PLUS MORE GAMING SECRETS AND RUMORS: Ubisoft's vitality sensor | The current status of the BioShock movie
While many game companies have been contracting in the past several years, Ubisoft exploded in size without many people noticing. In fact, it may soon employ more people than any other gaming company, if it does not already.
As of this month, Ubisoft's corporate website lists the company's headcount as 9,200-plus employees, 7,800-plus of whom serve in a production-related capacity. To contrast, Electronic Arts, considered the largest gaming company in terms of headcount, tallied 9,370 employees in their last public statement of employee count in early 2013. (It's unknown if EA's current headcount hovers around the same number, but the company has had some major layoffs in the past year.)
As you can see from the above table of numbers taken from Ubisoft's annual reports (and for this year, their website), Ubisoft has more than doubled in size in the past six years, and has added nearly 6,000 employees since 2006. It's astonishing growth considering that Ubisoft is still only the third largest publisher in terms of revenue. And the company plans to continue expanding.
Several E3s ago, vitality sensors measuring people's pulse and such were all the rage. Okay, "all the rage" might be overstating it, but vitality sensors were definitely a thing that two companies — Nintendo and Ubisoft — showed off during their E3 conferences in 2009 and 2010, respectively, for some reason.
Nintendo's effort — the Wii Vitality Sensor accessory — was supposed to somehow "expand the appeal of video games" and launch in 2010. Aside being from an attempt to court a non-gaming segment a la Wii Fit or Brain Age, Nintendo was never really clear on what the Vitality Sensor did. The device dropped off the face of the earth after the E3 announcement, and eventually Nintendo confirmed the device was cancelled.
Introduced by a very baffled Joel McHale at Ubisoft's 2010 E3 conference, Innergy was pitched by Ubisoft's Tommy Francois as a way to learn cardiac coherence and achieve greater health. A Ubisoft press release described Innergy as a "unique wellness game [for] PC and Mac" targeting an early 2011 release.
Like the Vitality Sensor, Innergy missed its target release date and seemingly dropped off the face of the Earth but, surprisingly, it wasn't cancelled. Without much fanfare, Ubisoft put up a site last fall for a rebranded vitality sensor called O.Zen, which allows users to "Unlock the power of [their] breathing and start changing the way stress affects [their] daily life." The site suggests Ubisoft was targeting heath-centric audiences rather than gamers by showing the product at the Quantified Self Global Conference and Health 2.0 conference last October. A video uploaded by a marketer consulting on O.Zen said the device was targeting a "Q1 2014" release and available for pre-order. Another video (embedded below) pitches O.zen as "a gamified stress management tool from Ubisoft."
While I couldn't find evidence of an O.zen pre-order and Q1 2014 came to a close without an official release, the device does appear to be in beta. There is a page on Ubisoft's site where one can download the O.zen desktop client, and people on Twitter are testing O.zen and spamming their Twitter timelines.
Despite not owning an O.zen Sensor, I downloaded the client. I was actually able to successfully install the client and run it to some degree, but I eventually hit the following roadblock:
The client download also contains a link to a complete O.Zen product manual. The manual reveals that the O.Zen Sensor operates best if it "is not too close to a bright source of light, in particular desk lamps (incandescent or halogen lighting)" or "in bright sunlight." Also, the manual says the O.Zen Sensor is "a device called a photoplethysmograph (PPG) that sends out low-intensity infrared light into the ﬁnger and then captures the quantity of light absorbed by the skin and blood vessels." O.Zen software contains activities like five games — one of which is unlockable — and 18 "interactive comic strips" called Zenopedias.
As some may recall, several years ago, a BioShock film was in production at another studio, Universal, with Pirates of the Caribbean director Gore Verbinski at the helm, but the studio pulled the plug on the film weeks before filming was supposed to start when sets were already being built after costs reportedly ballooned to $160 million. A few months later, 28 Weeks Later director Juan Carlos Fresnadillo replaced Verbinski, but eventually he left the project.
Last year, BioShock creator Ken Levine later claimed he personally killed the project, which was already stuck in development hell and unlikely to ever get made, and suggested Universal got cold feet on Verbinski's "hard R" version after the costly R-rated adaptation Watchmen flopped at the box office. A profile of Levine, a screenwriter-turned-game designer, mentioned that he was considering "taking a stab" at a screenplay for a BioShock film during his vacation time following the completion of BioShock Infinite. Levine is once again writing screenplays — he is now writing a script for the long-in-development Logan's Run remake — so I have to wonder if he might be involved in the project this time around.
BioShock would be one of many video game projects currently in the works at Sony Pictures. As of late, the studio is also working on films based on Watch Dogs, Uncharted, Gran Turismo, The Last of Us, Sonic the Hedghog, Raving Rabbids, the Sega-Nintendo console wars, among others. Whether any of these movies actually get made is another question entirely.
superannuation is a self-described "internet extraordinaire" residing somewhere in the Pacific Time Zone. Follow him on Twitter.