Interview: Ubisoft's Mallat On New Toronto Studio's Future
Following Monday's press conference announcing a new Ubisoft development studio in Toronto
, Gamasutra had a chance to talk to the studio's new CEO, Yannis Mallat.
The unveiling of the "full development studio" in Toronto, Ontario marks the company's first development presence in the province, and is intended to create 800 new jobs in the next decade.
Mallat -- who is also to continue overseeing Ubisoft Montreal -- talked to us about the big plans for a "triple-A" game development studio, with convergence with the local film industry key.
The Montreal studio is 2,300 people now. Does the new Toronto studio mean you've changed your plans for continued expansion for Montreal?
Yannis Mallat: I've been asked about what the Toronto studio means for the Montreal studio a lot, but we're absolutely not stopping expansion in Montreal. If you consider Ubisoft as an entire company, we're very healthy, and so we need to maintain growth across the company.
As you may well know our plan is to reach 3000 people in Montreal by 2013, and we're maintaining that vision. Today's announcement is about keeping growing at the group level, so we're opening a new studio here, but we'll keep growing there.
You mentioned in the presentation that the Toronto studio is going to work closely with the Montreal studio…
YM: And other studios!
Well, does it mean that you're going to look at Toronto more as a satellite studio?
YM: Not at all. Toronto is definitely going to be a stand-alone studio. When we talk about working closely with other studios, what we mean is that the best way to get the operational capacity of a studio up and running is to leverage the strong work that's been done in Montreal in other studios.
We talk about Montreal specifically because of its relative proximity. It's with that the Toronto studio can start strong and grow better.
800 people across ten years is the overall plan, but how are you going to put that kind of growth into motion?
YM: In the opening of a new studio we really do it step-by-step. By the end of this year we're hoping to establish a strong management team here with some senior staff which can help in recruiting the best talent. In the new year we're hoping to begin a steady growth of staff working on projects.
What format is the government's investment going to take?
YM: To be completely clear, the total investment is over $800 million (CAD). We're going to be putting in over half a billion and the government of Ontario is investing $263 million.
That's going to go into help with labor costs and infrastructure costs, the kind of things that are required to start up the studio, but I can't go into detail right now about how exactly the money will be used specifically at this early stage.
When I think of Toronto studios that are successful I tend to think of the smaller independent teams like Metanet with N+. Why go down the big studio, triple-A route rather than maybe think smaller titles?
YM: You know, we've developed a model for Ubisoft internal studios and it works really well on a variety of levels, from small to large, but the ambitions are high. We don't want to shoot low; it's important for the quality of jobs and the quality of the studio to aim as high as we can as a group.
So we want to make triple-A games. It doesn't exclude the possibility we might make other kinds of games, but we'd want them to be the best and the most successful.
So the first game that people are going to think of as a Ubisoft Toronto game is going to be big?
YM: Well, it’s not to say we're not going to work our way up. We're going to see how the transfer of expertise and talent is going to build, but what's important is that we set the bar really high from the off. We're going to be continuing the work on our franchises, and all of our franchises are triple-A, after all.
You're going to keep managing Ubisoft Montreal as well as Ubisoft Toronto. How are you going to manage to split your time?
YM: Stop sleeping! Seriously, though, It's going to involve a lot of travelling. I don’t think you'll be able to consider one or the other my "base", I'll very much be splitting time between them.
But there's no set location for the studio yet in the city, is there?
YM: We have several options, and we're looking into them. There is a lot of potential here.
Stepping back, during the presentation you talked a little about the attraction of Toronto including the quite established film industry. How are you going to be able to use that to Ubisoft's advantage?
YM: As a group we're really focused on the convergence between the movie industry and the games industry, with our work on things like James Cameron's Avatar
Toronto's a really interesting city for that because it hosts, for example, the biggest film festival in the world, larger than Cannes. That kind of thing is certainly going to help us gather talent and get a closer relationship to the film industry, because we need to get closer.
We need to learn from them and the things that they do, and when we talk to directors and they see our tools and work they are always surprised about how much closer our industries are than they thought. Making the most of that convergence is important to us and it's going to create better jobs and ultimately better games.
So you'll be at this year's TIFF [Toronto International Film Festival]?
You mentioned that you'd like Ubisoft Toronto to help games come to the fore as part of the culture in Toronto, as the Toronto International Film Festival Group does for film. Do you have any plans on what Ubisoft could do?
YM: We don't know yet, but we definitely want to be part of the city's fabric. It's something that is important, to foster a community. It's important to innovation and the industry as a whole.
Was Toronto also attractive because tools developers such as Autodesk that are based in Montreal similarly have quite established offices here?
YM: Yes, it really helps when you have big players in place already. It helps us in trying to create that kind of community of which we're talking, and development synergies too.
Similarly, just as in Montreal there's a well respected higher-education system here.
YM: It's completely part of the decision. Toronto is well positioned in terms of its higher education programmes from the University of Toronto to Seneca College or as far afield as the University of Waterloo…
So are you looking towards hiring graduates?
YM: Absolutely, but it's about brain gain too. I'm sure there are many experienced people who have left Toronto or Ontario who would love to come back, and there's a great opportunity for experienced people here too with Ubisoft Toronto.