SAP Design Talk: Designing Big Games

Modern, open-ended video games dazzle players with exciting and immersive experiences: Ubisoft’s Matthew Tomkinson talks to SAP about how they do it.

Big-budget, technically sophisticated video games like Assassin’s Creed, Far Cry, Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon, and Just Dance have made Ubisoft one of the largest publicly-traded game companies in the world. But what does high-action, blockbuster fun have to do with SAP?

A Big SAP Design Talk

Matthew Tomkinson, user experience (UX) director at Ubisoft, was the latest guest to give an SAP Design Talk at company headquarters in Walldorf, Germany. Hundreds of SAP employees joined the livestream and more than 850 more piled into the cafeteria in building 20 to watch in person. In his talk, Matthew outlined how the different specialists at his company are organized, how computer games are created, what advances in technology have brought, and what’s needed to create game experiences that people can’t help but want to play.

Matthew emphasized the importance of freedom in what they do: “The first video games controlled the environments as much as possible. We have evolved from those highly scripted scenarios to spaces that are much more open-ended.”


Ubisoft creates exciting, realistic, surprising worlds where players are free to move around to explore and defend the space they inhabit. That open-endedness doesn’t come cheap. Motivating people to purchase the game and keep playing requires a lot of people, talent, and time. Example: Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon took five years to develop, required over 800 employees, and involved five studios worldwide. It currently has 10.5 million players. Bottom line? It costs a lot of money to develop a big game, but Ubisoft does it well and shows that it can pay off.

What Can SAP Learn from Ubisoft?

The goal of the SAP Design Talk sessions is to exchange and learn. SAP and Ubisoft are both big, European-based companies with development locations across the globe. Both must create software that works on many devices and platforms and experiment with new technologies before they hit the mainstream. And both must continuously work to keep their development “silos” talking to and thus understanding each other. With those similarities in mind, what can we take away from Matthew’s talk?

  • Never, ever lose sight of your users: Matthew and his team continuously observe their users and “play test” the games (on their own and with users) throughout the development cycle.
  • Communication is king: Keeping the whole team focused on the vision, aware of what the others are doing, and solving problems are essential to creating a coherent and satisfying result.
  • Self-determination for players and employees: Just as players want to move around freely and discover on their own, so do employees. Matthew presents his teams with detailed information about the user needs and the problems that need to be solved, then he gives them the freedom to solve the problems as they see fit.
  • Motivate users: Game designers are masters at motivating people. All software makers need to make sure their users have an enjoyable experience.

The SAP Design Talks regularly bring leaders from the international design scene to SAP. The sessions are held on a large stage for an audience of employees at various locations around the globe, like Bangalore, Montréal, or at headquarters in Walldorf, Germany.

Want to hear more from Matthew Tomkinson? Watch this short video: