Emmeline Biscay, Ubisoft’s recently appointed Chief Data Officer, has been with the company for 25 years. In that time, she’s helped shape Ubisoft’s growth from a private company of 100 employees to an international public company of 17,000. Whether as Head of Financial Planning or Chief Information Officer, Emmeline has led the development of powerful teams and tools that have fueled Ubisoft’s growth in a rapidly changing industry. It’s quite the resume for someone that applied to the company for interview practice.
One discussion and 25 years later, we caught up with Emmeline to learn more about her journey through Ubisoft and the power of merging data and creativity.
Tell us a bit about your background. Where did you grow up? How did your experiences contribute to who you are today?
Emmeline Biscay: My dad was an engineer in the oil industry and my family moved around quite a bit. I was born in Buenos Aires, Argentina and, after a short stint there, my family moved to Caracas, Venezuela where we lived until I was 6 years old. After Venezuela, we spent several years in London before finally settling in Paris, where I’ve been living ever since. I started my life abroad, and it was quite an amazing experience, because living abroad in the ‘70s wasn’t very common. There was no instant messaging, the internet didn’t exist; we were writing letters to our grandparents. It taught me a lot about the importance of understanding different cultures, being open minded to different ways of living and additionally a good background in Spanish and English.
-Emmeline’s first console. A Nintendo Game & Watch
How did you find your way to Ubisoft?
EB: I was quite the introvert; I was very into books and drawing. When I started my studies, I didn’t know exactly what I wanted to do, but I knew I wanted to work in a creative environment. I hadn’t thought about videogames, even though I was playing Apple II games like Karateka and Prince of Persia from Jordan Mechner or Another World, from Delphine Software, which I loved.
In 1994, I was fresh out of business school and was looking for jobs in movie and music production companies, theaters, museums. It was my first time applying, so I decided to send out a round of warm-up applications to practice interviewing before I applied to the jobs I really wanted. Ubisoft – which at the time was a small distribution company – was originally supposed to be one of those warm-up applications.
“if you look at the data, it’s clear that our industry has a lot of progress to make in diversity and inclusion”
So why did you choose Ubisoft?
EB: When I interviewed with (Ubisoft co-founder) Gerard Guillemot, we really clicked. Gerard was heading the editorial vision of the studio and defining what kind of games we wanted to develop. He asked me if I wanted to visit the office, and when I walked out onto the floor and saw artists drawing and creating Rayman, I knew this was the place I wanted to be.
The job was very multi-functional. At the time, the company was very small; we were primarily a distributor and publisher. It was the very beginning of Ubisoft developing games, just before the launch of Rayman. There was no internal communications team, no HR, no financial planning team. I was supporting on recruitment, contracts, cost control, helping Gerard with communications. It was an exciting time because I was able to try so many things.
What was the journey like going from Gerard Guillemot’s assistant to Chief Data Officer?
EB: Ubisoft went public just a couple years after I joined, and it was a huge step for the company. It meant that we needed to add structure and start creating more formal roles. I went into financial planning, evolved in that role and grew the department. I participated in the opening of our major studios in Montreal and Shanghai and traveled quite a bit to organize the finances for all of Ubisoft. After several years, I became Financial Planning Director for the company.
It was the end of the 1990s, and we realized we needed to modernize our system of financial tools and become more digital as a company. The company changed a lot in that time with big successes like Splinter Cell, Prince of Persia, Assassins Creed and the continuous expansion of our studios. So, in partnership with the IT department, my team helped support the deployment of more adapted and scalable financial systems.
A decade later, I was looking for my next challenge and Ubisoft was also looking for its next Chief Information Officer. The timing was right, and our CEO, Yves Guillemot, offered me the opportunity to take on the position in 2008. As CIO, I oversaw our global IT teams. Every player and every team member needs support from IT. They provide critical tools, services and support, and work with studios around the world to ensure we’re collaborating in an efficient, safe and secure environment. I focused on building up these teams, growing their expertise and making sure we had an agile international structure in place to come out on top. Our IT teams are key to Ubisoft’s success - for example, as recent events with COVID-19 have unfolded, they’ve played a crucial role in empowering all our teams to continue making games from the safety of their homes.
With 12 years of experience as CIO under my belt, I saw another opportunity to learn and evolve. In recent years, data has become an increasingly important topic for the industry and Ubisoft. With Yves and other internal experts, we identified a growing need to further build out our data strategy and align teams around the world. I thrive in analytical areas. I like to structure, organize and dig into complexity. I strongly believe that data, used the right way, can help us to deliver the best experience to players and the best insights for teams. These discussions ultimately led to my most recent role as Chief Data Officer.
