Why I Quit my Dream Job at Ubisoft

The Reality of AAA Games Development or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Go Indie

Back in 2005, I remember my boss asking me where I’d see myself in 10 years. I answered without hesitation: I want to be a software architect on a big-ass AAA project! The dream came to life a few years later, when I started working on Assassin’s Creed Syndicate as – wait for it – software architect. I was fulfilling my dream of becoming a well-respected game developer, working on a prestigious AAA franchise.

Then I suddenly quit and started a small indie games business with my girlfriend. Some of my friends and family found that move… let’s just say… bold. They wondered why I left a safe, well paid job, with tons of advantages, including the excitement and fame of working on the next game everyone will talk about.

On my last day at Ubisoft, while I was saying goodbye to my colleagues, nobody asked why I was leaving to work on my own games. Even people who barely knew me had a pretty good idea. A lot of them were actually envious, although they worked on Syndicate too, realizing one of their own dreams. I’m sure that many professional game developers might have a clue about why I made this move.

So, I decided to write about the reality of AAA games development or: how I learned to stop worrying and go indie.

Modest Beginnings

In 2005, Ubisoft announced they would open a new studio in Quebec City. This is about 250 km away from the famous Ubisoft Montreal studio, that created all kinds of obscure games like Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time, Splinter Cell & Assassin’s Creed. I was recruited from day 1, together with about 30 other employees. You can imagine that I was really excited. I celebrated by spending my future paycheck on a brand new $2000 guitar. (5 years later I totally stopped playing guitar. Yeah, not my best move.)

Most people who start a career in game development, whether in design, art or programming, are very passionate. They love playing video games, and they love creating them. During my first weeks at Ubisoft, I couldn’t believe that I was actually getting paid to do this! This was better than holidays.

For the first two years, I worked on small PSP titles: Open Season & Surf’s Up on the Playstation Portable. Those are very average games, not especially good nor bad. However I had a lot of fun working on them. I’ve learned a lot, and I made very good friends. The teams were pretty small (between 15 and 25 people, if I remember correctly), so everyone knew everyone else. It felt like a small family and the team spirit was good. In retrospective, we were a bunch of noobs who had a lot homeworks to do.

The thing is, we wished we’d work on bigger projects, AAA projects. It’s not super glamorous when you tell your friends you’re working on some kids movie’s game. Nobody starts a video games career to work on that kind of title.

The PoP Years

After Surf’s Up, our studio’s director met us in a conference room (yeah, the entire team fit in a single room… ahhh the good ol’ days). He announced that our next project would be the Wii version of the upcoming Prince of Persia game. I distinctly remember some kind of awkward silence after. Nobody knew if it was good or bad news.

Then someone shouted: “YES!”

Of course, YES. This was WAY better than our previous projects. It wasn’t Assassin’s Creed, but who cares. I remember being a bit disappointed by the console (back at the time, I was super excited by the PS3, not so much about the Wii), but all-in-all, it was very good news.

The project lasted about 3 years, and became known as Prince of Persia: The Forgotten Sands. It wasn’t a port from the 360/PS3 version: we made a specific version just for the Wii. All in all, it’s a really good game. If you didn’t play it back then, go dust off your Wii and give it a try!

Over my whole time at Ubisoft, this is the project I’m the most proud of. I had a lot of fun, and I had ownership. By that, I mean that I strongly believed that my work had a major impact on the game. My contribution was significant, and when I was playing the game, I could see it everywhere. So, obviously, I was super motivated. I wanted that game to be the most awesome game ever. Most developers know that feeling very well.

At its peak, the team size was about 75 developers. It’s a big family, but still a family. Over the course of the project, I had to interact with most of these people. I’m pretty sure I talked at least once to everyone on the project. You might wonder why I focus so much on team sizes, but more on that later…

AC3 WiiU

After PoP, I contributed on several games here and there, and eventually landed on a technically very challenging project: porting Assassin’s Creed 3 on the WiiU. This was very different from my previous work. The team was super small: we were 2 programmers at the beginning, and at the peak I think we were like 15 or something.

I was pretty excited by the challenge. Most people at Ubisoft didn’t think we’d be able to pull that off. All Assassin’s Creed games are very, very intense games in terms of CPU & GPU performance. Believe me, your console is pretty much at its maximum capacity when running around in a big city like Boston (or London). The WiiU was less powerful than the PS3 and XBox 360, at least on paper, so the odds weren’t on our side. Even worse: we had to make a straight port, that is no data changes, just code optimisations. It’s much cheaper to do a straight port than to downgrade all game assets.

After about a year, we reached a point where it became obvious that we’d successfully port the game with similar performances than the 360/PS3. It was a huge success: even Nintendo engineers were surprised we made it. Life was great.

The downside was that the second half of the project was a bit boring. The challenge was gone. Port code, fix bugs and optimize. Rinse & repeat until the game is shipped. Overall I keep a good memory of this project, but by the end I was ready to do something completely different…

Tasting the Forbidden Fruit

After AC3, I worked on 2 internal pitches. For legal reasons, I can’t say much about those projects, but they were so important to me that I need to take some time to talk about them.

On the first project, we were a team of about 6 developers, all very senior. It was a multiplayer game, and our goal was to create a functional prototype in about a month. Our days were somewhat like this:

  1. Play the game together
  2. List the features and changes we wanted to see in the next version
  3. Implement them
  4. Repeat until we have a cool prototype

The team spirit was sooo good! Our motto was “on est crinqués!”, which more or less translates to “we’re so hyped!”. During our play sessions, we were so excited we were screaming and shouting all over the place. I think it bothered colleagues working next to us, but hell, we had so much fun. I didn’t feel too guilty.

Since we were such a small team, we had to break down the traditional jobs barriers. Everyone had their saying in the game design. A UI artist made the level design, because we didn’t have a level designer with us. I did gameplay programming, which isn’t my speciality at all (I’m more of a low-level, engine & graphics guy). But we all really enjoyed it.

Unfortunately, for various reasons, the project got cancelled.

Then I started to work on another internal pitch, with an even smaller team: 2 developers + 1 producer. This project definitely had that “indie” feeling. It was again a multiplayer game, and again we made a pretty awesome prototype in a few weeks. Every day during lunch time, we invited everyone in the studio to play. We even organized an internal tournament which attracted around 60 participants.

But again, the project got cancelled.

I was never as happy at Ubisoft as during those 2 projects. I worked with very talented & motivated individuals. Because of the smaller team sizes, I had my say on the creative side of things. This was a nice change – being more of a technical guy, I could never do that before. And I absolutely loved it. When you work on a small project, your contribution is, obviously, HUGE. So is your ownership. And so is your motivation.

One of my former colleagues nailed it when he said that I tasted the forbidden fruit. Once you’ve had that feeling, you can never go back.

AC Syndicate

Then, the studio received the mandate of leading the next Assassin’s Creed title: Syndicate. We knew the AC franchise very well: we collaborated on every title since Brotherhood. However, this was not a collaboration like before. For the first time ever, an Assassin’s Creed game would be led by the Quebec studio instead of Montreal. This was a big achievement, but I wasn’t happy at all. The memory of my 2 beloved projects was still fresh. I knew I’d have to work on AC, there wasn’t any way around it.

