn't working just on the next game, but the whole brand, long-term. So we've been thinking about different media, not only companion games but what we do with the books, or with the film. There is a concept at the core of the franchise that really lends itself to some of these explorations. We are trying to bring that to life.

What do you want Ubisoft Toronto to represent? Is there a signature quality you want to bring to the games that you produce?

Of course. I'd like it to be innovation, I'd like our games to surprise people. I don't think it needs to be mutually exclusive, providing entertainment and surprise in some way. So I'd love us to be known for that but in terms of building a culture we're also really trying to create something, a culture of openness, and have that go throughout the studio. I think there's a great opportunity, when you're building a studio from scratch, to absorb everyone's best practices because you get a chance to recruit people from all over the industry.

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We've got a ton of senior people who come with their own idea of, "OK, this worked at my last company, this didn't, this is what I want to replicate, this is what I wouldn't want to." We need to make sure we're leveraging all of that and we're not just going, "right, this is a cookie-cutter copy of the other Ubisoft studios." Obviously, there are Ubisoft values, like innovation, but we're trying to take advantage of being the new studio on the block.

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