Gareth Edmondson says Ubisoft would match investment in other territories, but only if Government stepped up
Ubisoft Reflections studio head Gareth Edmondson has told Develop that Ubisoft would be happy to add an extra 1,000 members to its team in the North of England – echoing its activity in Montreal, Canada – if only the Government would support the UK games industry.
Edmondson, who is part of the Games Up campaign group lobbying for a tax break for games developers, told us: “Whenever I meet Lord Digby Jones, my line is ‘would you like to create 1,000 jobs in Newcastle?’ We’d love to be huge, but we’ve got a very limited number of vacancies, because other Ubisoft centres are more cost effective.”
Ubisoft’s Montreal base is one of the biggest single game development sites in the world, with over 1,600 developers at its large Quebec office. The Canadian team has plans in place to increase its staff headcount to 3,000 by 2013.
Ubisoft Montreal also recently expanded in the area by acquiring 80 person-strong visual effects house Hybride, behind films such as 300 and Sin City, as it looks to bring film effects knowledge into its game teams and also expand its game properties into the film and TV space.
Newcastle-based Reflections, meanwhile, has 110 staff all currently hard at work on the next Driver game.
“We have to outsource quite a lot of art, but we keep the core – the technology, the design, the innovation – in-house,” added Edmondson
“We’re safe as we are, but we’d love to have another 1,000 staff, to expand like Ubisoft Montreal. I mean, I love making games – at the moment, we have the resources to be working on one or two titles at a time, but I’d love to be able to work on more.”
Much of sister studio Montreal’s expansion comes with support from local government: Ubisoft works closely with Quebec authorities to achieve its ambitious plans for the studio. Government support has also been the catalyst behind the further development of Ubisoft’s Casablanca studio in North Africa, which is planning for another 150 staff in the coming years, and its establishment of a new studio in Singapore, which aims to host 300 people.
Similarly, many of Ubisoft’s recent studio openings have been in low-cost areas, where the company can simultaneously develop assets for less money as well as tap into new local talent pools. Within the past year, it’s opened a studio in Sao Paulo, Brazil, hoped to be at 200 staff within the next four years; one in Kiev, Ukraine, started with 12 people and aiming to ramp up to 50 within its first year; and another in Chengdu, China, looking to have 200 people within twelve months.
Answering the often-heard argument against tax breaks, Edmonson added: “It’s easy to pick a successful game like Assassin’s Creed and say that, in hindsight, it would have done fine without tax credits, but would it have even been made without those tax breaks? While it was hugely successful, it needed to be – it was a massive project, with a massive budget.”
While Montreal-style growth would in the North East of England would be ideal, Edmonson admits that the 110-man strong Reflections isn’t going to falter without Government support – but it might not reach its full potential: “I don’t think that the UK games industry is going to collapse without tax breaks, but it certainly isn’t going to be as good as it could be. I’m really passionate about creating jobs up here in the North East.
“Games Up is about the opportunity that there ought to be for huge expansion in the UK, but it’s not going to happen without Government support. That’s why Ubisoft is supporting the initiative.”