February 2, 2022

10 Min Read


From Novels To Manga: How Ubisoft Is Telling Stories Outside of Games

Ubisoft has long been involved with transmedia development projects, using such formats as books, podcasts, webtoons, and even board games to tell new and exciting stories set in the worlds of our videogames, and to reach new audiences and territories. Transmedia helps create consistency and depth across various games, and offers our players fresh perspectives on our franchises through new stories and characters.

These works are creative collaborations that allow us to work with outside talent, and attract writers and artists from all over the world: Japan, China, Mexico, Canada, USA, France, Korea, and more. With many more such projects on the horizon, let's take a look back at some important "firsts" in the history of narrative transmedia content at Ubisoft.

First novel: "Assassin's Creed Renaissance" - November 20, 2009

It all started with Ezio, the fan-favorite Renaissance Assassin who had such a long-lasting impact on our franchise. Thanks to a licensing partnership with Penguin, our first novel was created in collaboration with writer Oliver Bowden. It was the first in a long series, which met our fans' expectations. More than 6 million copies of Assassin's Creed novels, translated into more than 12 languages, have been sold worldwide.

"Novels are of the essence when it comes to adding deep narrative layers to a pre-existing universe, and the novel format is universal, so it's an excellent vehicle for our transmedia strategy," says Aymar Azaizia, Ubisoft's transmedia and business development director.

The first novels were novelizations - direct adaptations of the script of the games - but the editorial direction slowly evolved, and today, Ubisoft novels are developed with a broad variety of partners across the world, covering multiple genres and most of our franchises. From young-adult novels like the "Assassin's Creed Fragments" trilogy to adult-only content like the "Is It Love?" collections, from western-based content such as the Watch Dogs: Legion novels to Chinese original novels like the "Assassin's Creed - Imperial Jade Seal" collection (written by Chinese writers who specialize in historical fiction), novels are our most developed, most widely read transmedia format, and will be at the heart of Ubisoft's future transmedia strategy.

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First kids & family graphic novel: "The Lapins Crétins T1 - BWAAAAAH" - June, 2012

As most of the market for what are called French-Belgian bandes dessinées (comics or graphic novels) is found in French-speaking areas, members of the French subsidiary's business development unit decided to create an internal publishing arm called Les Deux Royaumes. The idea was to source artists, develop the content with them, and use our studios' production teams to handle printing and develop marketing campaigns.

"We had these very compelling characters from our party games, who had the potential to attract a wider, younger audience," says François Tallec, former licensing and publishing manager. "So we created this series of gag comic books with two very young and promising authors, Thitaume and Pujol."

Long before the TV series was released, the graphic novels were a breakthrough for the Rabbids, and they helped build the franchise into what it is today. With more than 1.2 million copies sold on the French market alone, 15 volumes published to date, and two new volumes planned for release next year, the Rabbids graphic novels are still going strong and continue to widen our audience to kids and their families.

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The French graphic novel format is still very important in today's transmedia mix at Ubisoft, and is supported on the development side by a  partnership with Editions Glénat, a major French publishing house for graphic novels. From Far Cry to Watch Dogs, from Assassin's Creed to Beyond Good and Evil in the future, many graphic novels are on the way thanks to this partnership.

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First English-language comics: "Assassin's Creed - The Chain/The Fall" - November, 2010

The first comics ever created in the Assassin's Creed franchise were developed in close collaboration between the game narrative team and Transmedia team from Ubiworkshop, and were published by DC Comics in November 2010. Top talents Cameron Stewart and Karl Keschl were tasked with crafting an intricate plot that mixed storylines in the present day and in the past. The book introduced new characters and a time period that had never been explored in the games. It featured Nikolaï Orelov, a Russian Assassin fighting the Templars of Siberia in the waning days of the 19^th^ century, and Daniel Cross, a troubled young man whose story had a profound impact on the modern-day status of the Assassin Order.

Several comic series have since been released for Assassin's Creed, and other Ubisoft IPs also made the transition over to the world of graphic-novel storytelling. Over the years, Ubisoft has partnered with such notable comic publishers as DC Comics, Titan Comics, Dynamite, and Dark Horse Comics. This year saw the release of the first Far Cry comic series, Far Cry: Rite of Passage, featuring four iconic Far Cry villains. Immortals Fenyx Rising: From Great Beginnings, a graphic novel that continues Fenyx's adventures, is also out now.

''We've been fortunate to work with a lot of very talented artists and writers on our comic series. It's fascinating to see how external creators bring new stories and art to life," adds Publishing Director Caroline Lamache. "With the right creative teams, and through great collaboration with the dev and transmedia teams, licensed comics can be great additions to the games' lore.''