As predicted, I started working on Syndicate very soon in the development cycle. I wanted to give it a try, even though I feared I wouldn’t like it at all. At first, since there wasn’t a lot to do on the technical side, I collaborated a lot on AC Unity with the Montreal studio. I worked on cool new techs developed for ACU, it was fun and challenging. I had a good relationship with most of my Montreal co-workers (even though it’s harder to develop a good relationship when you mostly communicate by email). I continued collaborating on ACU every now and then until they shipped.

After a few months, Syndicate started for real. The team was getting bigger and bigger as we entered production. For me, this is the root of all issues on AAA games: big teams. Too many people. Syndicate was created with the collaboration of about 10 studios in the world. This is 24 hour non-stop development. When people go to sleep in one studio, it’s morning in another one.

With so many people, what naturally occurs is specialization. There’s a lot of work to do, and no one can master all the game’s systems. So, people specialize, there’s no way around it. It can be compared to an assembly line in a car factory. When people realize they’re just one very replaceable person on a massive production chain, you can imagine it impacts their motivation.

With specialization often comes tunnel-vision. When your expertise is limited to, let’s say, art, level design, performances or whatever, you’ll eventually convince yourself that it’s the most important thing in the game. People become biased towards their own expertise. It makes decision-making a lot more complicated. More often than not, it’s the loudest voice who wins… even if it doesn’t make much sense.

On large scale projects, good communication is – simply put – just impossible. How do you get the right message to the right people? You can’t communicate everything to everyone, there’s just too much information. There are hundreds of decisions being taken every week. Inevitably, at some point, someone who should have been consulted before making a decision will be forgotten. This creates frustration over time.

On top of that, there’s often too many people involved in making a decision. Usually you don’t want to make a decision in a meeting with 20 people, it’s just inefficient. So the person in charge of the meeting chooses who’s gonna be present, and too bad for the others. What it’s gonna be? A huge, inefficient meeting where no decision is taken, or a small meeting that goes well but creates frustration in the long run?

Being an architect, I had a pretty high level view of all technical developments on the project. While it sounds cool, it has its disadvantages too. The higher you go up the ladder, the less concrete impact you have on the game. You’re either a grunt who works on a tiny, tiny part of the game (“See that lamppost? I put it there!”), or you’re a high-level director who writes emails and goes to meetings (“See that road full of lampposts? I approved that.”). Both positions suck for different reasons. No matter what’s your job, you don’t have a significant contribution on the game. You’re a drop in a glass of water, and as soon as you realize it, your ownership will evaporate in the sun. And without ownership, no motivation.

I could go on and on. There’s tons of other reasons why AAA projects are not satisfying. Don’t get me wrong: it’s nothing specific to Ubisoft or Assassin’s Creed games. This is an inevitable side effect of creating huge games with an enormous team.

I have to add that, obviously, some people are motivated. Those are usually juniors and people who never got the chance to work on a AAA project before. But when you’ve done it a couple of times, the excitement disappears, and you’re only left with the sad, day-to-day reality. That’s a huge problem for studios working on AAA projects one after another. Senior staff gets tired and leave.

Taking the Leap of Faith

Since my very beginnings at Ubisoft, I knew I wouldn’t spend the rest of my days here. I already dreamt of starting my own indie company. Making my own games. Back at the time, I didn’t know much about making games. I still don’t know a lot, just a tiny bit more.

Indie games don’t suffer from big projects issues. I think the ideal team size is around 5-6 people. That’s when the team spirit is at its highest, as well as ownership and drive. You’re not wasting any time with endless email threads and bad communication. There’s a lot less specialization, because a handful of people are doing everything. The job isn’t tedious and rewards you every day.

For me, going indie also means I can work on non-technical stuff. I like tech, but I also love the creative aspect of games… gameplay, visuals, sounds, ambiance… the whole experience. Only indie games will let me cover all aspects of the creation process.

So that’s it. That’s the #1 reason why I quit Ubi to make indie games. I’m sure if you ask other developers, they’ll tell you another story. Some of them really like it, I’m sure. Others might be unhappy for a completely different reason.

For me, this leap of faith was the right and only thing to do.

UPDATE #1 – January 23rd, 2016

Hey guys and gals! This post is way more successful than I thought! :) Thanks to everyone who has taken an interest in my story, I’m really touched. I’d like to answer every question & feedback, but it’s getting harder and harder to keep up with everything. Still, rest assured that I read every single comment.

UPDATE #2 – January 26th, 2016

My ex-coworker Jeff wrote a great follow-up to this article that shows another perspective on the subject. He’s a senior level designer who’s worked on Syndicate as well, and left for similar reasons.


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198 thoughts on “Why I Quit my Dream Job at Ubisoft

    1. Pretty good article. I really got the feel from it.
      Go on and i hope i will play some of your indie game one day.
      Thanks for sharing.

  1. Good read man – some elements of your experiences resonate with me (even though I don’t work in the gaming industry).

    All luck to you for your first project!

    1. Yeah I think most of these problems can happen anywhere. Any team that gets too big will eventually suffer from the same issues.

      1. I actually had same experience like you, I’m just an 3d artist not a programmer like you. I worked on Indy projects and I eventually someone liked what I was doing and I got invited to work on a AAA movie project. I definitly didn’t liked it, as I had zero control what I was working on. I had 2-3 supervisors circleing around me just giving their opinions about anything the end result was just to finish something they liked. Creativity zero- You had zero chance to give your own opinion. Everyone was afraid to say anything or express and Ideas. After a month I left that company. Went back to work in Indy with my own team.

  2. Great post! What would those 5-6 people’s responsibilities be in an indie game? Assuming you had to pigeon hole some of them to perform a number of roles?

    1. Thanks. :) I’d say, depending on the project:

      1 or 2 programmers
      1 or 2 artists
      1 designer
      1 business & community manager

      That’s assuming sound is entirely outsourced, which may not be applicable in some games.

      1. I think almost every project, even indie, needs a dedicated audio person. Audio can drive emotion and feel more so than art. When you have someone passionate about audio, the player experience is only going to be better. It is difficult for an audio outsourcer to match the amount of communication, care, and attention to a project that someone in-house can.

        I feel like art can be outsourced a lot easier, and without a risk to quality, than sound can.

        1. I totally agree with you, audio is extremely important to drive emotions and feelings. For games where the focus is about the experience, and not so much about gameplay, yes I’d definitely have someone dedicated to audio.

        1. That’s mostly what I meant by the business & community manager. Someone focused on funding, budgets, marketing and promotion, etc.

        1. If the team size was around 12-15 people, I’d agree but when you’re only 5, you can’t dedicate 20% of you manpower on QA for the whole project. However, during debugging at the end of the project it would make sense.

        1. That’s funny you mention that, because our next project will be story driven, with a lot of dialogs. Fortunately, Julie is both a talented manager and a very creative writer (she helped me a lot writing this post), so she’ll wear both hats. :)

          1. As a marketing person, I shudder at the idea of just handing both business development and marketing/promotion to one person. Both are different and full time jobs, even on an indie level. You’re better of hiring 2 people for this in my opinion.

          2. Interesting perspective. That’s a challenge indies have to deal with. With small teams, we don’t have the choice of improvising ourselves as marketing & business development experts. That’s part of the fun, though!

