The Ubisoft Entrepreneurs Lab, now in its fourth season, is a partnership program between Ubisoft and various startups in the technology and entertainment sectors. The program is based in Paris at STATION F — the world’s biggest startup campus — and, for the first time, at the Infocomm Media Development Authority’s (IMDA) PIXEL innovation space in Singapore. Each season of the program invites startups to develop their business with direct consultation from Ubisoft experts, and the latest season’s selected themes are blockchain and extended entertainment. Recently, a few of the chosen startups met with Serge Hascoët, Ubisoft’s Chief Creative Officer and Creative Director, to discuss their businesses and receive advice and guidance. As the program’s mentor this season, Serge sat down after the meeting to chat with us about the program, his role as a mentor, and his thoughts on creativity in technology.
How do you see your role as the sponsor of this season?
Serge Hascoët: I am honored, mainly! I gave some advice to the companies this morning. I don’t know what the end result will be, but I gave my high-level opinion and some initial thoughts. I want to provide the Ubisoft perspective and values from my experience as a creative director. The world is always changing, and I believe every company should have a positive impact. I don’t say this out of a need to be politically correct; I feel like any business should have something more than just value in mind. Money is not enough. It’s just a tool. I see myself as trying to help bring some meaning, something to promote positive user experience and positive interactions between people. That’s the kind of advice I hope I can provide.
This season’s main themes are blockchain and extended entertainment. Why were these chosen?
SH: The program is about strategic innovation, so the themes are related to things we feel we need to explore to get ready for the future of our company and our industry. The program has been exploring the use of blockchain since 2017. Thinking of a decentralized future is quite challenging, and exploring this future — how it could help us to improve the entertainment experiences of our players — is what we do with the entrepreneurs in the program. Extended entertainment is a bit of a wider topic; it’s not strictly technology-focused. It is about products and services that help to enhance player experience from start to end. Working with top entrepreneurs in the program contributes to opening our eyes more broadly and having them benefit from our experience as well.
What makes the collaboration between Ubisoft and the startups on the program unique? Why take this route instead of the more traditional route of financial investment?
SH: It is unique because it is very balanced, Ubisoft shares experience with the entrepreneurs, but it’s really about Ubisoft and the entrepreneur teams working together for mutual benefit. Given that the program is geared toward strategic innovation, we are aiming at supporting startups whose business is adjacent to ours. If we took the traditional route, we would need to evaluate the risks, and the risks we are best at estimating are in videogames. We might end up only supporting indie game developers, which we already do in other programs, rather than being open to new and different fields. Entrepreneurs in the program also benefit from our investors network, and from STATION F and PIXEL’s networks, to help them achieve their financial roadmap.
What do startups gain from the collaboration? What does Ubisoft gain?
SH: The program and the results are unique for each startup; there is no one-size-fits-all. As an example, we have been working with Azarus, a US-based startup, since season two. They are building a game challenge network for players and streamers. Our support first took the shape of advice and workshops to refine their “value proposition,” the thing that makes their business attractive. Then we moved quickly to testing an early version of the platform on one of our biggest franchises, Rainbow Six Siege. From there, testing has continued with increasing scope. This is interesting for Azarus, since they would not have had access at this stage to a game like Rainbow Six, but also for us since it is a great way for us to test and learn about new ways to engage players.
Another startup, CareGame, are developing a free, easy-to-use streaming solution for mobile games. We are working on their market approach, and are also preparing tests of their technology with some of our mobile games, in relation to user acquisition. Again, this is valuable for CareGame, but also for us, since it opens up new avenues for content on different platforms than what we might have explored otherwise.
Not all the startups focus directly on the gaming industry. What benefit do you see to including non-gaming-related startups?
SH: Better understanding! Blockchain, for example, is quite a technical topic; it’s not always intuitive. By spending time with these startups and their products, we gain a deeper understanding of the technology and how it is being used, how it could be used. It’s not just about gaming technologies; seeing how these companies use and present their products could offer some interesting opportunities and challenges. While I am giving advice to these businesses, I am also absorbing and learning about what they do, and this can inform my own creative process and help me to improve myself as well. It’s like I am at school!
For the first time, the program has expanded into Asia with the PIXEL innovation space in Singapore. Why expand into Asia now?
SH: When exploring new technologies and how they can shape the future of our industry, we cannot ignore Asia, of course! Ubisoft Entrepreneurs Lab first started in France, with the opening of STATION F. We lead the Gaming and Entertainment track there, and through this program we managed to attract some top entrepreneurs from Europe, the US, and, more recently, from South Africa as well. However, we also wanted to open this program to Asian entrepreneurs, and Singapore has proven to be a great choice: it is a dynamic ecosystem, a great place to build a startup, and Ubisoft has an established AAA studio there in close proximity to the heart of the startup community. It means there is already a pool of experts to work with for the startups we support in Asia, including Mighty Jaxx and StoryPuppet from Singapore, and Planetarium from South Korea.
As Ubisoft’s CCO, what do you think of the relationship between technology and creativity? How does one serve the other?
SH: It’s at the core of what we do. From the very beginning of videogames, creativity and technology have been closely linked. One of the earliest known videogames was created on an oscilloscope in a science lab. Videogames incorporate so many themes: philosophy, science, art. These are exactly the areas in which videogames can inspire people, or draw inspiration from. At the beginning it was art and technology combining, but it’s evolved into much more, and encompasses many themes and interesting topics. Human creativity is somewhere all these themes converge, and videogames are a perfect place for them to come together and create something more than just entertainment.
Is there anything you hope to gain yourself from the experience of mentoring?
SH: It’s always cool to meet entrepreneurs with a strong positive energy and a great talent. It’s a human affair, and I love the human side of it. I am also here to learn, to absorb new information, and to challenge my own ideas.