March 8, 2021 - Hu Yi Fan, producer at Ubisoft Shanghai, is responsible for co-development projects of the world’s top musical video game franchise, and the production and operation of its China-exclusive version on Nintendo Switch. After trials in various roles, including quality control and business development, she has found a career path that suits her the best. Having worked on 10 titles and witnessed the team’s growth from three to over 60, she is an experienced and assertive producer. She considers a passion for games and individual capabilities to be the key drivers that enable people to reach their goals, and therefore, nothing else should be a barrier along one’s career path, including gender. We have talked with her about her professional experience and her vision, which we hope will be inspiring to young people who wish to pursue a career in the gaming industry.
How did you enter the gaming industry in the first place? And how did you come to Ubisoft and start work on Just Dance?
It was purely a coincidence. I graduated on a language major, so I was looking for jobs that required translation skills. A management role in quality control was available with a foreign developer, and I was hired. Finally, I made my way to Ubisoft, starting as a coordinator on outsourcing projects for an Assassin’s Creed title.
People tend to think Just Dance is more popular with female players. Is that so? Is gender a consideration in its development? Worldwide, the gender ratio of the players is quite balanced. Actually, this game targets a broad audience of all ages and all genders. Health, happiness, music and dance — what the game offersis not gender-based. Female players love to dance to songs just as much as male players do. Working on Just Dance, what’s your biggest achievement? The most visible achievement is the team growth. At the very beginning, everyone had to multitask. Now we have lots of experts working in their own areas, and they’re delighted. Then it comes to the local title of Just Dance for Chinese players on the China-excusive version of Nintendo Switch. With this, we have been providing high-quality content focusing on the preferences of Chinese players. To celebrate the Chinese New Year of 2021, we released three cheerful Chinese songs through Just Dance Unlimited, which were highly welcome and played a lot. What is your future plan for Just Dance in China?
Where there is Just Dance, there is joy. My team and I wish to create more moments of health and fun for our Chinese players, and therefore, we will continue to produce high-quality content to support the game’s operation, forging an evergreen brand out of Just Dance locally. You entered the industry right after university from graduation, and later grew from a project coordinator to a producer. It seems to have been a smooth career path. Have you ever encountered major challenges? And how did you overcome them?
I can think of two. Just Dance for us at the beginning was practically a greenfield project. We needed to find a costume designer, a choreographer and a makeup artist. We also needed to find a photography studio according to the Ubisoft Paris studio’s criteria and transform it for our map shooting. And above all, we had to learn everything! Luckily, Ubisoft was patient with us. We were given enough time and tolerance during the learning process. Now, knowing very well how to develop the game, we enjoy creating AAA maps that are liked by players worldwide.
There was another interesting challenge. When we were developing the Yokai Watch Just Dance Special Edition project, we needed to report to the Ubisoft Paris studio and collaborate with L5, a Japanese company. The collision of three different cultures was a real big challenge. With lots of learning, communication and polishing, the team delivered the game, which gained favorable feedback in the Japanese market. Our sister studio and the Japanese partner both congratulated us on the work which exceeded their expectations. We were overwhelmed by this achievement, and quickly forgot any previous challenges.
What qualities should a good producer be equipped with? What have you done to develop these?
The most key for me is communication skills. A producer serves more as a guide and an adhesive rather than a decision maker. When the team grows, I need to ensure transparency, and information about our progress and objectives must reach everyone in time. Meanwhile, I try to understand and care for each member so that everyone feels at ease and trusted. Only in this way can we inspire everyone to develop their full potential to serve the project.
The ability to review things is also important. Regular reviews can help us to learn from the past failures and successes, while shedding light on our future moves. Therefore, when a project reaches a milestone, I take some time to review and get some learnings.
Additionally, I find a broader perspective to be very helpful. Just Dance as a game is not conventional.,it is a successful franchise in the pan-entertainment industry. I closely follow the information and trends in entertainment to get inspiration. When we do team building, I never organize trainings that aim to improve professional skills. I tend to find interesting exhibitions so that the team can learn something beyond their areas in a relaxed state of mind. I think a producer in the gaming industry is not a role that demands great technical skills. Everyone has their own style. We have to explore the best way for ourselves by physically working on many projects with the team.
March 2021 marks your 7th anniversary at Ubisoft Shanghai. What has made you stay for so long?
Indeed, 7 years. Time flies! Prior to Ubisoft, I had worked in several companies, foreign and domestic. I love the work environment of Ubisoft China the most. Not only because I achieved career development, but also its inclusive and diverse workplace culture. By working with its studios in different countries, we have the opportunity to know different cultures and mindsets, as well as many interesting insights, which nurture creativity.
And of course, great colleagues. Ubisoft is committed to creating high-quality games, so we are not short of great talents who are hungry for new knowledge and technology. With Ubisoft’s respect for work-life balance, we have the time to develop hobbies, so we have a lot of fun colleagues.
While many companies are working toward gender equality in their teams, women are historically underrepresented in the video game industry. As a female developer, have you ever encountered any barriers because of your gender? Prior to working at Ubisoft, I had experience being questioned about private information about marriage and plans about having a kid. It was totally unpleasant. Nothing like this ever happened to me at Ubisoft. I have found Ubisoft China to be an inclusive and welcoming place to express my creativity, and I would recommend working here to any developer, female or male. As a team leader, do you consider gender in talent recruitment and development? We have a gender-balanced team at Just Dance in Shanghai, with about 50% female developers. We pay great attention to create content popular with all genders. When it comes to dancer selection, level design, internal and external tester selection, we make sure it’s gender balanced. We want every map to be played by all the players. However, in developing and promoting talents, we only look at capabilities and contribution.
Do you have suggestions for young women who seek a career in the gaming industry?
The most important, I think, is to have passion and be capable.
In our team, many are not working on a job that’s relevant to their majors at university. My academic background is language; a programmer here studied desertification treatment; a concept artist was supposed to become a utility engineer. We all chose differently and taught ourselves a lot on a new path.
Keep your passion alive and continue to sharpen your capabilities, your opportunities will come sooner or later. Nothing beyond passion and capabilities should become your barrier, certainly not gender.