Stadia is out today, and Ubisoft is bringing three titles to the streaming platform: Assassin's Creed Odyssey, Trials Rising, and Just Dance 2020. Players will have the opportunity to go on an epic adventure through ancient Greece during the Peloponnesian War, perform motorcycle parkour across the globe, or dance to a lineup of 40 new songs (and more than 500 more on Just Dance Unlimited), without the need for a console or gaming PC.
Ubisoft's public streaming partnership with Google began before Stadia was even announced, when Assassin's Creed Odyssey was central to Google's Project Stream test. The trial kicked off a partnership that brought three Ubisoft games to Stadia's 22-title launch library, with more – including Ghost Recon Breakpoint, The Division 2, The Crew 2, Gods & Monsters and Watch Dogs: Legion – coming in the near future. To find out more about the partnership between Ubisoft and Stadia, as well as the future of streaming, we spoke to Ubisoft's senior vice president of partnerships and revenue, Chris Early.
Ubisoft partnered with Google long before Stadia was announced, with Project Stream. How did that partnership first come together?
Chris Early: Our deals with Google go back several years, and our discussions even further, as they talked to us, as a publisher, about their early concepts and what they wanted to accomplish. They were really good about seeking outside opinions, and at Ubisoft we have a reputation for adopting early technologies. They came to us and asked what we thought of their concepts, and we gave them feedback early in the development process. Project Stream was the first outcome of a public partnership between us, and based on the quality of the integration with Assassin's Creed Odyssey, they selected that as their public-facing first trial.
What did Ubisoft learn from Project Stream?
CE: Many of the same learnings we take away when we get involved with any new technology. We get an expertise and familiarity with that tech, because we're willing to engage early and take that risk. It's been one of our strategies for a long time, and it means that we're able to make better games in time for the launch of that new technology. With Assassin's Creed Odyssey, we went through some tough moments in the months before Project Stream launched, but in the end we learned a lot about what worked and what didn't work when it came to streaming our games. Now we can make better games and experiences for our players.
What is Ubisoft's outlook on streaming overall?
CE: Streaming is good for the expansion of the industry. The good news about streaming is that everyone is playing with a remote computer somewhere else. What you have at home, or wherever you're playing, matters less. As long as you have good bandwidth, you can play great games without worrying about hardware. That opens up the market for our customers; you don't need to buy a console or spend thousands on a gaming PC. The biggest thing streaming means for us is access to a new market.
If you're already a gamer, and you already have consoles and a PC, like I do, then you can look forward to staying connected to your games in a variety of places.
How did Ubisoft determine which games it would bring to Stadia?
CE: Early on, we talked to the Stadia team about what their goals were, and we looked at our catalog and selected games that we thought would work well for both of us. What you're seeing at launch is the beginning of those games, but there's more to come within the launch window, and of course into the future.
Ghost Recon Breakpoint will introduce Stadia-specific features, like the ability to simultaneously stream the gameplay of your co-op squadmates. Is that something Ubisoft hopes to do with all its Stadia titles?
CE: Each production team looks at each platform and thinks, "How do we make the best version of this game for each platform?" More so than other platforms, the streaming and remote-computing nature of Stadia allow for new things to be done. Ghost Recon Breakpoint will launch with Stadia's Stream Connect feature where you can see multiple video streams from your co-op partners. That's something that we can only do because it's being streamed from somewhere else. We don't have the ability to do that on a console, because consoles can't pull in streams from three different players and still have the ability to run the game. The machines we have in the cloud can do it easily.
Stadia launches with 22 games playable. Three of those games are Assassin's Creed Odyssey, Trials Rising, and Just Dance 2020. What does it mean to you to have those games available on day one?
CE: I'm really proud. I'm proud of our dev teams for the work that they've done. It's no secret that anytime a new platform launches, it can be a difficult time, because so many moving pieces are coming together for the very first time. This isn't like the transition from PlayStation 3 to PlayStation 4; this is like the launch of the first PlayStation or Xbox. It's a new platform. Those can be crazy times, and the fact that we have three titles available at launch makes me really proud.
Do you see a future where platform holders migrate to a digital or streaming future entirely?
CE: I don't think we'll ever be 100% anything. From a publisher perspective, we'll never be 100% digital, 100% streaming, 100% physical. We want to offer players choice. Today, some of those questions are answered by the physical capabilities of the world we live in. Here in San Francisco, we have high-speed, high-bandwidth internet, but for some people, bandwidth is shared and speeds are limited. Until we get to the place where everyone has reliable high-speed internet, then not everyone can enjoy streaming. From our standpoint, we want to make sure that our games get into as many players' hands as possible, and we'll distribute them how players want them.
Do you see a possible future where Ubisoft is making Stadia-exclusive games?
CE: It's likely that we might make games that are designed to be played in the cloud that maybe only operate in a streaming environment. When you think about the advantages of cloud computing, that is a scalable machine. It allows you to do many more things than were previously possible. I think that's the next big thing in gaming: designing games that only operate in the cloud. In doing so, we can bring a different type of game to players that they can't experience today. Currently, we're limited by whatever hardware players have in their home. With cloud gaming, that limit goes away.
What do you think players should expect from Stadia?
CE: This is a momentous time for Stadia. They're bringing together lots of infrastructure, and lots of software development and games from a variety of publishers, into one service and launching it on a particular day. There are so many degrees of error possible there, and I have no doubt that they'll succeed, but I would say to players, be patient. They're dealing with very complex systems.
What are you most excited about for the launch of Stadia?
CE: When I get my unit (laughs). I pre-ordered a Founder's Edition, and I can't wait to play it at home, and then on a phone somewhere else.