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First manga: Assassin's Creed Awakening - March, 2014

A worldwide phenomenon, manga is one of the most successful formats in the publishing industry today. With room for many action-adventure stories, venturing into the manga market with our flagship franchise was an obvious step. Written by Yano Takashi and illustrated by Oiwa Kendi, "Assassin's Creed Awakening" was first serialized in 2014 in Jump X, a seinen (comics marketed toward young men) magazine owned by Shueisha, Japan's major manga publishing house. The success of the serialization led to the publication of two softcover volumes gathering all the chapters, which were then successfully translated and distributed to many other territories worldwide. This first manga helped us reach Asian territories through transmedia content, thanks to partnerships with Asian artists and major local publishers.

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Edward Kenway was featured in various manga in the years that followed. A second Assassin's Creed series was launched in 2019 in Japan ("Blade of Shao Jun"), which is now complete with four volumes. 2021 saw the launch of our first manga multi-franchise contest with Shueisha Jump +. In 2022, we will launch a French manga based on the Rabbids franchise.

"We've been hard at work on 'The Lapins Crétins: Luminys Quest' for years now," says Etienne Bouvier, transmedia content manager. "This shonen [manga aimed at younger male teens], set in a medieval fantasy universe full of magic, written by Antoine Dole (of "Mortelle Adèle") and illustrated by Federica Di Meo, will be a great addition to our franchise. One more kingdom invaded by the Rabbids, with humor and epicness!"

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First audio series: "Assassin's Creed Gold" - March, 2020

Audio is a popular form of media today. With its range of original audio series, Audible has positioned itself as an audio version of a Netflix in terms of the number of projects launched, but also of creators and cast involved. Ubisoft attached its franchises to Audible for a run of audio series starting with "Assassin's Creed Gold." Written by Anthony Del Col (who also penned several comics for Titan), the audio series starred Hollywood actors such as Riz Ahmed, as well as familiar voices from the franchise, such as Danny Wallace (Shaun Hastings). It tells the story of a blind Assassin in 17^th^ Century London aiding Isaac Newton in exposing counterfeiters. This title was one of the most successful in Audible's catalogue the year it was launched.

"Audio will definitely spearhead our development strategy for the upcoming years," says Justine Villeneuve, publishing and transmedia manager. "Podcasts as well as audio series give us the opportunity to work with top talents from the audiovisual industry, thus helping us reach broader, more mainstream audiences."

"Assassin's Creed Gold" was followed in July 2021 by "The Division - Hearts on Fire," starring Katee Sackhoff ("Battlestar Galactica") and Shannon Woodward ("Westworld"), which was another success for Audible. A Far Cry 6 audio series was recently announced, starring Giancarlo Esposito and most of the cast from the game. This will be the official prequel to the game, providing a backstory for dictator Antón Castillo.

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First webcomic: "Assassin's Creed Dynasty" - August 2020

In 2020 Ubisoft also launched its first webcomic in China, "Assassin's Creed Dynasty." Written by Xu Xianzhe (whose previous webcomic, "Blades of the Guardians,"had gathered more than one billion views in China), this was our first venture in digital illustrated fiction, with a fully Chinese team working on an original story further developing the lore of our franchise in China's history. One year later, the webcomic publication is still going, with new chapters launched digitally every few weeks. It has also reached more than one billion views online.

Dynasty was at first a digital project, but has now launched in many countries in paperback format, just like a regular manga. And here we see the beauty of transmedia content, and of our global development strategy: the worldwide reach of our franchises allows projects developed by authors in one country to be adapted around the world, in many different languages. Transmedia is also a fantastic tool for transcultural exchange.

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Of course, there are many other non-editorial formats that could be covered: artbooks, lore books, board games, choose-your-own-adventure projects, and the very exciting new digital format on which we are currently working:  Webtoons, which are at the forefront of digital transmedia production.

"Webtoons are definitely one of our top priorities in terms of transmedia developments, as they have such an international instantaneous reach," says Julien Fabre, director of global TV and transmedia business development. "It's an opportunity for us to reach local talents, as Korea is definitely a major player in the entertainment industry."

The launch of Ubisoft's very first webtoon is planned for 2022. To celebrate this new project (developed by RedIce, the studio behind worldwide hit "Solo Leveling"), here is concept art for our main characters in this sequel to Assassin's Creed IV Black Flag, starring fan-beloved Edward Kenway:

UN Transmedia Highlights Visual 9

Narrative directors, transmedia managers, business developers, editors, writers, illustrators: many, many internal and external creative people merge their efforts into developing stories that will enrich our universes and people's lives. Transmedia is a powerful tool to break barriers between videogame creation and more traditional narrative formats, and also to cross borders, allowing American fans to access to Chinese content, Russian fans to read French novels, and Korean illustrators to be discovered across the globe. Transmedia is on a growing path at Ubisoft, so expect to see more and more projects in the years to come.

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