Ubisoft video game exec, Jade Raymond, is cutting Hollywood deals as she prepares to launch a new franchise
Raymond thinks it would be cool to live in a world in which traffic lights change on her command, one in which she has all the keys to all the locked doors. Nothing would be off limits. That’s kind of how Ubisoft’s star video game producer views the future of the industry—putting gamers in charge. And fittingly, this ability to control the world is the theme of her company’s next likely blockbuster game.
Watch Dogs is the future-set thriller about the surveillance society. The player controls the open world’s transit, communication and security systems. The game will be among the first to take advantage of the graphics and power boost provided by next-gen consoles Xbox One and PlayStation 4, and it’s one of the most anticipated titles of the year. It’s also one of Raymond’s creations in a portfolio of games that includes Assassin’s Creed.
Raymond says she has embraced a philosophy of gaming that empowers the gamer. “Players—and people really—want to express themselves, and when I think about it, we’re kind of in an age of self-expression,” she says. “People want to play their way, they want to create their own stories, and they want to share those stories.”
A native of Montreal who studied computer science at McGill University (and whose favorite video game character is Donkey Kong), the 38-year-old manager of Ubisoft’s Toronto office is headed to her first SXSW, and her timing is impeccable. The festival is pushing deeper into gaming, an industry whose tendrils reach into SXSW’s other cores: technology, film and music. This year is the first that SXSW has a gaming awards ceremony.
Raymond will take part in the interactive tech portion of SXSW, but these days she could fit into the film community almost as neatly, given that she’s been cutting a number of Hollywood deals lately. New Regency and Ubisoft are planning to make Assassin’s Creed starring Michael Fassbender, Splinter Cell starring Tom Hardy and a Watch Dogs movie. (“We’re selecting partners and determining brand values,” Raymond says of her recent business in Los Angeles.)
The history of video games is littered with failed movie spinoffs, but the entertainment industry is changing and so is the type of content that appeals to viewers. Online channels Twitch and eSports generate big audiences by streaming video game play, creating virtual spectator sports—a development few would have predicted in the early days of gaming.
Surely in this environment, video game-based movies and shows stand a better chance than the 1993 Super Mario Bros. flop. Raymond says she understands the challenges when she’s reminded of how often movies based on video games fail. “I agree, that’s why we’re doing it different,” she says. “The problem with a lot of what you’ve seen in the movie adaptation of video game franchises is that often people think that when they’re experts in one type of media, they think they’re experts in everything else.”
Ubisoft isn’t the only game studio with big-screen ambitions. Rovio is looking to translate Angry Birds into a full-length feature by 2016. Ubisoft has its own animated franchise called the Rabbids—cutely deranged rabbits—who currently star in a Nickelodeon cartoon and soon will get the movie treatment.
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