NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- To me, videogames have always represented two predominant things. First, an escape from a daily routine for a one-time purchase of $59.99 (unless you buy virtual swords online...), and an immediate plunge into a digital world that is a direct reflection of today's environment. Playing Electronic Arts' (EA) Madden franchise year after year one is left wondering if with a bit of hard work and diet discipline over the course of 12 months perhaps a place as a third-string kick returner on the Denver Broncos is possible. If that were to happen to you, be sure to tell Papa John's (PZZA) spokesman and franchise owner Peyton Manning all of the fun financial facts about his pizza business in this amazing video.
Second, a videogame often presents to a person something that may well transpire decades in the future, especially the case now with the computing power of Microsoft's (MSFT) Xbox One and Sony's (SNE) PS4 creating immersive gaming environments. I would be lying if I said running around Activision Blizzard's (ATVI) Call of Duty digital universe rocking a flame thrower, torching bad guys, wasn't a thought last holiday season.
Although there are an array of angles to attack developments in the videogame industry (a new one being whether GameStop (GME) is in business in the year 2020 due to digital streaming of titles...), I saw it fit to lock and load on a single, special title that I have been tracking closely since it was announced in excess of a year ago. That title: Watch Dogs from Ubisoft, which was released today to a highly anticipated crowd of gamers.
The storyline, as you just saw, is captivating:
"In Watch Dogs, players will assume the role of Aiden Pearce, a brilliant hacker whose criminal past led to a violent family tragedy. Now on the hunt for those who hurt his family, players will be able to monitor and hack their enemies by manipulating everything connected to the city's Central Operating System (ctOS)." -Ubisoft
Also interesting is that the title has entered mainstream via a dedicated clothing line. That "digital world goes mainstream" event is why I reached out to Ubisoft before the big E3 gaming convention that begins on June 10 in Los Angeles. Below is an interview conducted with Ubisoft's Senior Vice President-Sales & Marketing Tony Key.
Ubisoft has a reputation for making top-quality games, definitely not out there trying to fill the shelves of retailers season after season. Take us behind the scenes a bit, how does a major title such as Watch Dogs come to life? What's some of the magic used to make a game that the intense, opinionated gaming community embraces wholeheartedly?
"Watch Dogs was made with next-gen in mind and the Ubisoft Montreal development team was given the time and resources to make a really compelling new experience. The game features an immersive open world, which we've proven with both Assassin's Creed and Far Cry, we know how to make; a compelling character; an intriguing and thought-provoking storyline; and we provide our players a chance to explore all of this in all-new ways. I also think that the game was something very different than what folks had seen previously, it was an all-new IP and easily a title that a good majority of fans could get behind from the beginning."
Videogames so often accurately depict prior world events or help to shed light on the future. Is a man versus big data Watch Dogs scenario a future reality? I am curious on what you have learned in testing the game regarding its storyline.
"The world of Watch Dogs represents an alternate reality where Chicago is controlled by technology at the cost of personal data privacy. While everyone in the city is kept safe and under control by the ctOS system, it means that anyone with the right skills and tools can hack that system and use your data against you. The game's hero, Aiden Pearce is an elite hacker who can manipulate the system and use anyone's data to further his vigilante cause, but in our own real world, a hacker's motives may not be so noble. Watch Dogs is meant to be thought provoking, and while it's purely for entertainment there are certainly some aspects that mirror our world today."
There still seems to be a missing wow factor for gaming on an iPad or iPhone. A missing social component perhaps? What does Ubisoft see as the next significant trend in mobile gaming that will surprise everyone? How are you getting positioned for it today?
"We see mobile gaming as a pretty broad game proposition for fans. There's iPad, iPhone, Android, Apps and these can all be singular experiences, multiplayer experiences or even tied to companion game experiences, like we have for Watch Dogs, Assassin's Creed IV Black Flag and upcoming titles, The Crew and The Division. These are experiences that can help supplement or even be a core experience with the console/PC game and we believe these types of experiences will become more relevant and innovative in the future."
What interesting things have you learned about gaming in 2014 from the mounds of data being collected from new consoles including Sony's Playstation 4 and Microsoft's Xbox One, and even PC gaming? Any fun stats on the human side of playing a videogame?
"We're always looking to enhance our player's experience and we use data to help us in a number of ways, whether it's identifying where players maybe having trouble, helping shape upcoming titles or providing feedback on what aspects of the game they prefer."
Ubisoft is highly unique in the existence of its Frag Dolls. Can you share what Frag Dolls are, as well as shed light on females and gaming in 2014?
"The Frag Dolls are a team of female gamers who were brought together by Ubisoft to play, promote, create content, build community and represent Ubisoft and our games. They continue to evolve their place in the videogame industry and within Ubisoft, they will always work hard to build a passionate and strong fan base around Ubisoft games and providing a welcoming community of which to engage."
"Ubisoft sees the female demographic in gaming continuing to grow. Both in terms of the types of games they play as well as their voice in the video game landscape. Ubisoft is continuing to look at how we can tell more stories with female lead characters, such as Aurora in Child of Light or Aveline from Assassin's Creed III Liberation. We want to tell compelling stories and create meaningful experiences and making sure to include female characters that matter is part of this goal for us as a company."
Around the Horn
- In your view, why hasn't the Nintendo Wii U caught on? "It hasn't quite sold up to expectations but we believe there is still time."
- How does one go about pursuing a career in game development and if so, what area will be the hottest over the next few years? "Make games. Seriously, whether they're small or big, the best way to start is by just beginning."
- Will the current hardware console be the last as publishers seek to go directly to consumers with complete downloadable titles? "We're not even a year into the new-gen console cycle, so we'll see how things play out this round. Retail still accounts for the lion's share of total shares and we don't see that changing anytime soon."
-- By Brian Sozzi CEO of Belus Capital Advisors, analyst to TheStreet.
This article represents the opinion of a contributor and not necessarily that of TheStreet or its editorial staff.