Develop looks at four companies at the heart of the Québec development cluster

Québec: The studios (pt2)

Following on from Tuesday’s in-depth focus on the Quebec development region, Develop offers part two of its essential guide to the octet of studios and related companies at its centre.

Ubisoft Montréal/Ubisoft Québec

Founded: 1997
Headcount: 2,100+/3,000+
Previous games: Assassin’s Creed, Prince of Persia
Currently working on: Your Shape: Fitness Evolved, Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood

UBISOFT IS a development powerhouse, today boasting a successful back catalogue that many will seek to emulate.

“Over the years, Ubisoft has built an extremely strong and creative workforce in the Province of Québec, one of the most important in the industry worldwide. This represents an advantage for us in many ways but I think the results speak for themselves,” says Ubisoft Québec managing director Nicolas Rioux.

“Today, in Québec, Ubisoft has over 5,100 employees in its studios in Montréal, Québec City and at Hybride Technologies, a special effects firm located in the Laurentians that Ubisoft acquired in back in 2008.”

There is a consistency to the work of Ubisoft in Québec that holds it in a great position in regards to the region’s development future.

“In 13 years, the industry has grown exponentially in the province of Québec and it looks like it will continue to do so. On a more technical note, the new technologies like Kinect and 3DS will force us to reinvent ourselves as a publisher and as an industry,” says Ubisoft Montréal CEO Yannis Mallat, smiling.

“There is also a need to constantly evolve our current key franchises and ensure that we ship high-quality games. And we are all waiting to see what the next generation of consoles will bring to the table.

“Mobile and social gaming are also going to take a larger portion of the pie of our industry. Ubisoft Montréal and Ubisoft Québec are well positioned in each of these segments and we are definitely excited by the future.”

BioWare Montréal

Founded: 2009
Headcount: 700+ (inc. all EA Montréal assets)
Previous games: Mass Effect 2
Currently working on: Mass Effect franchise

BioWare Montréal began operating out of parent company EA’s Montréal studio back in 2009, contributing significantly to the popular RPG sequel Mass Effect 2.

Studio director Yanick Roy believes firmly that the studio’s future is massively dependent on the strong development community around it.

“There’s a great tradition of game development here in Québec so top-class talent knows this is a great place to create top-class games and entertainment,” he says.

“EA in Montréal works very closely with the local institutions, in areas like internships and other partnerships. We recognise the need to invest in the next generation of game developers for this market.”

And Roy believes the strength of that market is drawn from the many institutions that revolve around games development and business in general.

“Québec has shown foresight in building out positive economic conditions for the video game industry, and it’s resulted in the development of a thriving and exciting industry in the province.

“The tax credits are a very positive contributor to the growth that’s occurred. The provincial government are great partners of our industry.”

Although it seems BioWare may be actively involved in dialogue related to exisiting industry systems.

“We also need a long term vision that ensures Québec can be sustainable for future, and known for its quality not simply its low costs. There is a risk of diluting the talent pool if too many players are coming to Montréal too quickly,” Roy says.

“BioWare is continuing to grow in Montréal and will be doubling our local team size this year. We look forward to continuing that path with our Montréal studio.”

Babel Media

Founded: 2005
Location: Montréal

“I would hope that the sector here is seen as a leader,” says vice president of QA and multi-services firm Babel Media Bruce Stamm.

“With many of the major studios having some presence in Canada, I think both the level of innovation and quality of product coming out of Canada is exceptional.”

QA, audio and translations services are big business, and in a region where triple-A production outshines several other big development centres, Babel Media sees big business indeed.

“We work with pretty much all the major publishers and studios with interests here, including Activision-Blizzard, Eidos, Electronic Arts, THQ and Ubisoft. More and more, these customers are looking for one provider of multiple services.

“I think we are pretty unique in being able to provide this.”

The firm has great expectations about the work that will be involved in providing services to an industry going through rapid change.

“Being an ex-software engineer, what excites me is testing Kinect games and the inherent challenges in that. Consideration needs to be made for additional space; lighting; different body types used for testing; and even different dialects for testing of the voice recognition technology,” Stamm says.

“Babel made a significant investment earlier in the year to set-up Kinect Testing Labs and we have proven to be a trusted supplier for many publishers in recent months.”
Stamm has faith in Québec.

“What will sustain Québec is the spirit of innovation and the quality of talent that is currently working in local companies,” he says.

“Innovation is tough to clone.”

Volta Creations

Founded: 2006
Location: Québec City

ART OUTSOURCING is a difficult thing to do right, and Volta Creations should know it. Supplying top-flight artwork to some of the biggest of the big triple-A games that have been developed and are currently in-development around the globe, the firm has a track record that places them in the front of row their sector.

“We have roughly a dozen ongoing triple-A projects at any moment, from single-asset assignments like marketing posters to hundred-asset long term projects. Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood, Red Faction Armageddon, FEAR 3, Rage and Deus Ex Human Revolution are amongst the most recent of these,” says business development manager Sebastien Caisse.

Caisse is also very conscious of the manner in which Canada is viewed by the development community worldwide.

“On the corporate side of things, you have this sweeping oversimplification about the key role of tax breaks that clouds the deeper dynamics that really made it work as a hub,” he says.

“I hope it stays that way if it means competing governments miss the point, but I do hope the development community perceives it as a hub of creativity rather than a hub of tax incentives. On the talent and consumer side of things, I hope it simply becomes known as a place where great games are made.”

Despite these tentative concerns, there is a serious underlying faith in the future of Québec.

“Québec is ripe for indies. The UK got its first game hits years ago, so entrepreneurs gained investors’ trust. This could happen here.

“I love working here.”

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