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.

“The holistic brand experience that we’re trying to deliver to the players is something they can keep doing on an ongoing basis,” Early says. Using Ubisoft’s rewards network, U-Play, the company does its best to make multiplatform integrations seamless so that unlocks are instantaneous.

Beyond that, though, Ubisoft can potentially expand a player’s rewards network across their Facebook social graph. Early describes a gameplay concept in which a player’s Facebook friends can accrue benefits for a Ghost Recon player’s console and PC games by playing Ghost Recon Commander, even if the friends do not play Ghost Recon: Future Soldier or Ghost Recon Online. This would create an ecosystem where a Ghost Recon player would want to recruit non-gaming friends on Facebook to play Ghost Recon Commander so that the player could reap more rewards from the integration than if they just played the Facebook companion game alone.

Beyond Facebook, Ubisoft is looking to expand its brands and licensed IP — and their integrations — onto new platforms. Though Capcom Mobile already runs a licensed Smurfs game on iOS devices, Early says he knows of no reason why Ubisoft couldn’t develop a Smurfs mobile game to tie into The Smurfs & Co. on Facebook.

“We’re not prevented from doing something on mobile,” he says. “Part of our background is that our CEO and the CEO of [mobile game developer] Gameloft are brothers and they made a deal years ago where all of our IP in mobile development is done through Gameloft. That goes on until April or so of next year. I think our approach as we start to look at what we will be doing come next April is [to ask] ‘How can we get our brands in front of our players so they can engage wherever they are?’ We know that’s not going to be the same high-def console experience when you’re sitting at a bus stop. So the question is, how are we going to bring you that experience in a meaningful way with that IP all of the time?”

Ubisoft plans to share more details on Ghost Recon Commander this September during a press event. You can read our review of The Smurfs & Co. here.