“Creativity is very important, and data is a tool to complement and inspire creativity.”
What does a Chief Data Officer do?
EB: Ubisoft has made tremendous progress in setting up expert analytical teams and tools that make better use of data. It’s my job to be the privileged partner for these teams, and to make sure we are using data in a way that creates even more enriching, rewarding experiences for players. There are many ways to do that. We can use data to better understand players and make decisions that improve their experience in our games and services. It can help us to make the right business decisions and guide our strategy in the long-term. A big part of my role will be to ensure that we’re all moving in the same direction and sharing best practices to turn data into a true asset that further inspires our teams and benefits players. I’ll lead a company-wide curriculum on data accessibility, sharing and responsible use.
I will also focus on how we can make the most of data and work closely with our Data Privacy Officer and his team to ensure that protecting players’ privacy remains a top priority. We have a wide network of data privacy experts around the world who are working with teams across Ubisoft to ensure we are making the right choices and complying at all levels. A big shift in recent years has been GDPR, a European regulation which offers one of the highest standards in terms of data privacy and protection in the world, and we are proactively enforcing it in all markets. Transparency is key, and we are focused on making it easier for players to access, manage and retrieve the personal data they’ve shared with us. For example, in their user accounts players can access all the data and personal information they’ve shared with Ubisoft, stop sharing it if they prefer, and delete it altogether.
I think a lot of people view data and analytics as the opposite of creativity. How do you see them working together?
EB: I always say “data-informed” rather than “data-driven,” because people are still the ones making the choices. Creativity is very important, and data is a tool to complement and inspire creativity. You can’t be creative without knowledge, and that’s what data provides. You can transform raw data into insight, and this insight can feed the vision behind the idea you would like to bring to life. It’s the same in daily life; we all use data quite a lot. It informs, but doesn’t determine, the choices we make.
Not many people have been with the same company for 25 years. What keeps you interested and engaged after all that time?
EB: I know I keep saying this, but it’s the imagination of the people around me. The mixture of technology and creativity can be explosive and constantly brings new challenges. It never stops surprising me what we’re able to do with those two pillars.
Also, Ubisoft has really grown in the last 25 years, and this has offered new opportunities and challenges year after year. When I joined, we had 100 employees; now we have more than 17,000. Our size has changed but our values remain the same, it’s still a creative and people-first company. I feel like I’ve worked at 10 different companies, with a shared DNA, during my career.
As Ubisoft went from 100 employees to 17,000, what was the moment, internally, when it felt like Ubisoft made its mark?
EB: When I started, Ubisoft was already well-known in the game industry. But going public was a big moment because we achieved it quickly and it was a success. It suddenly put a light on Ubisoft beyond the gaming world. After that, our growth coincided with the successful launch of games like, Rayman, Splinter Cell, Assassin’s Creed, and The Division. Every time we launched a game that made a difference, we were reaching the next level. Over the years, I’ve also seen the resilience of Ubisoft, like when we fought for our independence a few years ago. In tough times, the perseverance of everyone at Ubisoft really shines. When we want to do something, we do it.
“I feel like I’ve worked at 10 different companies, with a shared DNA, during my career.”
Did it feel like there was a big gender disparity in games 25 years ago?
EB: I never considered the gender breakdown when I joined Ubisoft. I was playing plenty of games myself, and they didn’t feel like they were only for men.
Throughout my career, I’ve always felt like I’ve had the same opportunities and treatment as my male peers. But that’s my experience, and if you look at the data, it’s clear that our industry has a lot of progress to make in diversity and inclusion. I am proud to be a woman in a senior management position, and it’s important we continue to attract more talented women to our industry while also providing development opportunities that set them up for success. As I transition to my new role, I know that data will be a key tool to drive diversity initiatives forward and evaluate their success.
Is there anything you know now that you wish you could go back and tell your younger self?
EB: That’s a difficult question (laughs). I’d say no, nothing. I don’t have any regrets. When you’re young, it’s normal to not know everything. Learning is part of life’s journey. It’s key to me that I’m constantly growing; every success and every failure helps you to progress. I like discovering along the way - learning is so key to me.
What advice would you give to someone who wants to do what you do?
EB: Take time to listen and talk and understand before jumping to conclusions. It can be easy to read data and quickly deduce a takeaway, but try to understand the “why.” When you investigate deeper and ask questions, you come to understand more. Things are often more complex than they initially seem.
For more interviews like this, check out the rest of our Women of Ubisoft series.