      2. Look at the team behind the massive indie success Gone Home (ex-coworkers of mine from the Bioshock 2 team):
        1 writer/designer
        1 artist
        1 2nd artist/editor
        1 Programmer

        That’s it!

        They had a bit of outside help for various things like sound, and voice acting, but overall that’s the team that made the game.

    2. Great article, I love seeing insight into the development side of game creation and what it’s like, because we don’t get to see this aspect to much and I find it so intriguing. Thanks for sharing!

  3. Thanks for sharing your experience, this was a very insightful read.

    Indie games are often made out of passion by motivated people and this resonates in their quality.

    There is something wrong with the AAA game industry in general when you ask yourself: “We have to make a game, now let’s try to find good ideas for it”, instead of: “I have this great idea for a game, let’s bring it to life”.

    Shape your games to your dreams, not to your target audience.

    I wish you great success in all your games.

  4. Hi Max,
    I loved your way of telling your story. It reminded me of some project we collaborate for.
    And, as you implied, we didn’t feel the need to ask why would quit :)
    And, while reading, it felt good and nostalgic to think about the small teams at the beginning of the studio.
    But, still, I do have great pleasure to work at Ubisoft, mostly I’m not near the creative process.
    I wish you success and enjoyable projects.
    Phil

  5. That was a great article, thank you for sharing that.

    I have to say, I am not a fan of Ubi way of development, annualizing so much. Because I look at AC Syndicate..I am actually playing it at the moment. And I must say, apart from very nicely built London, I do not like it much, mostly because it feels almost exactly the same as Unity and Rogue, which I played less than a year ago. Graphically it is even a step back from Unity, and the writing so far has been completely uninteresting..and it is a game made by co-operation of 10 (!) studios ? Meanwhile…Witcher 3 is in another league and was made by a single studio of 120-240 people (depending on stage of development). But since they do not annualize, they can make such a game with much less people ? I dunno…but I do wish Ubisoft would let their franchise breathe more. FarCry is now suffering the same fate, new game almost every year and almost same as before with different window dressing. I wonder what is next, Watch Dogs ? :(

    1. I totally agree about your comment on annualizing franchises.

      But I’m actually quite proud of how Syndicate ended-up. In my opinion, it’s a good game, it’s just that working on it was really painful compared to working on smaller projects.

      1. Thanks for your fantastic article, Maxime.

        And for your information, I feel the exact opposite of Paul above. I’ve been very critical of the Assassin’s Creed series since the first one in 2007 – but I feel that Syndicate is the best title in the series so far and a legitimately excellent game in its own right. It’s a real achievement. Can you tell us anything about your actual impact on the game specifically? (If you want to email me, that would be awesome.)

        Alex

        1. I worked a lot on performance optimization, as well as a few internal technologies related to special effects and gameplay. Besides that, I worked on tons of other little things here and there… bringing back the whiteroom (that was removed in ACU), special effects prototypes, etc. Unfortunately, some really cool stuff I worked on didn’t make it in the final game, but that’s expected in game development.

  6. Hi!

    I did an internship on ACU, I was part of the core engine team. (Yeah I kinda climbed the ladder wayyyyy too fast…)

    Working on a AAA Ubisoft game was a dream come true to me, but that dream quickly shattered. It wasn’t at all like I though it would be like. I was used to work on my own games with 2-3 people and having a big impact on the overall product. I did not consider that working on a game with 300+ person would be like this. This got me thinking a lot about my career and if I was even in the right field. I’m not sure if I want to work with big teams like this. Should I still work for big companies to learn? Does working for small companies provides you with more impact/responsabilities even for low entry jobs? Is the entrepreneurial way the only way to have a real impact?

    Thank you

    1. Well, starting as an indie from scratch would be waaaay harder, but it’s feasible. A few people did it. But being indie in itself is very challenging, if you add the difficulty of learning everything about game dev itself, I don’t know… I’d suggest to start in a game dev company where you enjoy yourself, whether it’s a large company or a small one. And when you feel you’re ready, take the leap!

      Good luck. :)

    2. You also have the option of mid-size studios. Projects are usually less sexy on paper but you get fair sized teams and more impact than AAA dev. It also depends if you like being more a generalist or an expert. Big projects can support deep dive endeavors while smaller one will require you to wear many hats. In any case, just try it, you can always quit 😉

      PS: still wondering which of my interns you were…

  7. This post really makes me nostalgic… working with really good guys making this awesome Prince of Persia Wii game.

    snif… snif …
    Long life to Gingear !!! :)

  8. A really great read!Though I may ask,won’t hiring,leading and paying your employees be a tedious task?Aren’t you afraid that maybe your game doesn’t earn big one year and hence,you have a bad year with financial constraints?And also,do you think game developers should strive to go indie from the very beginning? Furthermore, Can you also please tell your whole journey from education to career and entry into the game industry? I also want to be a game developer in the future but i don’t know what type of education or skillsets are necessary and what the demands of current game studios are.Can you please guide me here? I would be really grateful,.Thanks in advance! :)

    1. Hey there! That’s a lot of questions! 😉 If you could send me an email, I’ll answer you privately as soon as possible.

  9. Maxime,sorry for my baaad english! I’m an italian 49 years old gamer,and i love much any PoP and AC that you make. Your article is a very piece of well narrating fact,and i wish ti make ANY SORT OF GOOD LUCK for your new enterprise!!!! Of course i’ll buy your new creation for my fun and for help you in little measure. I had the maximum respect for you.
    Cheers,Maxime!!!!!

    1. Hi Andrea, I’m really glad you loved my story! Your support is really appreciated! 😀 By the way, your english is totally fine by me. :)

  10. Feelling the same here mate. +10 years of experience.
    Wanting to do my own thing asap 😀 Want to take my own decisions. Want to create something, not being a small part with no say of something.

    Dreaming of being indie one day :)

    Well done man. Proud of you as a colleague.

  11. I think you’re gonna regret your decision. Sure, an indie team sounds fun on paper but this is a case of the grass always being greener. I have lost track of how many indie developers, myself included, have failed miserably time and time again, always getting close but not quite there until they give up. Success has been romanticized by popular culture as being inevitable if you work hard, however the truth is that no matter how hard you work, only 1% of hard workers will ever reach their dreams. To be fair, all indie developers I know were one-man-armies so lack of team size might have played an issue.

    1. Thanks for sharing your thoughts! I agree that it’s very hard being indie these days. But it’s not a one-way ticket: if it doesn’t work for whatever reason, I can always go back searching for a job in a small studio elsewhere.

      1. There’s too little chance of success so why bother? Even if you don’t succeed, you’ll still learn heaps. Many people succeed on their own, myself included. Don’t let the naysayers stop you from trying.

        I also do other awesome stuff besides consulting. People told me that it won’t work. They laughed at me. Now they envy me. Go get ’em!

    2. Gabriel:
      Working harder than your competitors doesn’t equal success? Try telling that to Elon Musk.

      I think you’re right to some extent, but that’s because hard work doesn’t imply efficiency or effectiveness. It’s about working hard on THE RIGHT THINGS. That’s what puts someone in the 1%. Not luck.

