Last week, I paid a visit to Ubisoft Toronto to get a look at how the studio’s first big game, Splinter Cell: Blacklist, is coming along. The game, which is looking excellent so far, will not only represent the new operation’s coming-out when it launches in August, it’ll also be the biggest profile release yet to come out of Toronto, and possibly Ontario.
Despite developers crunching to get Blacklist done, attention at the studio is already starting to shift to future projects. With a mandate to create 800 jobs by 2020 in exchange for more than $260 million in tax credits, Ubisoft Toronto can ill afford any down time.
In that vein, I sat down to chat with studio director Jade Raymond about the studio’s future. I haven’t been paying attention to dedicated gaming sites for the past little while, so the conversation took a turn for the surprising in short order.
Me: Do you have a top-secret second project on the way that you can’t talk about?
Raymond: We have five projects coming up for the studio so we’ll have five projects that we’re going to be working on simultaneously here.
Me: Obviously they’re not all [big-budget blockbuster] triple-A titles, are they?
Raymond: They are all triple-A.
Me: Really? Holy crap. How many people do you have?
Raymond: We have a little over 300 now. Two of them will be collaborations with Montreal and three of them will be driven out of the Toronto studio. A couple of them are going to be really exciting because… well, I can’t say too much about it.
Me: You guys are collaborating with Montreal on Assassin’s Creed because they’re sticking to that whole annual release cycle, right?
Raymond: That’s what’s been announced. That’s the strategy. We’re kind of a long-term partner on the franchise. Obviously that’s a franchise that’s very near and dear to my heart and the team is still a lot of the people I was working with on Assassin’s one and two.
Me: There was some defensiveness when it was announced that you guys were doing Splinter Cell, where people were saying, ‘This doesn’t mean Montreal is no longer working on Splinter Cell.’ Has that changed now? Is it now Toronto’s and Montreal can go to hell?
Raymond: [Laughs] The franchise is being driven out of the Toronto studio. Each major franchise at Ubisoft has a brand team that’s responsible for overseeing the brand’s long-term strategy and Splinter Cell’s strategy is being driven out of Toronto. I’m acting as the executive producer as well on that franchise, and that’s looking at the movie, the book, the comic, mobile, the companions, all that stuff and making sure it’s all going towards the unified universe and vision. All that stuff is within Ubisoft Toronto’s structure.
So, aside from the announced collaboration on future Assassin’s Creed games as well a likely follow-up to Blacklist, Ubisoft Toronto has three other major projects in the works. The studio is also currently assisting on Montreal’s Rainbow Six: Patriots, which may or may not be one of the five, and Raymond has otherwise confirmed that two are entirely new franchises (known as intellectual properties, or IPs).
What those could be is anyone’s guess, but the workload appears daunting. Ubisoft Montreal is carrying roughly the same number of big franchises – Assassin’s Creed, Far Cry, Watch Dogs, Rainbox Six and possibly even the Mighty Quest for Epic Loot – yet it has eight times the number of Toronto employees. That’s exciting for gamers, but it also looks like Ubisoft Toronto is going to have to crank up those employee numbers fast, or otherwise cancel vacations and free time for existing employees.
It also appears that we really can forget about any goofy side projects, like Montreal’s recently released Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon, coming out of the studio. They just won’t be able to spare the employees.