April 4, 2019

12 Min Read

corporate updates

Learning From The Past, Embracing The Future, and Putting People First At Ubisoft

Ask Stephanie Magnier about her time at Ubisoft and she'll tell you she was born and raised at the company. Originally from the island of Corsica, Magnier attended university in France, studying business and marketing. When the time came to look for a job, Magnier had plenty of opportunities from big, established companies, but decided to pursue an internship with a relatively new, small French company, Ubisoft. Today, 20 years later, Magnier is vice president of global communications at Ubisoft.

Magnier is responsible for many aspects of global communications, one of which is helping decide how Ubisoft presents itself to the rest of the industry, and to the world at large. She believes that videogames have tremendous influence, and that Ubisoft has a responsibility to stand up and promote change for the better. Magnier believes that the strength of Ubisoft lies in its people, and she is dedicated to ensuring that the company continually works towards becoming as diverse and inclusive as possible. That's why she's the subject of our latest entry of Empowering The Creators.

What made you decide to start working at Ubisoft, and why have you stayed for 20 years?

Stephanie Magnier: The people I met at Ubisoft, and the company's mission itself, were so appealing to me that I decided to go for the unknown, far-from-home job at Ubisoft. Once I got here, I totally fell in love with the company and the people here. We're in an industry where every day presents new challenges and opportunities, which is so exciting.

I feel like I'm one of the luckiest people in the world, because for the last 20 years, I've been able to meet and spend time with great people who I'm learning from and having fun with. We're constantly building things together and challenging each other. The same pleasure and fulfillment I feel in my personal life, I feel at work.

What are your responsibilities as vice president of global communications?

SM: More than ever, in 2019 people want to spend time with brands and products that they can engage with long-term, so we need to know who the people are behind the products. My role, and really the role of the communications team, is to make sure our players, our teams, and our investors know who we are and what we stand for. Our goal is to communicate everything that goes into our products, to give them a reason why they should choose to engage with Ubisoft for the long term. In our industry, engagement means spending a significant amount of time, passion, and money on our games so it's important to know what the company making them stands for.

"You can't create great entertainment if you're not surrounded by true diversity. You can't create amazing games for the world if you don't have teams that represent the world."

Ubisoft is often viewed through the lens of its individual games; how do you communicate what Ubisoft is as a company?

SM: Through the people. Through the creators behind the games. Through what we stand for, which we're starting to be more vocal about. It's what our players expect of us; they want to know our values and our culture. They are playing our games, using our services, but the ways the company responds to them is a method of expression that we can use to talk to our players.

How do you build a team of so many people and manage them all?

SM: What I love the most about my team, and the entire communication network at Ubisoft, is that we all fit together like a puzzle. I'm not brilliant by myself; I am only good at what I do because I work with all of these different people and viewpoints that are around me. When I think about the future and our next steps for communication, it's only because of the discussions I can have with our teams all over the world. Being at Ubisoft with so many people from different backgrounds is what makes the days at work meaningful. I think when you're a global entertainment company, and you want to talk to the world, you need to have all those influences from differing backgrounds to make sure the way you communicate is meaningful to the world.

How do you approach putting people in positions where you can trust them to make decisions without consulting you?

SM: I think it's really important to formalize and share directions so that people have the freedom to come up with ideas, projects, and initiatives that fits within those directions. They're even encouraged to shape those directions themselves. It's why Ubisoft has a global communication summit every year. I don't really believe in micromanagement; I really think people are hired to play a role, and that means they're capable of that role. We encourage taking risks. That's how you learn, and if they take a risk and make a mistake, I'll of course be there to support them so that we can learn from it and move on to the next thing. I believe in learning from experience, because in this industry we can never be sure what the future will look like. So it's all about being able to adapt to what's coming next.

Why does Ubisoft encourage taking risks?

SM: We're in an industry that is constantly innovating, and you have to try things and take risks. There's a process of creation in a creative field like ours, and it's necessary to try things to see if they work. It's how we learn. [Ubisoft Canadian Studios CEO] Yannis Mallat was saying, back in November, that 85% of the jobs in our industry 10 years from now don't exist today in development. It's the same in communications; my job isn't the same as it was 10 years ago, or five years ago. Even six months from now, I won't be doing the same exact job. That's why it's important to learn from what we are doing, whether it's a success or a failure, and reskill constantly to embrace what's coming next.

After 20 years at Ubisoft, how do you stay motivated, and how do you motivate your teams?

SM: It's really the novelty of what we're handling. You can't get bored; there's always something new, and you're always learning. Any day I'm challenged and learning something new is a great day. If I leave the office with more knowledge than when I walked in, I'm happy. We have studios all over the world, and we take a lot of business trips, and everywhere I go I see people that are passionate, smart, and driven, and it inspires me. Ultimately, all of this is a formula for the creation of great games which is really the highest motivation.