    1. Hi Andres, I’m not sure what’s your question exactly. :) I couldn’t have learned those lessons from being an indie developer from the start, if that’s what you mean. I had the chance to work on very different size of teams and projects, and this could only happen in a big development studio. I don’t regret at all my time at Ubisoft, it was really fun and satisfying for the most part. :)

  12. Great article Maxime. Interesting to hear your perspective. I work at Ubi Montreal, and I’d say I’m one of those people you mention who is more than happy working on big AAA projects (even after 10 years in the industry). I think it all depends on what excites you about games and game development.

    For me, what got me into games in the first place, is the idea that I can build worlds. I grew up on Star Wars, Star Trek, Lord of the Rings, Warhammer, D&D, Cyberpunk, etc, and as a kid I just wanted to live in these places and have adventures. To some degree games allow for that, but it’s not something that’s easy to build with a small team because the most vivid world simulations require a lot of content.

    I agree, for sure, that working in big teams comes with huge challenges for communication. Personally, I would rather have fewer people and focus on building great tools to make individual users more productive. That said, I think games like the Mass Effect, The Last of Us and The Witcher prove that it can be done without sacrificing the soul of the game, or authorial intent. As I say, it’s challenging, but it’s possible.

    As for feeling like a cog in the machine; I can appreciate that feeling. Personally, I’m reasonably senior and am able to have some input on the bigger picture, so maybe that’s why it doesn’t bother me so much. That said, I’ve worked with some really good directors and team leads that don’t see leadership as being dictatorial, and instead are there to help the team make their own choices and do their best work. In those situations it’s much easier to feel ownership. It’s maybe not the same as knowing you built everything in an indie game, but for me it’s enough.

    Thanks again for writing the article and all the best with your indie games!

    1. Hi Dan! Very interesting insights here! People are sometimes motivated for very different reasons. I understand why you still like it, even after 10 years. :) Good luck on your next project!

  13. Really cool article! FYI you want to look up the difference between “much” and “many” in English….you used “much” on your page for Open Bar, too, where it should be “many.” It just stands out a lot to native speakers even though we know exactly what you mean; thought you might want to have the game’s page as perfect as possible.

    1. Hi Julian, thanks for pointing that out, haha! As you probably noticed, english isn’t my native language. 😉 We’ll fix that ASAP.

  14. That was very honest. Thank you for being so candid. I really enjoyed reading.

    I would like to ask, I’m working with web services and want to break into video game design. Can you offer any advice on where to start to get noticed by larger studios?

    1. Thanks David. I guess it depends what kind of games you want to make. If it’s web-based games, you probably already have what it takes. If you want to work on AAA console games as a programmer, you should learn C++ and start playing around with game engines like Unity and Unreal. Making a few games on your own should help, even if they’re not very polished. A bachelor’s degree in computer science wouldn’t hurt either.

        1. If you want to make money, no. :) Making an engine is really, really time consuming. You have to consider tools, assets binarisation, optimisation, loading, sound, graphics, porting it to multiple platforms, etc. It’s HUGE. However, creating a small engine from scratch is a great way to learn, I did it myself back when I started at Ubi. But I’d never recommend doing it for shipping a game, not when you can just use Unity or Unreal for free (or nearly free).

  15. Good read. Thanks!
    But it does make me a little sad though. Working at Ubisoft is my life goal :S I’m currently a 20 year old Computer Science student, I’ve tried playing around in SFML and Unity. But I really want to learn what you did. If you could point me in the right direction, that’d be great! 😀
    Working on Assassin’s Creed Syndicate must have been quite an honor, especially as it was received quite well.

    1. Haha I’m sorry I didn’t want to make anyone sad! Go read Dan’s comment, it’s very interesting and shows a different perspective than me. As for what you should do to enter the industry as a programmer, just read my reply to David’s comment. :)

  16. Great article.

    One suggestion, on the open bar marketing website, where it says “There’s as much levels as you can handle”, it would be more proper to say “There’s as many levels as you can handle”, or even better the simpler “As many levels as you can handle!”

    As a fellow (sometimes) Canadian Indie iOS Dev, I’m looking forward to Checking out Open Bar when it releases.

  17. Great article! I was thinking about joining a AAA studio before until I realized it’s just better to create on my own. I’ve been a indie developer for almost 3 years now. I have two games in development. (The first project was taking too long to complete so I switched to a smaller project.) and the people I had working with me usually end up doing barely anything. I don’t know why, but I’m the one that always ends up finishing things up at the end. I’ve been thinking on just dropping the two guys I work with and just continue to finish the game myself. I’m about 99% complete with the first game and I’ve done about 95% of the work in it. So I’m just going to pay the other two off for the work they did when the game drops. The game runs on Windows, Mac, Android, iOS, Flash, and HTML5, but the problem I’m running into is having the funds to release it. The game is a metroidvania styled platformer and the gameplay is about an hour or 2. (Probable two hours for the first time playing.) Since you’re diving into the indie scene what advise do you have for a single indie game maker like me? Thank you.

    1. Hi Joshua! Since I’m pretty new myself to the indie scene, I really don’t know what to say! One of the key thing is to build a very strong team. If the other people on your team don’t take it seriously, you should really consider dropping them. As for funding, I guess it really depends on where you live. Here in Quebec we’re fortunate to have a few great funding options for video games. Other than that, if your game is nearly complete, a kickstarter might be successful. Best of luck with your projects!

  18. Wow thanks for the read! I actually applied to Ubisoft multiple times hoping to work for a AAA company. Although my career is in IT Support, I don’t have a formal education on game development, I have dived in to making prototypes in Unity, as well built a very crude 3D engine and level editor. I love programming and that’s my passion. My friend and I both have crappy day jobs and we are tired of working for ‘The Man’. I used to work for a startup company that grew very quickly, so I know how it felt that you can be considered insignificant and try your best to work up the ladder.
    Now, we both are working harder to achieve the vision to startup an indie interactive design VR studio.

    1. Hi Nickolai. I couldn’t say, really. I know it’s in the range of about 1000 people including QA, but that’s just a rough estimate. As for budget, I don’t have any idea at all. The information is probably out there somewhere though, if you search a bit you can probably find something.

      1. Hi Maxime,

        Very interesting article really !
        One small question, how do you think we can do such big open world with a small team that allow to keep the precious ownership that you described ?

        1. That’s a good question! I don’t think anyone can make an open world as large and detailed as AC games with a small team, at least not for now. Maybe in the future with more tools automation, but that’s not going to happen soon. For AAA studios, one way to keep people motivated is to alternate between big projects and smaller, indie-like ones. That would motivate people like me to stay instead of leaving to make their own games.

    2. You should be aware that Ubisoft team sizes grow and shrink very fluidly. If a project takes say… 4 years, the team may be around 40-80 people for the first 2 years, 100-200 for the 3rd, and only reaches the super huge numbers during the last year or so. Also be aware that Ubi has a huge test team that helps on every game, which adds a lot to the head count, but isn’t necessarily representative of the number of developers working on the core team.

  19. Hey, thank you for sharing your experience, it was a really good read. It’s always good to know what others have experienced in the gaming industry and it was inspiring to see that you’ve left an amazing company for what really drives you. Just start my career in the programming industry, but the dream to work in game development still remais.

    Cheers

  20. Salut! je suis de Trois-Rivières je viens de mtl.

    Nice article!

    Tu as tellement l’air heureux, ton texte m’a inspiré je suis présentement aux étude en loisir a l’UQTR. On voit ça la hierarchie les décisions horizontal ( tout le monde égaux ) et vertical, boss, employé. Je trouve c’a le fun que tu partes ta propre entreprise parce que tu es plus heureux ainsi.

