Grindel and Tajnay of Ubisoft
In 2018, Ubisoft Blue Byte celebrates its 30th anniversary and is thus one of the pioneers of German games development. At two sites in Düsseldorf and Mainz, Blue Byte develops high-quality strategy games such as “The Settlers” and “Anno” that are played by millions of people around the world. On 25th September, Ubisoft Berlin will be opened with a welcoming speech by Christian Rickerts, State Secretary for Economics, Energy and Public Enterprises. Ubisoft Berlin is part of the Ubisoft Blue Byte Studio network and ranks among the most successful game publishers worldwide.
https://projektzukunft.berlin.de/This year, you celebrate your 30th anniversary. This is also an excellent opportunity to look back into the past. Is there anything you would have done differently or taken a different path?
Benedikt Grindel: I joined Blue Byte in 2001, when Ubisoft purchased the company. At that time, I was the first employee at Ubisoft to switch to Blue Byte. Today, the company is unrecognisable. After being a ‘one-product studio’ during the first few years focusing completely on ‘The Settlers’, we are today one of the major games developers in Germany with 400 employees based at three sites and working on major Ubisoft brands. Altogether, this has been a great development, which is by no means finished. Of course, not every decision we have taken, was right. But we have always been forward-looking and not shied away from questioning everything again and again and correcting it, if necessary. I am glad that the direction we have taken in recent years bears fruit.
You developed the strategy games “The Settlers” and “Anno”. These games have become popular all over the world. What can the fan community look forward to next year?
Grindel: As the next step, fans of ‘The Settlers’ can look forward to a fair dose of nostalgia. In November, we will publish the History Collection on the occasion of the brand’s 25th anniversary. It includes all ‘Settlers’ games from part one to part seven, optimised for Windows 10 and supplemented by a few extra features. I am personally looking forward to some exciting multi-player games in part 4 of ‘The Settlers’!
‘Anno 1800’, the seventh part of the series, will be released on 26th February 2019. In this version, the players will for the first time in the ‘Anno’ game plunge into the era of the Industrial Revolution and face the technologies of that time. ‘Anno 1800’ has just been voted the trade fair’s best PC game at the gamescom in Cologne and it was played by thousands of fans. A further highlight of this year’s gamescom was the launch of our latest game – ‘The Settlers Return to the Roots’. This is a reboot of the brand and it will extend the series with dignity. I am particularly pleased that Volker Wertich, the inventor of ‘The Settlers’, has joined the team.
Early this year, your company opened another office in Berlin. Why did you decide to move to the capital?
Istvan Tajnay: Berlin offers ideal possibilities to build a large international developer studio in the long term that will work on major Ubisoft brands. Berlin has a strong attraction for international staff and we see great potential, in particular of creative professionals. For the video game production, this is an increasingly important factor, since many different, forward-looking professional groups work together very closely – from programmers and graphic designers to testers and project managers.
The Berlin Senate funded your company with a total grant of 1.58 million Euro; in addition, you get support from Berlin Partner and Medienboard Berlin-Brandenburg. What does it mean for your work?
Tajnay: With the support of the named partners and the funding, we will be able to achieve a strong growth for Ubisoft Berlin over the coming years, to create jobs in a future-oriented industry and to promote the games development in Germany. We plan to hire 150 employees in Berlin by the end of 2020. Since our office was opened in January 2018, we have hired more than 50 employees, which is above our original target for the first year. Equally important is the networking within the industry. We have therefore become a member of Media:net and Games:net. These two networks work in close cooperation with the Medienboard and with Berlin Partner. Our aim is to benefit from the direct contact to other studios and universities in Berlin.
The German games industry has been stagnating – how do you want to counteract this development? Will the opening of a new studio in Berlin be a step in the right direction?
Grindel: Definitely! We have a great potential in Germany, which is not yet fully exploited. According to current figures, German developers produced less than six percent of all games sold in Germany. This is something we want and need to change, in particular in the field of the worldwide successful Blockbusters we are lagging behind. Our aim is to get these Blockbusters into our three studios through international co-productions. What will be important is the funding for video games productions, which was included in the coalition contract by the federal government. Without this funding, it will be difficult not to fall further behind, as new jobs would in this case be created mainly in other countries like France or England. To avoid this, we need to create a “level playing field” for the German developers, as the coalition contract states.
What fascinates you about working in the games industry?
Grindel: We develop games, which is a cool product in itself. When I see millions of people enjoying a game that we developed, this is an incredible feeling. What’s more, developing computer games is a very exciting mix of creativity and technology. The teams working on it are a diverse mix of all kinds of experts. This is what makes our work interesting every day.
Do you play video games in your leisure time?
Grindel: In my leisure time, I play games (almost) every day. I am actually a PC gamer, but nowadays I spend more time playing video games on my mobile phone or tablet. Moreover, I frequently play board and card games. There will be a new evening of skat or Doppelkopf again soon.
Tajnay: Playing games is part of broadening our horizons. In my leisure time, I like playing role-playing action games.
Where do you see Ubisoft Blue Byte in five years from now?
Grindel: Our aim is to continue to grow and learn. In five years from now, we will continue to work on international co-productions and our traditional brands. We will also work on some new and innovative topics. And perhaps we will lead our own AAA production in Germany.
Tajnay: Ubisoft Berlin will continue to grow, as described above. In five years from now, we will have a large team working on various large-scale Ubisoft productions, which will make an important contribution to our success.
Last, but not least: Can you complete the following sentence: “Berlin is…”
Grindel: …inspiring, creative, constantly redefining itself. Just like us.
Tajnay: …creative, with an entrepreneurial spirit and full of energy.