Ubisoft Toronto is the “start-up in disguise,” as Jade Raymond calls it. The studio head and managing director of the year-and-a-half-old studio now houses almost 200 employees, and is well on its way to hitting the planned 800 over the next 10 years. We caught up with Raymond at WIFT-T’s inaugural International Women in Digital Media Summit in Stratford, ON to talk about the people she wants to bring on board at the growing AAA game company, her strategic goals for the next few years and how Ubisoft has handled its IP across different platforms.
Has it been challenging to find the right people?
For every person you hire, you end up reviewing 50 CVs, then you maybe interview six to ten people to finally find one person. Then that person interviews with anywhere from five to ten people! It’s a big effort to hire the right people, but it’s also a huge effort integrating everyone into the team, which is what we most underestimated. Every company has a slightly different definition of a role, whether it’s level designer or art director, so we have to make people familiar with our definition.
What other challenges have you encountered in the last year and a half?
It’s really important that we find people who are good for the current position and have the potential to grow really quickly beyond that. We’re looking for people who can be quickly promoted and take on new mandates.
What are some of your main goals in the next five years?
Online gaming is continuing to grow at a rapid pace, whether it’s big MMOs or social media, so a strategy and a focus for our studio will be integrating more social mechanics and online gameplay into our existing AAA models. What’s also important is keeping broad portfolios. Ubisoft Toronto is working on two different projects — we want to continue having several projects and not just be a one-franchise only studio. It’s also important to have projects on different scales, such as projects that are maybe a little less demanding, so we have the luxury of integrating more junior people and they can train up with less risk, giving them a path on which to evolve. Then, let’s say, a triple-A project with a big online focus where we’re really pushing the boundaries and our senior people can elevate their careers to the next level.
Are you looking to complete any short-term goals?
One is to set up a good mentorship program to efficiently leverage our senior talent and spread their knowledge. There will be a process to selecting mentors and mentees, and we have to be careful how they’re paired. It can’t be a forced situation, they have to want to work with each other. Montreal has been working on its own mentorship program, but obviously a program designed and organized for a studio of 2,000 people is very different from one that has 190 people. This was a big goal in the first year and we didn’t get around to it yet, but it’s definitely something that needs to happen this year!
How has Ubisoft approached transmedia with its properties and why did you feel it did or didn’t work?
Assassin’s Creed is a huge success as far as transmedia goes. It was designed from the ground up to be a franchise that could live on other platforms. The short film Assassin’s Creed Lineage was released alongside Assassin’s Creed 2, which was a great collaboration because we learned a lot from the film talent. It’s important for a franchise to be considered from inception if it’s going to be successful in different media — it’s always possible to re-adapt, but there aren’t as many examples of success. The key is not doing a direct translation. Where you fail is if you have a film or TV property and you say, “Oh, I have to put this in digital, so let’s slap on this mini-game” or making websites that are more a cheap marketing vessel instead of looking at what the medium is able to do.
Conversely, if you take a game, turn it into a movie and your film story is the same as your game story, you’re missing your opportunity. What’s great is that more people are looking at that from the start, so I think there are going to be a lot more successful crossovers between media.
Is it important for you to have people on your team who have experience in those areas?
Definitely. Professional film editors or TV writers bring something new to game. On the flip side, if you’re going to try to make a TV series, I don’t think it would be smart for game developers to do it themselves. You’re never going to get the best stuff if you interfere with everything because you think you know best. That’s another key to success — finding the right people who are experts themselves and giving them the freedom to work within the confines of your franchise.
How many people at Ubisoft Toronto have film and TV expertise?
We have quite a few people from different areas who have gone through TV at some point in their career. We have a team working on our in-game cinematics and scripted events, a director and producer from film and TV, and quite a few animators and artists who were in TV. Even a number of our animators on the gameplay side have gone through TV so there’s a lot of crossover. We work with several people in music whose previous experience has been primarily in film and TV and most of our sound team is actually from the local film industry. As for writers, we’re looking at mostly people who’ve written for TV.
Are you finding that there are more people from outside games who are interested in that space?
Yes, we have a ton of people! I spoke at TIFF last year and I was swarmed by people afterward who are writers in film, TV or music asking, “How do I get into games?” A huge proportion of applicants come from other entertainment and that’s really exciting.