Ubisoft Quebec Studio Spotlight

Ubisoft Quebec Studio Spotlight

For Francois Pelland, it was the perfect night. The theme was “Back to School.” People were decked out in the type of clothes they used to wear back in the ’80s and ’90s. The band – all members of the Ubisoft Quebec studio – had the place hopping. People were dancing, taking photos, playing pinball, and just having a grand time.

“It wasn’t corporate,” Pelland recalls about the Ubisoft Quebec holiday party. “It wasn’t an exotic environment. There were no tigers around. It was just pure fun. Everyone was super positive. There’s something magic about a group that’s so happy to be together on Saturday night – and equally as happy to be back to working together on Monday morning. That says something about the culture here.”

 
Indeed, people were abuzz about the Ubisoft Quebec 2014 holiday soiree for several weeks after that final reveler left the premises. And that’s significant because Ubisoft Quebec has now hosted a decade’s worth of these Christmas celebrations. Founded in 2005, Quebec has come of age. After 10 years in a supporting role on several triple-A releases, developing smaller titles, helping with the company’s overall technology and audio production, and even taking the lead on some key DLC (including the critically lauded Assassin’s Creed IV Black Flag – Freedom Cry), Ubisoft Quebec is stepping into the spotlight as the lead studio on the next Assassin’s Creed. But rather than celebrating with a grandiose gathering, they instead chose a simpler affair that better reflected the family-like atmosphere in Quebec.

“It felt very much like one of those ’80s John Hughes movies,” says Jared Pearson, a Senior Game Designer who relocated from Australia to join Ubisoft Quebec in February 2010. An apt comparison, because like many John Hughes movies, Ubisoft Quebec is all about people from different walks of life coming together to do something cool.

Growth Spurt

Taking the lead on the next Assassin’s Creed means big growth for Ubisoft Quebec. For starters, there’s Francois Pelland. A longtime Ubisoft developer, Pelland spent a year or so working on other projects at Ubisoft Montreal after shipping Assassin’s Creed III as Senior Producer; he joined Quebec as Executive Director of Development in June 2013.

Francois Pelland - Ubisoft Quebec

But that’s not the only significant addition to the studio. “In the past year, we hired more than 100 people to work with us,” says Senior Recruiter Veronique Lessard. “We hired over 60 people who had more than seven years of experience. We also hired a lot of juniors to join the team because we have a great team in place to help them to grow. We have a great balance between senior and junior. It’s really nice internally.”

Lessard also notes that Quebec – like many Ubisoft studios – is powered by talented people from around the globe. In fact, around 12% of the employees are from outside of Canada, with developers hailing from France, United States, England, China, Australia, Brazil, Poland, Italy and more. “We try to find the best talent in the industry, no matter where they’re from,” Lessard says.

That’s key because Ubisoft Quebec is still hiring. With 375 employees, the studio is looking to fill a range of roles, and has plans to grow to around 400 staffers in 2015. For a current listing of all available jobs, head here: www.ubisoft.com/en-US/careers/search.aspx

Taking the Lead

What makes Ubisoft Quebec so special? (Aside from the great holiday party…) For Pelland, it’s all about the culture. Having been with Ubisoft since 1997, Pelland witnessed firsthand the explosive growth of Ubisoft Montreal; he was the 57th employee in a studio that now numbers more than 2,700 developers, and was one of the leads on the top-selling game in the Assassin’s Creed franchise. Which raises the question: Why leave the flagship studio to join a smaller team? One word: passion.

Assassin's Creed IV Black Flag - Freedom Cry

“I was captivated by the passion of the team,” Pelland says. “This is a team that worked for the last nine years to build a great foundation. They collaborated on triple-A games from Ubisoft, including Assassin’s Creed and Watch Dogs. I saw this look in their eyes – this desire to take the lead on a big game. And they were ready for it. But it’s a big challenge. It’s a big step forward to take. I wanted to be part of that thing – of going from a collaborating studio to a studio that takes the leadership on a big project.”

