Did you know that Ubisoft was born in a beautiful castle in the French countryside?

The distributor Ubisoft has several very curious stories about their origin, but the one that took them to a castle in the French countryside is one of the best. In this special we review the Guillemot family and their early stages in video games, but also their link with the majestic Chateau de la Grée de Callac.

We all know Ubisoft . Since its founding in the mid-eighties, this French video game producer and distributor has become one of the biggest names in the industry, with mythical series under its belt such as Assassin’s Creed , Splinter Cell or Far Cry among others. Loved by some and hated by a few more, Ubisoft is currently the fourth largest company in the video game market, with thousands of employees around the world. Some numbers that contrast a lot with its humble origins in a small region in the north of France, where what started as a small family business would end up becoming one of the great technological empires in the world.


Ubisoft was founded in 1986 by the five Guillemot brothers: Christian, Claude, Gerard, Michel and Yves. But before that, all of them actively collaborated in the family business, settled in a small village in French Brittany northwest of Paris. Region of marked winemaking tradition, the Guillemot familyHe runs an establishment there that sells all kinds of agricultural implements, in which the brothers help with all facets of the business, from accounting to distribution. However, the Guillemot aspired to much more, so after going through university they decided to diversify their business, adding technological devices to their offer, from CD players to computers like Commodore 64. Claude Guillemot, apparently the main person responsible for that transformation, Thus, in 1984 he established the so-called Guillemot Informatique , a small computer shop in his hometown of Carentoir.

The Guillemots show a special talent for business during that stage, so their store soon outgrows them, becoming the following year a distributor renamed Guillemot Corporation , which distributes computers and video games throughout the northern region of France. The contracts follow one another, until at a certain point that pre-Ubisoft is distributing the entire catalog of leading studios such as Sierra or LucasArtson French territory. The business works so well that the brothers consider why they should limit themselves to distributing video games when they could develop them themselves and thus have a much higher profit margin. This is how Ubisoft was officially born in mid-1986, a name that at the time was believed to be an abbreviation for Union des Bretons Independents Software, but which according to the company itself means something like ubiquitous software , in reference to its heterogeneous catalog.


But how did the Guillemots, who only understood the commercial side of the industry, develop their own titles? Well, recruiting for his cause young people who had just reached the age of majority and were eager to dedicate themselves to the professional development of video games. His first employee, for example, was Yannick Cadin , a programmer who dropped out of high school in his final year to dedicate himself body and soul to developing Zombie, the first title of that new Ubisoft, deliberately inspired by the movie Dawn of the Dead.. It was also Cadin who dedicated himself to analyzing the different projects that came to their offices, as the Guillemots published advertisements in search of young talents, ensuring that they were willing to publish any title that they found interesting enough.


Thus, in little more than a year, Ubisoft already had a large team of developers, who, absorbed as they were in their work, often giving up even their free time, used to sleep in their first studio in Créteil , southeast of Paris. It was not so much a matter of crunch , but many of them lived miles away from the studio, so they could not bear the idea of ​​wasting hours each day traveling from one end of the French capital to another. A situation that suggested to the Guillemots a transgressive idea: renting a large mansion where all its developers could live and work together.

Image: Ubisoft.

Thus, in 1987 the Guillemots rented the Chateau de la Grée de Callac , an immense Neo-Renaissance castle built at the beginning of the last century by Count Ludovic du Bot, one of the great lineages of the area. Currently the Chateau is protected as a historical monument, but was then available to the highest bidder. Neither brother has gone into detail as to why they chose this castle, but it possibly had to do with its being a few minutes drive from their native Carentoir. For about a year and a half a dozen developers lived in this mansion, in the foreseeable climate that one can imagine of a handful of teenagers who are enthusiastic about video games, who undoubtedly rose to the occasion. Among them was aVery young Michel Ancel , then a sixteen-year-old teenager, who years later would amaze the whole world with works like Rayman or Beyond Good and Evil . Unfortunately the maintenance of the castle, whose walled perimeter amounted to fifteen kilometers, was too expensive. Especially in winter, when the heating bill could amount to thousands of euros every month .


At the end of the eighties the Ubisoft development studio returned to the outskirts of Paris. Movement that certainly did not sit well with Michel Ancel, who hated the French capital, so he left the studio shortly after. Fortunately for the Guillemot, Ancel would reappear on the scene a few years later, in 1994, proposing the development of the first Rayman as we know it. Ubisoft turned to the development of the project, opening a new studio in Montreuil, on the outskirts of Paris, in which Ancel had up to one hundred developers at his disposal. Rayman is without a doubt the project that catapulted Ubisoft to success, selling almost a million units in its early years.


Thanks to those profits, they were able to go public, establish branches in Montreal, Shanghai, Milan and Barcelona, ​​found the sister studio Gameloft and buy Red Storm Entertainment, the studio founded by Tom Clancy, with which they were able to land in the United States. All the Guillemot brothers have continued in the technology business, although only Yves has remained actively at Ubisoft, being today their main visible face serving as president and CEO of the corporation. At the same time, Michel directed Gameloft. Christian did the same with Advanced Mobile Applications, a developer of mobile applications. Gerard founded Longtail Studios, another video game developer, in 2003. And Claude runs Guillemot Corp, which manufactures and designs computer peripherals. Even so, all of them continue to this day on the Ubisoft board of directors. Probably because legend assures that when they founded their first business in the mid-eighties, their mother Yvette made it a condition that they do so under one condition: do everything together and in equal parts. And so it has continued to this day.

A reading:

Michel Ancel – Biographie d’un créateur de jeux vidéo françaisThere is no book dedicated to the history of Ubisoft, although it would undoubtedly be a gripping tale. The closest thing is this biography, in French, of Michel Ancel, which among other things recounts this episode of the French Chateau. Another fascinating read from Pix’n Love publisher.


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