Aiming to be the biggest and best in-house team in the world – and doing so by banking big on next-gen multiplatform development – Ubisoft Montreal’s plan of attack is one to take note of, says Michael French…
What’s the motivating factor behind the recently-announced expansion of Ubisoft Montreal? Is it to allow the studio to produce more games? Or a symptom of the team sizes needed for next-gen?
Yannis Mallat: Ubisoft Montreal is already a well-established studio that has gone through an amazing growth period over the last ten years. Over that period, we’ve seen the creation of titles such as the Tom Clancy’s Splinter Cell and Rainbow Six series, the Prince of Persia and Far Cry series and we are about to unveil Assassin’s Creed before the end of the year. We have a very strong track record and the expansion is another testimonial of Ubisoft’s engagement to continue to produce quality games.
By continuing our expansion we believe we’ll be able to benefit and capitalise on the expertise we have developed in Montreal to produce more quality games. We are not bulking up the studio just for the sake of bulking up the size of our production teams. We have a good and innovative structure that is providing great results and we want to continue to invest in this winning creative structure.
Finally, let me point out that one portion of the growth we announced was the creation of a new CGI studio, which opens up a totally new segment of development activities for us here in Montreal and at Ubisoft.
For many of the world’s games development companies 300 people is seen as a high number of employees to have, let alone 3,000 – how do you manage all that manpower?
Good question. Human resources are at the heart of our internal management process. One of the most important elements for us was to build a team with experience and talent, a team that I can rely upon.
People like Mathieu Ferland (Splinter Cell series), Chadi Lebos (Rainbow Six series), Bertrand Hélias (Far Cry series) and Patrick Naud (Open Season, Rainbow Six series) all have great track records and I can rely on them. They are also supported by producers to manage each project developed in Montreal.
Another key for us is to make sure we stay creative in our management processes. With our executive producers and our producers, we are able to give each project a great deal of autonomy, while providing the team with the necessary support to structure their production pipeline and human resources.
So even if we are a huge studio, we are working very hard to stay flexible and to give everyone, as much as possible, the opportunity to express their creativity throughout their day-to-day work.
EA for one has started opting towards having smaller teams, and other studios are quick to judge the bigger studios as ‘factory lines’. What do you say to those that say Ubisoft Montreal is one of these ‘factories’?
We really don’t want to make judgment on others’ strategies but what I can say is that we have a track record that speaks for us. I really prefer to refer to ourselves as a creative powerhouse and to leave the term factory to those criticising our strategies.
Yes, we are big. But our size gives us and our staff a lot of latitude. As an example, there are not a lot of other studios in the world where a developer can work on a Tom Clancy game, then switch to a Prince of Persia title and then go on to Assassin’s Creed over a five-year period.
Our size allows us opportunities and flexibility, it allows us to develop new IPs while continuing our work on established brands – allowing ourselves the luxury to take more risks – and it offers more options to our talented workforce. All that adds up to the size of our studio being an advantage for us, rather than a handicap.
And how do you try and ensure such a large workforce remains productive - and happy?
Making sure your creative staff is happy is a day-to-day challenge for every game development company in our industry.
For a game developer, being happy at work results in a combination of factors. It goes from the relationship you have with your co-workers to the project you are working on, from your salary to your quality of life. At Ubisoft, we do our best to reunite all the positive factors that can make a developer happy.
I believe that our creative structure also has a lot to do with the satisfaction of our employees. If our team members are empowered, and believe they can have an impact on their project and that they can express their creativity every day, I think we are already there – we are creating a positive environment. Personally, I’m investing a lot of energy to ensure that our HR policies and processes focus on the ability of each and every individual talent working in our studio to express their creativity and innovation.
Is there ever any tension between the publisher HQ of the business in France and the creative team at Montreal?
Why would there be any tension? Ubisoft is an international group composed of different business and development subsidiaries. Ubisoft Montreal is one of the subsidiaries and a member of the group. I report directly to HQ in France, as do the heads of the other large studios and our relationship is one of trust and cooperation.
That doesn’t mean we always agree on everything, but we all work together to achieve great things. It is also important for me to mention that we don’t have a one-way, top-to-bottom relationship with our HQ. Our relationship is two way and it allows us to exchange ideas, to comment, to discuss our views or ideas and in the end, to make good games.
For me, that’s all that really matters: innovating, being creative and making good games.
Ubisoft has been an important factor in Quebec’s development of its tax credits scheme - and vice versa it has helped fuel the studio’s growth. Do you think the studio would be as big as it is if the funding subsidies didn’t exist?
The tax credit system that is in place in Quebec is a system that has had excellent results for the local economy and specifically, it has shown excellent results in attracting renowned game developers to establish studios in Quebec. Eidos, EA and Activision all have studios here. Just in the province of Quebec, the video game industry employs thousands of people and one of the catalysts of this situation has been the tax credit program.
Everyone has access to this program, large companies like Ubisoft as well as smaller game developers benefit from the same opportunities, so the size of our studio doesn’t have an impact on the existence of the program.
But what would you say to those that think the State’s involvement in business matters via tax credits is mistaken – perhaps bordering on interference?
Well, my job is to create games, not get involved in politics.
The government of Quebec made the decision to create a business environment that would facilitate development of an emerging industry such as video games. Over the past ten years, it has paid off tremendously. The Montreal video game scene is one of the most active and dynamic in the world and it is now recognised across the globe. Every country makes business decisions for the growth of its own economy.
We have a superb relationship with the local government and together we have worked to develop a winning formula that benefits everyone, creating jobs in a promising sector while allowing the province to position itself on a global market.