In June 2017, Ubisoft partnered with Station F — the world's largest startup campus in Paris — to lead the Gaming and Entertainment Program, a startup support program that welcomes entrepreneurs from all around the world. The goals are to support entrepreneurs, to share Ubisoft's expertise with them as they work on new technologies (such as artificial intelligence and blockchain), and to explore how they could create new entertainment experiences for players.
Catherine Seys, director of the Ubisoft Station F Program and project director at the Strategic Innovation Lab; and Olivier de Rotalier, managing director and ambassador of Season 3, share their insight into the topics of the third season, talk about the startups they are working with, and reflect on the process of organizing this endeavor.
The Station F support program is based on six-month-long seasons, and each season provides an opportunity to explore specific topics. Can you tell us about the issues and themes of the third season that has just started?
Catherine Seys: The third season will focus on two themes: artificial intelligence and blockchain. These topics are of particular interest to us, as these new technologies will profoundly change the way we live, work, and play. Algorithms and artificial intelligence have always been at the heart of the videogame industry, and Ubisoft in particular has always been keen to explore the possibilities of these technologies to improve the way we think about games, and to positively impact players' experience.
Catherine Sey, Director, Ubisoft Station F Program
Which startups were selected for the third season, and where do they come from?
CS: We selected four startups to join Season 3 of the program. We have Hugging Face, which we chose because it is one of the best startups working on Deep Learning as applied to NLP Natural Language Processing. Their research on the personality of AIs echoes concerns that also drive us to create original and immersive worlds. We also invited Anything World, a company that works on voice control for digital assets in 3D. Finally, we have PLAYERSTATE which has developed a blockchain-based platform for co-creating video games, and Care Game, which has specialized in a decentralized mobile streaming solution— one of the major trends we've been exploring at Ubisoft for a while, and that some of our mobile games have integrated.
How were the startups selected? How did you involve Ubisoft employees in the process?
CS: The selection process was carried out in several stages. We first launched a public call on F6S, a platform recognized by international entrepreneurs, thus allowing our program to reach a very large pool of startups. We then made a first selection of applications based on hundreds of applications received, and scheduled calls with the most interesting candidates.
From there, we selected a first set of startups to come present their projects to a jury of experts, both from inside Ubisoft and outside, in the broader discipline. Some entrepreneurs who worked with us during Season 2 served as part of the jury on topics related to blockchain. We also invited our Paris office and studio staff to attend the pitches in order to open the discussion, and give visibility to the program and startups to all our employees.
How can topics such as blockchain and AI enrich the player experience and give us insight into what tomorrow's entertainment might look like?
CS: These topics, whether we are exploring them with the program's startups, or within Ubisoft itself with the Strategic Lab, offer many opportunities for our industry. The latest advances in artificial intelligence pave the way for new experiments for the players.
Not only does AI make it possible to create richer, more complex, more surprising universes, but the learning capabilities of this technology will make it possible to offer everyone a personalized gaming experience. AI could help us move from a world where humans often have to adapt to technology, to a world where technology adapts to humans. This is also what we are seeing in new, more "natural" modes of interaction, such as vision and spoken voice, with machines that rely on AI. Our collaboration with startups like Hugging Face, which specializes in conversational intelligence, or Anything World, which works on the interaction of 3D objects through voice commands and computer-assisted vision, allows us to identify and detect opportunities offered by the AI.
Regarding blockchain, this technology could help create new forms of interaction among players, and between players and developers. Working with startups like Playerstate – which offers a web platform connecting experienced players to developers to create interactive content and share the benefits – is part of this ambition. Being able to own digital objects, for example, paves the way for new dynamics within communities; players can exchange things with one another with confidence, attribute unique characteristics to them, and influence their rarity and their value by valuing their own creations, collecting them, even using them outside their original game.
As managing director and ambassador of Season 3, why is it important for you to encourage your employees to develop exchanges with these startups and offer mentoring and coaching? What are the mutual benefits for Ubisoft and the startups participating in the program?
Olivier de Rotalier: At Ubisoft, innovation and entrepreneurship are part of our identity. We are constantly driven by the desire to offer players ever-more innovative and creative gaming experiences. By supporting startups, Ubisoft wants to encourage the emergence of new ideas and new projects, and empower entrepreneurs that will contribute to the creation of the entertainment of tomorrow.
Collaborating with startups allows them to benefit from the expertise Ubisoft has acquired over the last 30 years in tech, user experience, game design, creativity management, marketing, etc. It represents an opportunity to explore exciting and innovative topics. It is a win-win relationship for both entrepreneurs and our employees. As managing director, I consider it a direct engagement lever for our best talents.
It is important for us to engage our employees in this mentoring and coaching work. These young entrepreneurs have international profiles and come from different sectors. Station F brings them together and allows our teams to explore the many possibilities offered by new technologies, to discover new professions and new opportunities, and to work together to solve new challenges.