Why Ubisoft chose Newcastle to help it understand the people who play its games

17 Jun, 2016

On 21st June 2016, Tech North is hosting a Northern Powerhouse reception as part of London Technology Week. We’ll be highlighting technology companies from Hull, Leeds, Liverpool, Manchester, Newcastle, Sheffield and Sunderland.

To tie in with the event, we’re talking to a company from each city to find out why they’re based there.

Ubisoft is the third-largest games publisher in the world, responsible for mega-franchises like Assassin’s Creed, Rayman and Just Dance. So when it wanted to open a new office to manage its relationship with customers across Europe, the Middle East and Africa, it could have chosen anywhere. It chose Newcastle.

Ubisoft has had a presence in Newcastle since it acquired local development studio Reflections Interactive from Atari in 2006. It’s here that titles like Tom Clancy’s The Division and the upcoming Watch Dogs 2 are made. But the Customer Relationship Centre (CRC), which opened in 2014, deals with an increasingly important part of the company’s business – understanding its games’ players and engaging with them.

Ubisoft sees its games more as services than standalone products these days. They’re internet-connected, with additional features and content added over time. The CRC is where the company collects feedback to pass on to development teams and communicates with fans on social media, as well conducting as more traditional customer service tasks.

Given the size of the area that the Newcastle CRC covers, it’s no surprise to discover that the 140 staff employed there work in a total of 14 languages and represent 24 nationalities.

Why Newcastle?

In choosing a home for the CRC, Ubisoft considered seven countries, eventually arriving at a shortlist of three cities. Stéphane Catherine, the company’s EMEA Customer Management Vice President, says that Newcastle clinched the deal thanks not only to the company’s existing footprint there but also strong local support and a good supply of talent thanks to the 55,000 students at the city’s two universities.

Stephane Catherine - Ubisoft
Ubisoft’s Stéphane Catherine

The CRC is situated between Newcastle University and Northumbria University in the lively, well-connected city centre, a location Ubisoft chose to appeal to the relatively young employee base (the average age of workers there is 30).

Newcastle has a heritage in videogames that stretches back to the 1980s. Reflections has been in the city for 32 years, and rival companies like CCP Games are based in the area, alongside firms that support games development, like art and graphics studio Atom Hawk. The local games industry is growing, too. In the decade since it acquired Reflections, Ubisoft has increased the studio’s headcount from 75 to 230. Meanwhile, nearby Sunderland College is giving industry-approved training to a new generation of games makers, who will have local work opportunities working on world-class titles.

As with anything in business, there are people that make it all happen behind the press releases and glossy launch announcements. Stéphane relocated his family from France to head up the CRC. Jennifer Hartley, now Deputy Head here at Tech North, was working at Newcastle Gateshead Initiative’s Invest Newcastle at the time. As part of her inward investment work, she ensured that Stéphane’s relocation from France was a smooth one, helping him find a home for his family and a school for his children.

Ubisoft is evolving from being simply a games company to one that has entertainment parks and the forthcoming Assassin’s Creed movie under its umbrella. But, unlike the dangerous urban landscapes depicted in the Assassin’s Creed universe, Stéphane says that he finds Newcastle to be a warm, welcoming, clean and safe city.

You can read more about Newcastle’s thriving technology scene in our in-depth report.

Don’t miss: Sentric Music runs a music publishing empire from Liverpool

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