Ubisoft Looking to Build on Brands, Original IP With Ghost Recon Commander, Smurfs, More

Ubisoft is preparing to expand its Facebook offerings in the coming months using a mix of original and licensed intellectual property, as well as multiplatform integration with its other games.

The French video game company recently launched The Smurfs & Co. on Facebook to very positive early results. According to Chris Early, Ubisoft’s VP of Digital Publishing, the game reached its current traffic levels of 4.4 million monthly active users and 1.2 million daily active users without ad spend. This proves, he says, that branded IP can succeed on Facebook as standalone social game experiences — when handled by the right developer.

“The brand isn’t the end-all, be-all,” Early says. “I can remember the early days of mobile [games] where somebody just stuck a brand name on a title and it had nothing to do with the brand at all. As a consumer, I was massively disappointed. Brand is an element of our success, not the reason for our success.”

Ubisoft has experience working with brand license-holders both in traditional video games as well as social games. Early tells ISG that its 2010 Facebook game, CSI: Crime City, still performs well — and could be getting an update as Ubisoft increases its attention to the social/mobile games space. That title currently enjoys 1.7 million MAU and just over 260,000 DAU.

But where the most interesting social game activity is likely to occur with Ubisoft is in its traditional video game brands, starting with the upcoming installments in the Ghost Recon video game series. Ghost Recon: Future Soldier will be available as a disc-based retail product on Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3, while Ghost Recon Online will come to PC and later to the Nintendo’s Wii successor, the Wii U console, as a free-to-play game. Tying these two together is a Facebook game, Ghost Recon Commander, which will feature integration with both titles.

Ubisoft is not ready to discuss the Ghost Recon Facebook integrations in detail, but Early says it will be based on lessons learned from a previous Facebook integration with Ubisoft’s Assassin’s Creed franchise. That particular companion game, Project Legacy, tied into Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood on several levels. First, gameplay progression in one game was tracked in the other game — meaning that Brotherhood players could unlock new areas in Project Legacy and vice-versa. Second, playing Project Legacy earned Brotherhood players money, experience points, and items. Lastly, Brotherhood players could “send” their assassin characters into Project Legacy for training, which could then be taken back into the Brotherhood game.

“Legacy was kind of an experiment for us because we didn’t monetize it and we didn’t promote it,” Early says. Ubisoft used the game to determine whether or not their core game players would be interested in a Facebook companion game. “The answer was yes. Now, can we make it so that people will continue to play on the Facebook level? As long as there’s a correlation of [ongoing] benefits, yes. And that’s really the key learning we’re going to take forward.”

The thing Ubsioft wants to avoid is a standalone Facebook game that has no integration with its brands beyond a name. Like the mobile example Early previously mentioned, it’s not enough to put the name “Ghost Recon” on a social game and expect the game’s audience to enjoy it as a Ghost Recon experience. Another pitfall of Facebook companion games for consoles are one-time content unlocks. We saw how traffic dipped in Dragon Age Legends once players ran out of content that could be unlocked for console title Dragon Age 2, and companion game Infamous Anarchy suffered an early setback when a PlayStation Network outage made it impossible for the Facebook game to execute content unlocks for PS3 game Infamous 2 without asking players to physically copy down and enter a code.