Nicolas Rioux, Managing Director of Ubisoft Quebec, couldn’t agree more. “We were involved in [Assassin’s Creed] Brotherhood,” he told the UbiBlog last July when the studio announced the allocation of $4 million to a new state-of-the-art workspace. “We were involved in Revelations. We were involved in Assassin’s Creed III. With AC III we were working on the biggest DLC for the franchise – The Tyranny of King Washington. After that we were also involved with Freedom Cry. We have the confidence of the brand team and also from Ubisoft to take leadership of an upcoming Assassin’s Creed title. The team is ready for the next big step.” (For more, see: Ubisoft Quebec to Lead Future Assassin’s Creed.)

The Quebec team also felt like a close-knit family, thanks to the time they spent taking on progressively bigger challenges. “It’s a team that grew up together,” Pelland says. “They don’t have to talk too much to understand each other. There’s lots of trust and lots of confidence. That’s essential to the culture here and is something that I cherish.”

Ubisoft Quebec - studio profile

That family spirit was immediately apparent to Pearson when he joined the studio in 2010. “When I arrived I went from an Australian summer to a Quebec winter,” Pearson laughs. “So that was a bit of a difference – but that was probably the biggest difference.”

Pearson quickly fell in love with the city of Quebec, taking advantage of everything the vibrant metropolis has to offer. And though French is the primary language in Quebec, Pearson found that enough people understood English to make it easy to get around. Meanwhile, the studio provided all the relocation assistance he could hope for – including French lessons for all ex-pats.

“We take care of everything,” Lessard says of the relocation process. “It’s a big decision for them, and very often for their family, so our objective is that the process is as smooth as possible.”

The Right Balance

If you’re thinking about joining Ubisoft Quebec, Pelland can summarize the most important trait in a studio staffer: attitude. After all, you can help develop someone’s talent – you can teach all the necessary skills – but you cannot change their attitude, Pelland suggests.

Ubisoft Quebec - studio spotlight

“We have a lot of pride in this studio,” Pelland says. “We have a lot of pride in being Ubisoft in Quebec City. It’s a smaller studio. It’s not a big machine. You need to build trust here, and build confidence with other people. You cannot act like a rock star or anything like that, coming in and believing that you own everything. That’s the first thing.”

The second thing? Creativity. And it’s not just good ideas, but the ability to share those good ideas, to have a healthy debate around those ideas, and to push those ideas in order to make the best possible game. That requires an entrepreneurial spirit and a willingness to make the occasional mistake along the way – while having fun the entire time. In other words, Pelland is looking for leaders. “We’re looking for people who can bring ideas to the next level, people to the next level, and an organization to the next level,” he says.

More specifically, Ubisoft Quebec is looking to build a new core team, which means a number of strategic positions including creative director, art director, animation director and several technical directors. Once those are filled, Lessard says she’ll be hiring other developers to help compose the full team. That means casting a wide net to hire within Quebec City, throughout Montreal, and around the globe.

Ubisoft Quebec - studio spotlight

“Game development in general is a very international kind of affair,” Pearson says. “You have a lot of people with different skills and different specialties and from different industries and different countries coming together. And because we have some really cool projects happening here we’re getting a lot of international people. It’s lots of fun to meet people from other continents like South America, Asia and Europe. The ex-pat scene is pretty cool here.”

That vibe is key to the success of Ubisoft Quebec, and it’s why Pelland was so happy with the convivial spirit at the most recent holiday party. Yes, Quebec has taken lead on the next Assassin’s Creed. Yes, it’s a studio on the rise. But it still retains the family-like atmosphere that makes it so special to Pelland and the entire Quebec team.

Ubisoft Quebec - studio profile

“There’s already a confidence inside the studio,” Pelland says. “We know what works and what doesn’t work. We have expertise from working on triple-A games, and we have strong relationships with Montreal, Toronto, Singapore and other Ubisoft studios. But the biggest thing here is that Quebec is a tight team. Everyone knows everyone in the Quebec studio. It’s a team that’s gone through a lot together over the last decade. And we’re ready for what’s next.”

The Author

Gary Steinman has won numerous editorial awards, but you probably don’t care about that. He also ran multiple industry leading publications and websites including PlayStation: The Official Magazine, GamesRadar.com, PC Gamer and Newtype USA – but that’s all in the past. The real truth about Gary? He loves cats, he takes too many selfies on Facebook (according to one co-worker, at least), and he occasionally crochets. And now he’s helping share stories about Ubisoft’s amazing games and their incredible creators in his role overseeing the UbiBlog and other select Ubisoft social channels. Follow him on Twitter: @GarySteinman