    C’est beau de voir des gens qui risquent tout mais qu’au final ça valait la peine.

    Merci pour ta belle histoire je vais m’en souvenir

    Julien boisvert

  21. Hey, great article!
    I want to work in gamedev one day and so far my plan was to start at one of the big ones like Ubi. What would your advise of where to start be?

    1. That’s a good plan to start at a big studio to learn as much as possible. Learn C++ and try to make a few games of your own with free engines like Unity and Unreal.

  22. Thank you for this great article, I have to say it’s really inspiring.
    I’m a mobile developer and I agree with you when a team gets bigger communication becomes ridiculously complicated.
    I may try the leap of faith one day and start to implement my indie game, maybe using kickstarter.
    What do you think about a kickstarter campaign to promote your game?

    1. Crowdfunding is a great way to promote and finance indie games. It’s actually in our plans to make a Kickstarter for our 2nd project.

  23. As someone who used to dream of doing design on a Ubisoft game, this makes me glad I chose the path I did. I remember meeting with someone connected at Pixar when I was 17 or 18, and he told me it was total specialization. I might specialize in fur, textures, or a specific kind of modeling. That didn’t sound fun at all, so I went the “indie” route. Thanks for the read!

  24. With regard to you experience on the AC Syndicate project: welcome to the world most people inhabit where your job is a daily grind and the paycheck is what motivates you.

  25. I work at a triple A developer and I am about to leave to follow my dream of indie games. You have no idea how much this resonated with me.

    Thank you

    1. I just answered that in another comment, but for now I survive with my own savings and we’ll make sure to get financing for our next project.

  26. As a devoted fan of the AC series since AC II, it adds something very special to hear from the people behind the characters I’ve come to love so much. What I like best is that this is an article about your personal growth as a game designer, not a rant about UbiSoft like I thought it might be at first. Thank you so much for your hard work at one of my favorite game studios and I definitely look forward to seeing your own releases in the future. Good luck!

  27. Great article.

    Your reflection on Ubisoft is well articulated and – importantly – kind. There’s some interesting constructive criticism here and you always framed it as a learning experience. That’s very inspiring.

    Also inspiring: the quality of the comments. Not only did everyone say universally positive things, but the interactions with your co-workers validated that there really is something powerful (and later nostalgic) about working closely with other good, kind, passionate people in small teams. That’s pretty damn cool.

    It all paints an interesting portrait of what motivates. Whether you are a big company or aspiring commenter, there are some great takeaways in this article to optimize for.

    Maxime, it’s obvious that you’re passionate about creating games. Big, wild, unruly things.

    Keep on creating, brother.

  28. Super enrichissant à lire, moi aussi je suis un peu dans la même vision car j’aime avoir une influence sur toutes les facettes du jeu. J’ai choisi l’informatique pour exprimer un art et pas simplement pour coder des bouts de programmes dans une grosse machine qui n’aura pas gardé mon empreinte.

    De ce que j’ai vécu pour le moment mon plus gros projet est de 25 personnes, et je trouve pour le moment le travail plutôt agréable à mener. Je ne me verrais pas dans une équipe plus nombreuse.

    Après je ne sais pas par où chercher mon expérience. Je n’ai pas encore commencé le job mais cet été je serais à la recherche d’un studio dans lequel travailler. Si tu as le temps et si tu as des conseils de carrière pour les personnes dans ma situation, ça me ferait très plaisir d’en entendre parler.

    En tout cas bravo pour ce que tu as accompli, et merci beaucoup d’avoir partagé ton expérience aux autres.

    1. Thanks for your comment! I guess you were an intern on your 25 people team? That’s great. When I started at Ubisoft, I didn’t have much more experience than that. :)

  29. Great article!

    I’m a scrum master / technical product owner on a team of 8 people, 14 if you include the business people who don’t do any coding. It’s an e-reading service btw, not a game.

    So I’m wondering about your definition of a team when you say 25 is a small team. Does it include every one working on the game, or just a sub-team?

    Also, how were you handling the workflow: srum, kanban?

    Thanks!
    -Pete

    1. I talk about the entire team, including the producer, QA, programmers, artists, designers, etc. In the video game world, 25 people is relatively small, actually.

  30. what kind of game are you working for? i’m single fighter artist also if you need help i am more happy and maybe could learn alot from you too

    1. We have a great idea for our second game, but it’s a bit too early to start talking about it in details. Follow us on Twitter or Facebook to keep in touch, you can also add me on LinkedIn if you want.

  31. I think it’s true for all large companies. Not only in video games development.

    I work for a large telco provider. The project i work for has teams in US, france, poland and china… and sometimes communication issues are on the same site…

    It’s quite different because our product is quite old and we just add new features from time to time but I understand your frustration. I think you want to be a key decision maker and still keep your hand “dirty”, writing code or designing by yourself. I think it’s almost impossible in large companies on large projects.

    I worked for a start up company before and it was so different….

    In the end, I think what really thrives us is our team and the impact we have on customer. The other thing is that you’re no being told what to do anymore, it probably matters.

    I wish you the best for you new projects !

    Yohann

    1. You totally nailed it with “I think you want to be a key decision maker and still keep your hand “dirty”, writing code or designing by yourself.”

  32. I really enjoyed reading your article, thanks for sharing.
    The part about feeling that you have ownership is so true as I work in a very small team and to know that your contribution effects the product from day one is immensely satisfying.

  33. Oh I so feel your pain here. Even though I’m not a game developer I work for a big IT company as an IT Architect and this simply describes every big projects overall. Imagine how it is to work for a project in which around five thousand people were involved in one way or another. It was a nightmare. Almost every week I feel the urge to go back to the days of just 10-20 people working together. I applaud your decision and hopefully you will make it. Enjoy the challenge 😉

  34. Something like that already happened centuries ago during Europe’s industrialization: what if you become the videogames world’s Karl Marx and write your own “Capital”? 😀

    1. Yeah, I’m actually working on a robot that will mass-produce games while I just relax with a glass of wine in my living room. 😉

  35. Hey Maxime,
    – Going from AAA graphics programmer to full time indie, how do you manage the reduced income ? (e.g how do you pay your bills ? :) )
    – Did you work on some games or prototypes while you were still working at Ubi ?

    Thanks for sharing man !

    1. Hey there! I pay the bills with my savings, and hopefully Open Bar will make just enough money to help us survive a bit longer. I sold my car and we moved in a cheaper apartment. We’re all-in on that project, and Julie totally supports me. For our next project, we’ll try to get financing, because it’s much more ambition than Open Bar.

      No, I didn’t work on my projects while I was still at Ubisoft.

  36. Really nice read Maxime,

    I left Creative Assembly (working on Total War franchise) after 8 years to start my own Indie studio last year. And what you’ve said pretty much sums up everything I experienced. Massive growth of team sizes leading to specialization, inability to participate in other areas (I was an art lead) of development. In the end my dream job left me bored and unsatisfied..

    I’m now making Indie games and contracting as a Artists or Designer for short periods and I’ve never been happier. The challenge is exciting, working on different projects for clients keeps you on your toes, such as learning how to script in cryengine in a fortnight for a contract. Doing the Design, Art, UI, etc for my project and being free to try things.