Have you learned any valuable lessons from your managers that you now apply to your teams?

SM: There was one specific time in my career that I look back on now as a turning point for me and I think Ubisoft overall. In 2014, we launched Assassin's Creed Unity, and the launch was really the first major crisis for Ubisoft's reputation among the players. It was a brand new Assassin's Creed game on a brand new console generation, and it was in Paris. The entire company put a lot of energy and creativity into the game. For many different reasons, the game didn't meet our standards at launch, and we lost a lot of trust among our player community. I managed the crisis with our management team, and for three weeks, we were trying to figure out how to overcome the situation and compensate the players who felt hurt. It was a really tricky situation for us, and a critical time for the company.

A few months later, in January of the next year, I came back as usual to present my annual roadmap for the coming year to the top management of the company. After I presented my roadmap, I was challenged by our CEO [Yves Guillemot], who felt that I was missing the most important aspects of how to recover our reputation and goodwill with the players and make changes so that we don't make the same mistakes in the future. Ultimately, we needed to realize that we were now a major player in this industry and that we couldn't settle for excuses. It was a bit of a wakeup call for me and the company as a whole. Our reputation was at risk, and I came back with a regular plan with nothing specific to give players a reason to trust us again. I really got the feeling that I had totally misunderstood what was expected of me. I thought my plan was good, and I took into account what happened, but clearly not enough.

I left the meeting thinking I needed to resign, because I wasn't doing the job that was expected of me. I spoke to some of my friends at the company, and told them that I was thinking of resigning because I didn't meet their expectations of me. My friends told me, to fight back and go and prove that I can do what was expected of me. So I came back in two weeks, and had an appointment with Yves, and told him how I was considering resigning but that I was ready to present a new plan. His response completely changed my perspective on the job. He told me that he brought this up at our meeting in front of everyone because he saw that I had assumed the role of VP of global communications during the crisis and wanted me to take on that full responsibility going forward. I didn't realize that the crisis was such a call to change for the company and that by leading the crisis my role was changing as well. At the time, I was still thinking that the vision would come from higher up, but now I know that I am empowered to create the vision.

That is the mentality I've tried to bring to my team. If you've been given this role, that is what is expected of you; no one will come and give you a to-do list. No matter what your position is, you're empowered to lead in your role. It's fine to want clear goals and objectives, but it's also important to be comfortable creating and designing your own role and future and I always try to support that in my team.

In many ways, Assassin's Creed Unity changed the franchise forever, but it also seems like it changed Ubisoft forever. In what ways did the company change?

SM: The first answer that I gave you about why I joined Ubisoft was for the people. If you listen to our CEO talk about why he built Ubisoft, he'll say the people. We are very much a people-facing company. We have a direct relationship with our consumers, so we always have to have them in mind. I think in the past, we may have made decisions that put our teams before the players. Unity was the time when we realized that our decisions should always put both players and developers first. After that crisis, we became intent on being completely player-facing, and rebuilding our reputation and commitment to players. It's a daily focus, you can easily fall into bad habits. Pleasing our players is a never-ending goal and we need to stay vigilant to make sure we're doing our best by our players. There have been other mistakes, and there will be others in the future, but we're always trying to improve.

You've spoken a lot about the importance of people at Ubisoft. How do you ensure that the company remains as diverse and inclusive as possible?

SM: You can't create great entertainment if you're not surrounded by true diversity. You can't create amazing games for the world if you don't have teams that represent the world. In my role, I cannot come up with a good strategy, campaign, statement, or recommendation if I don't have insight from multiple perspectives and backgrounds. It's part of the reason I moved to San Francisco; I can't make all the decisions from an office in Paris, having lived in France most of my life. Coming here, and listening to the backgrounds and viewpoints on my team, gives me that needed perspective. We have studios all over the world, so there is inherent diversity across Ubisoft, but it's also important to have diversity within any given studio. I can't put myself fully in the shoes of someone on my team with a different background than me, so I need to listen to what they have to say to make sure that when we communicate on something, all the viewpoints are taken into account.

I love the word "inclusive," because it means that there is power within everyone. "Diversity" means you have diverse teams, but inclusivity means that you give the power to all of those people. We often need to make decisions about our games, and those decisions are not always for a white French person to make. I tell our development teams, "I can give you my opinion, but I won't be comfortable until we have the community we're talking about represented within this room." I am Stephanie Magnier, the French girl; there are certain things I cannot know, because they are not my experience. By having wide representation on our teams and giving everyone an equal voice, we can make the best possible decisions that reflect the world we live in.

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