MONTREAL — When Hollywood takes film projects north of the border, the most frequent stop is Vancouver. But when Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment was looking for a videogame hub, the search ended a good deal farther East.
“It’s amazing how many developers there are within five square kilometers (in Montreal),” says Martin Tremblay, the former Vivendi Games and Ubisoft Montreal topper who joined WBIE in 2008. In fact, Tremblay spearheaded the drive to open WB Games in the city.
It’s estimated there are 8,000 videogame developers in Montreal, half of the total in Canada. (Vancouver has between 4,000 and 5,000 vidgame workers.) Ubisoft remains far and away the biggest player, with 2,400 staffers.
Other key players on the Montreal videogame scene include WB, Eidos Montreal and THQ Monreal, which Ubisoft acquired in January.
The driving force behind the fast-paced growth of the industry is the Quebec government’s videogame tax credit, which pays 37.5% of employee salaries.
“It’s the mix of the tax incentives and the local creative expertise (that has grown the sector),” says Quebec Film commissioner Hans Fraikin.
Fraikin notes that the city’s history as a CGI software hub — thanks to companies like Softimage, Discreet Logic and now Autodesk — has also helped establish its rep. Another plus is the city’s growing visual effects industry; talent routinely moves between the videogame and visual effects sectors.
WB set up its studio in the spring of 2010, and has produced a number of games, including “Batman: Arkham City Armored Edition”; “Cartoon Universe” and “Lego Legends of Chima Online” are in development. The studio has a staff of 300 in Montreal. It is also the first location where Warner Bros. started up a gaming studio from scratch rather than buying an existing facility.
Ubisoft was the first major videogame company to set up shop in Montreal, beginning modestly in 1997 with 50 people, which has grown to 2,400. Under Tremblay’s watch from 2000-06, the Montreal branch of the French videogames giant became one of the leading games studios in the world, producing hits “Splinter Cell,” “Rainbow Six” and “Prince of Persia.” Recent games produced by Ubisoft in Montreal include “Assassin’s Creed” and “Watch Dogs.”
“The industry grew up so fast; we trained a lot of people in the videogame business,” says Luc Duchaine, director of communications for Ubisoft’s Montreal studio.
There has even been talk that the boom in the videogame business here has made it tougher to recruit.
“It is always challenging to get good talent,” Duchaine says. “The goal is to get the right talent.”
Ubisoft, for one, has become an international destination for vidgame workers. French, Brits and Americans constitute nearly one quarter of the workforce.
“In terms of concentration, I don’t think there’s anything like Montreal,” Tremblay says. “There’s a real ecosystem of high-end developers here. If things keep going the way they are, in five or 10 years, it could be the next Silicon Valley in terms of videogames.”