    I think the hardest part of all of this has been balance, contracting is required to pay the bills, and so finding times where both myself and my business partner/programmer aren’t contracting is challenging. Progress can slow quickly. So if you can find funding then I’d really suggest looking for that. (might be easier in Canada than the UK?)

    Well anyways, really good luck with your adventure!

  37. Heureux de ne pas être passé par la case triple A. J’ai travaillé chez Cryo à la bonne époque puis chez White Birds en équipe restreinte. J’ai eu aussi mon époque indie avec mon studio Este Bueno. Moments très créatifs ou on croit à fond à son projet et à l’eldorado Apple mais qui ne rapportent pas un sous. Je te souhaite bon courage. Aujourd’hui je travaille dans une société de publicité qui produit du contenu pour écrans interactifs de temps en temps on fait des petits jeux, les plus longues prods sont de un mois sinon c’est quelques jours. Mais d’un point de vu créatif et renouvellement on s’éclate et c’est beaucoup mieux payé que les jeux vidéo. C’est ce je pourrais vous souhaiter de mieux. D’ailleurs je crois savoir que le statut de graphiste chez UBI c’est intermittent du spectacle, le pire moyen de faire carrière et de partir une main devant une main derrière.

  38. I enjoyed every word. You hit home. This does not only apply to the video game industry, but also applies to the general software industry. It is bad when too much people work on a project that isn’t big enough to start with.

  39. A nicely woven tale, thank you for the great read :)

    Do you think it’s possible to have a big team and still keep that indie spirit?

    Like if perhaps you had groups of 5-6 people teams taking on major aspects of the development (art team, writing team, design team, character programming, etc.)

    I ask because Hideo Kojima mentioned that to make The Phantom Pain he used this western style of development to integrate all the unique systems they were developing.

    Also curious, isn’t there more risk of drama in a smaller team where responsibilities overlap?

    1. I think it’d be very hard to keep that indie spirit in a big team. It can scale a bit, probably up to maybe 40-50 people, but no more than that.

      As for the risk of drama, I think it won’t happen if the team spirit is good. If someone doesn’t fit, it’s a big risk and you should probably drop him/her before it turns bad.

  40. Thanks for sharing. I worked as a developer in a Montreal game company. I liked the projects, but most of the time I had little say, even in small teams. It was very hierarchical and I was mostly fixing bugs that nobody else had the skill or motivation to fix.

    I remember staying until 3am, even though it wasn’t my fault that the project was running late and I had a small child at home. The project manager ordered me to stay until it’s done and left home. I remember having to justify myself for overestimating a task that couldn’t be accurately estimated and then being punished with having to write verbose, daily reports, which only served to slow me down and make me feel like crap.

    Despite my pulling through like a champ and earning the company millions, I was refused a raise that was initially promised. They finally gave me the project that I pitched months earlier: a framework that could be used by all future games in our studio, but it was too little too late. This was my first and last job in IT, which lasted only 9 months. I left for a consulting opportunity that paid double and never looked back.

    I didn’t completely hate the experience, but looking at my income, quality of life and motivation today, working in the game industry, even on AAA titles, looks very unappealing. No wonder so many people go indie/consultant nowadays. People wouldn’t do this if they were happy with their jobs.

  41. I’m working in a “flat organization” startup with 4 ex-ubisoft employees, and it’s total hell. They have no notion of teamwork because they have been conditioned to report to a single boss instead of their team, to hoard information instead of sharing, to make decisions in private so others don’t have a chance to pitch in… I’ve spent so much time policing people instead of focusing on stuff that actually matters — very close to burning out!

    If you’re jumping from Ubisoft to indie, I have only one piece of advice for you: forget everything you learned, and pick up a copy of Project Management for Dummies — because your years at Ubisoft made you into a big ass dummy.

    And if you’re new to the industry: AAA stands for: Avoid, Avoid, Avoid.

    1. I’m sorry to hear you’ve had a bad experience with ex-Ubisoft employees. I never had such a bad experience myself, and I worked on small projects too. Maybe you just weren’t on the same page…?

      1. Actually, I should be the one apologizing for my comment… There are tens of thousands of ex-Ubisoft employees out there, and I only work with 4. You’re not all big ass dummies!

    1. I did a bachelor’s degree in Quebec City, then I started a master’s degree but actually never finished it. Making games was way more fun! :) Education is an important part of the equation, but employers also want motivated and passionate people who really care about video games.

  42. Thanks for sharing your experience of achieving your goals and how your perspective of your goals have change over the time… It helps us, the junior guys to realize how our future could be, or what are the important decisions we need to take on our short developer life… I hope you get to your goals soon.

    Thanks again!

  43. Hey. I really Like your story.

    One of my dream jobs is to work as 3D Environment and prop artist for Ubisoft. I really love the AC franchise. And probably what i mostly anticipate is 😀 being part of something huge as the syndicate is to be in reallity. Wouldnt bother me to work with 10 studios ( ithink that is the fun of it hehe) but its from person to person.

    Any advices you can give me ? I’m still studying and trying to become better. How hard is to get a job at such a big company. (i’m from EU btw ^^ )

    Also i have heard they pay really cheaply their employees or that are just some, fake informations ? :)

    CHeers!

    1. Being more in the field of programming, I really don’t have any advice to give you, unfortunately…! I think those are fake informations, but I can’t confirm since I’m not an artist myself. As a programmer, I was always satisfied with my salary though. Best of luck to you!

  44. I have one random question: with so much of Ubisoft based in France and Quebec, how much communication is in French? Are you encouraged or required to communicate in English?

    1. That’s a good question. :) Official written communications are either English-only or in both languages. Basically, the rule is that if everyone in a group speak French, we communicate in French (it’s just easier and more efficient). Otherwise we fallback to English.

  45. Hy Maxime, it was really really cool story.

    I want to know something, I’m a Game Programmer. I have done PG Diploma in Gane Development. (1 year Course). After Completion I opened my own indie game company which included magazine, games and websites. Worked on many websites project and monthly magazine. Never started on games during those days. But after 4 months I closed the company. It was hiccup for me. And decided to do a job. I came to Bangalore and got a job in a small startup. Its not an actually core game company. Its a company in which we use to make some cool games for promotion of a product.. Like in exhibition or an event. The games like VR Based.. Leap motion based.. Kinect based games we are making. As a fresher i am getting low salary but im not worried about salary i need an experienced thats why I’m working there. My job role in company is just to integrate the device like kinect, leapmotion or VR in assset from unity asset store. I don’t get to work too deep in to games like gameplay, AI or mechanism. Will it effect on my carrier? Do i need to quit the job and find another core game company? Please reply. Thanks. ☺☺

    1. Hi! From what I understand, it sounds like a good experience to me. But I really can’t tell if you should leave your job or not, it’s a life choice only you can make. :) In my case, I quit my job because the timing was right, and we planned it for a few months before actually making the move.

  46. I really liked your story i take every AC game at heart since it was a different side of PoP. I would like to be in your line of work cos where i’m from there are not much schools specialized into this kind of work as to doctors,bankers,lawyers so can you kinda gimme an idea of the tools and skillets so as to i can learn on my own and develop a game like you cos i have a lot of ideas that on paper would be good for the creative-interactive world.I’m from Ghana in West-Africa

    1. There’s a lot of people asking me for tips about how to get into the video game industry. I’ll write a detailed post about that in the next few weeks, stay tuned! :)

  47. Awesome post! This kind of struck a chord with me as the unofficial leader of a small team of indies. It’s pretty much almost exactly true! When working internationally with people on their own schedule, it can be a frustrating. Though I wouldn’t exactly complain since our team is pretty small.

