Few adults get to play video games at the office, but if you’re Jade Raymond, managing director of Ubisoft Entertainment SA’s Toronto office, you can expect a lot of time in front of a screen. One of the few recognizable female faces in the gaming industry, she’s helping to build one of the best game development companies in the world. Raymond showed us how the Toronto studio makes company culture a priority while continuing to expand rapidly. (Photos by Derek Shapton)
Work is play
About 20% of Raymond’s time is devoted to playing games. When a project is nearly finished, she’ll try it out on one of the multiple consoles in her office to ensure she’s run through the entire game. “I also spend my Tuesday lunches playing,” adds Raymond. “It’s when I play competitors’ games to make sure I’m ontop of all the latest stuff that’s going on in the industry.”
Out in the open
Although Raymond has her own office, she’s a strong believer in an open-concept office. “For the first two years, I was actually not using my office. It was just a meeting room. And every time my boss would come visit from Montreal, he would say, ‘Jade, you’ve got to move into your office. You know, you’re not a producer anymore,’” Raymond says. She now walks around a lot, and stops by people’s desks to chat.
Raymond had full-wall whiteboards installed in the studio so people could see and reflect on others’ ideas. “We have them in all our rooms because we do so much brainstorming,” says Raymond. “Whenever we’re having meetings there’s always new ideas, so we can just write them up there so people can comment.”
Ubisoft Toronto is always looking for emerging local talent to add to its team, so it launched the UbiGallery competition for recent art graduates of Ontario post-secondary schools. The winner receives a three-month apprenticeship at the Toronto office, where they get to work with the art team on a studio project. In its inaugural year, more than 50 artists applied; the top five finalists had their work showcased in Ubisoft Toronto’s gallery.
A shot at culture
Ubisoft Toronto adds more than 100 people per year to its staff. To foster a strong team culture, “we do things like everyone gets a Nerf gun on their first day, and we’ll have Nerf battles to break the ice,” says Raymond.
Art, in all states
To make its games come to life, the Toronto team uses its state-of-the-art performance capture studio to make cinema-quality gameplay. Despite the high-tech tools, there are components that are still done by hand and on paper. The company offers monthly life-drawing classes so their illustrators can keep their skills sharp.
Ubisoft’s Toronto studio is located near the city’s up-and-coming Junction neighbourhood, so finding a place to eat nearby can be a challenge. The company offers employees subsidized lunches every Monday through Thursday, including sandwiches, salads, soups, dessert and a daily hot lunch item, all for about $7.
The Scotch-Tasting Club
One thing Raymond imported from Ubisoft’s Montreal office, where she had worked on the first Assassin’s Creed game, was the scotch-tasting club. For the Toronto club, someone brings a new bottle to each tasting (Fridays at 5 p.m.). With 30 to 40 people showing up to each event, there’s rarely anything left in the bottle.