    As a fan of AC, I have to say I am just that tiny bit jealous of you. Not a lot of people can say they worked on a AAA game. Good luck and I hope you discovered what you’re looking for indie game development. :)

  48. I guess every job has its problems but the key is to follow what you exactly want to do. Atleast that’s what I can gather from your story. Thanks for sharing your story :)

  49. Thanks for sharing. One of my dream is to work on video games. Over last 4 month I was working on a magento store for a small company. It’s nothing related to video games, but I really enjoyed it. I was the only dev on the website and I can make my own decisions and implement other employees ideas if I think it’s good. It was a steep learning curve for me because at the beginning I knew nothing about magento except a little bit of web kind of things. I won’t say that I become an expert afterward, but I really learnt alot. I quit my job not because I was fired BTW. I am just starting university. :p

  50. Well this was a great read. Result wasn’t what I expected but understandable all the same. I am an aspiring game dev so this information could be useful to me. As for the feeling of enjoyment working with a small group of people, I suppose I kinda reciprocate that as the feeling sounds reminiscent of all kinds of friendly gatherings and so on. Anyways, to put it bluntly, I believe what a good way to possibly do this kind of thing in gaming where you can work both on AAA projects as well as not as demanding projects would be to simply be a separate company contracting with big names to lend your workpower to them for a given period of time or number of projects. That is, if this happens to be a thing in the industry. An example… your temporary employer hires you and gives you access to assets like experience and a project that’s either solely designated towards your studio or split amongst you and other studios. In the meanwhile, depending on how demanding your work is, if you have some free time available during the projects that you don’t need to do anything for what you’re working on, your contract should allow you to work on a separate project of your own with just the people in your studio so long as its a unique project to your company rather than your employer. Eventually along the way, either before or after your contract is up, you should be allowed to publish your unique project wherever you can get it out (first thing that comes to mind is pc), and at the end of the day you will still get paid as well as have some pocket change for something else. Basically a second party so to speak. For examples, I believe before Bioware was bought out they did a setup like this, as well as other companies like Monolithsoft and so forth. I don’t know how feasible this is in the industry nowadays though nor how popular or otherwise it is, but when planning for the future I think this would be the best route for me to go down as I’d like to be able to work with companies like Nintendo and Sony as well as being able to do my own thing on the side that way I develop a experienced background. Then afterwards if I felt like it I would either go full indie or join up with Nintendo or Sony (in my case Nintendo would be the preferable choice since I’d rather not be delegated towards titles that I’m far from crazy about, whereas Nintendo’s titles are more group friendly and enjoyable with others even if you don’t particularly like everything Mario.) Anyways, just wondering about your opinion on that option, if necessary we can communicate via email should the response be lengthy.

    1. Often big companies will require you to sign a contract with a non-competition clause. If you’re able to find an employer who agrees to let you work on your side projects, it would be the best of both worlds, yes.

  51. I played through the Wii version fairly recently (on a CRT TV as one should with 640×480 games :p ), and I must say it was possibly my favorite PoP game of them all.

    Loved how much the core gameplay evolved from start to end and kept introducing new fun things (“Holy crap I can put rings on the wall ANYWHERE now?!”) and I was frequently amazed at how beautiful some of the rooms/areas were, in spite of (or perhaps -because- of) the technical limitations.

  52. Thank you for your awesome article. I have almost the same path as your and understand very well your feeling. I was a young software developer back then, in 2000, when Ubisoft has given me the opportunity of my life! After 15 years and with 3 coming back to Ubisoft with a lot of emotions. I have tried new challenges again… maybe, someday I will be back with Ubisoft, but not now, not now…

    I would like to wish you great success on your project.

    Liem

  53. I will start POP Forgotten Sands soon. Nice to know one of the people who was behind it.

    People really speak good things about it! Good luck with your future projects.

  54. Very interesting read. I think this reflects exactly what most people think about the gaming industry and the big AAA projects too. This is also the reason why I left the video game industry as a whole. Everything you work on is only a grain of salt on a beach and very often, team spirit do not exist, ambiance is stressful and you feel more like a peon than an actual employee.
    I wish I had the guts to start my own projects too. If not for the fact money is an issue, I probably would’ve. It is highly possible people envy you, but you actually did it. It takes some balls and you’ve got to be glad about the move.
    Here again, very good article. It express in a great way, the biggest issues about the biggest game developpment.
    If you ever require a video artist/game designer, do not hesitete ^.^

  55. After reading this article, I am wondering how Valve manages to create AAA projects but still keeps a flat hierarchy structure. Are they doing something better or am i missing something?

    by the way i never worked in a Game Studio before nor am i a games developer.

    1. Good point, I’ve heard about Valve’s structure. I’d be really curious to hear more about its advantages over a traditional team structure. If anyone at Valve see this, I’d really like to have your input on that subject! :)

  56. Salut!

    Superbe lecture, très intéressant et très bien articulé. Je tiens à réitérer le sentiment de plusieurs personnes qui ont lu ton article: Ce n’est pas un phénomène isolé qui se produit uniquement dans l’industrie du jeu vidéo. Je crois que c’est quelque chose qui se voit dans toutes les compagnies qui grossissent et connaissent du succès.

    Lorsqu’on regarde l’autre point de vue, celui de l’employeur, du PDG.. C’est un défi de taille! Comment faire pour faire grandir sa compagnie, connaitre du succès, croître.. sans pour autant compromettre la qualité des produits et la motivation des troupes?

    Pas facile!

  57. I simply want to tell you that I am all new to blogs and definitely loved this web blog. Very likely I’m want to bookmark your site . You certainly come with superb well written articles. Thanks a lot for sharing with us your blog.

  58. Hey Max. I’m a young programmer who has attempted to work in very small teams a couple of times, but they’ve always fallen apart for various reasons. Most of these have been with people on the internet, but I have tried one with a friend that had a positive start. I wasn’t part of these to make a living, only for fun. What keeps a team working on a project? For me, the motivation drops out after a while.

    Thanks

    1. I can relate to that. Before being a professional game dev, I used to have all sorts of game projects (sometimes with my friends but mostly by myself). They never got really far. 😉 The thing is, while working on a project, you’ll eventually have motivation drops and that’s perfectly normal. You can’t be 100% motivated all the time. When you make it just for fun, most of the time that means you’ll abandon the project. But when you want to make a living out of it, you can’t stop. So you continue no matter what, and soon enough your motivation will go back up again.

  59. Great read!! I am a musician who is an avid gamer. My two favorite types of games have no unfortunately become extinct. I loved the mandatory community aspect of the first Everquest game, and I adored the original Rainbow Six and Ghost Recon games that were produced by Redstorm before Ubisoft purchased them. My question is this.

    The original Two GR games, and the first four R6 games for PC were entirely different than what came of those series after Ubisoft acquired them. The acquisition resulted in said games becoming more standard FPS War game clones, and that to great degree still has not changed, though the new R6 game is less of a clone than the rest of the Ubisoft produced titles. That being said…

    How is the decision made to completely change the type of game, even if it is a long running franchise with a dedicated fan base. Is there a decision made to just ignore the series previous fans and to use the brand name to leverage a currently in production game, likely not originally intended to be part of those franchises, into an area where it will receive high levels of attention given it will carry the R6 or Ghost Recon franchise name. Things like this lead to a great many of disappointed fans, many who will carry distaste for acquiring company for many years to come.

    How is this process handled?

    One more question. As a long time PC, and console gamer, I’m experienced with designing multiplayer mode and levels for first person shooters. Quake, Unreal Tournament, R6, Daikatana, add others until your fingers bleed. Im familiar with the amount of work and effort that goes into putting out what would now be called a map pack for AAA console titles. It has always seemed to me, and those of us old enough to remember those days, that these so called map packs are nowhere near worth $15 per person for anywhere from 3-5 maps. Older PC shooters would have fans churning out map after map after map, many far better than originals, and this was all offered to fans for free.

    In the current climate, how is this cost justified? I’m familiar with the size of teams that work on level design for map packs, and I see no way that the gigantic DLC prices are justified. The only thing I can think of is most buyers don’t know any better. Thoughts?

    1. Hi Anthony. I never worked on R6 and GR franchises, and to be honest I don’t know much about them. I really have no idea why it changed in that direction over the years. I’m not very familiar with map packs neither, however I know a bit about Assassin’s Creed DLCs. We made a few DLCs at Ubisoft Quebec, and it takes a lot of work. Many months of development for quite a large team (although I can’t confirm numbers). So as far as I know, the price of DLCs on AC is justified, in my opinion. However, those DLCs have way more content than just a bunch of new maps…

  60. Thank you for your post, Max! (Can I call you Max? lol)
    Even though I’m on the other side of the boat (I’m studying film production in college and specializing in screenwriting), I can imagine and I think I understand a little of your pain since on my daily life I see the projects I get involved go downhill or having problems for similar reasons, but somehow I still get excited. I assume it’s because I’m young and foolish.

    I really hope I can get involved in a game project in the future since every medium needs a good story after all. Sadly there aren’t many Toronto game studios (yet).

    Your post helped me to understand a little bit more about game development, I hope to see similar ones in the future! Good luck with your new indie project.

  61. Thanks fort the interessant read. The interesting thing is, that i worked as a software engineer outside of the Gaming sector for the last 20 years and I experienced the Same things aus you. The small ” two Pizzas Teams” are more productive than the huge Teams as you described them.

    I Hope it Workshop oft for you
    Tom

    1. Hi! It’s expensive because there’s a lot of assets to downgrade. Artists have to go over every trees, bushes, rocks, etc. and optimize them by hand. Designers might have to remove a few characters in some areas, animators might have to simplify character models, etc. It takes a lot of time. And then we have to test the game all over again to make sure we didn’t create any new problem. Compared to that, optimizing code only takes a bunch of programmers, while keeping the same quality as the original game and you can reuse all those optimizations for the next title.

  62. If Wii U is less powerful than PS3/360 how is it that even bad Wii U ports ran and looked better than PS3 ports?

    Also Wii U has games that clearly run/look better than some PS3/360 games.

    Smash runs at a perfect 60 frames and 1080p. Mario Kart 8. Bayonetta 2 is a 60 frames game that might have trouble running on 360 and especially PS3.

    This isn’t an attack on your insight since you know more about this just curious on your thoughts.

    1. Yeah many people misunderstood my comment, I should have been clearer. Back at the time, we didn’t have a Wii U devkit sitting next to us. We couldn’t test the CPU or the GPU speed. We just had the technical specs. On paper, it really seemed liked it would be slower than the other consoles. However, when we got our hands on the actual console, we realized it was a lot better than anticipated, especially for the GPU.

  63. Hi Maxime,

    Reading your article made me feel great. I tough I was a little bit crazy quitting my dream job at Ubisoft. But I kown that taking the decision to quit was a great decision.
    Even If I still miss some part of my older job I still don’t regret it.

  64. Hmm is anyone else encountering problems with the images
    on this blog loading? I’m trying to find out if its a problem on my end or if it’s the
    blog. Any feed-back would be greatly appreciated.

  65. I send you my compliments. I felt like, everything that you mentioned above, counts in every other industry or production coorporation, but I like to see all that experience so much related to our job.

    I believe that this passion of creating amazing software(be that a game or a simple piece of functionality that makes other people’s life somewhat easier), should follow all those tips introduced from you above.

    Wish you all the best.

    Endrit.

  66. congratz dude, everything looks awesome, I came across you’re article after reading of the closing of Gameloft’s NZ studio; I worked in Gameloft Mexico for 8 years, my experience parallels yours in that we felt more rewarded working in smaller teams…
    I recently read Peopleware about software projects and teams, its a good read I totally recommend for a now/future Captain of industry; you’re living the dream, keep motivating/inspiring and stay frosty.

  67. I am not sure where you are getting your info, but great topic. I needs to spend some time learning much more or understanding more. Thanks for fantastic information I was looking for this info for my mission.

    1. I’d suggest to start in a studio to learn as much as possible. Going indie is risky enough, I wouldn’t recommend it if you don’t have at least a bit of experience in game development.

  68. Hello, and could you tell us why Ubisoft does not optimize the game for the average computer on the market, and is optimized for high-end. This is due to a partnership founded with Nvidia? Thank you.

      1. It was a good point of view from your perspective and I totally hear you about loosing hope of getting your dream job. You had high hopes and you feel that he company let you down. Ubisoft grew up so fast from the pas 7-8 years and now playing with the major leagues. They have to be much better in their sales year by year without sacrificing too much. They also facing quality and other issues. The small yacht with 100 people onboard is now a big ass cruseliner sailing with thousands of employees. Let’s do a quick manoeuvre on both, the yacht will accomplish it in no time… But the cruseliner will take much longuer to accomplish the same. But that’s the reality of a gaming company and AAA development that grows so fast with their success. Limited time to polish the game. Decision making must go to different approval process that seams to take forever. That’s UBI reality today, and they are working on it. Improve their processes and find better way to collaborate with other studios. With high hopes and high expectations, high deceptions are mostly to happen. You have to aknoledge that the company has changed and might not reflect you anymore and your personal goals. This is the time to let go, understand why, and just move on with your carreer. Like you did by going indie. It’s like a relationship. You have a girlfriend but someday, she might wants something totally different. I’m not wishing for it ;)) but you have two choices, let her go so she can lives her dream/life plenty or being frustrated and sad that you have being left alone. Your capacity of feeling better is how fast is your ability to adapt in front of a situation. I wish you the best in your new company.

        Martin from Unisoft Montreal

  69. I know I’m late to comment, but what about being an AAA game story writer, main one I meant. it’s called NARRATIVE DESINGER maybe. I mean the core story writer who won’t have headache of being alone or overpopulated developing team member. just deliver game stories and may care to lead another group of writers to edit the story if needed, not to be part of the developing madness. so is that boring and frustrated to be a game story writer too? I love AC games & ubisoft is my dream goal and my dream is to deliver some AAA game stories to be developed. I know it’s hard work for writting. I’ve reared hundreds of paper pages writting more &more for the past 2 years & ended up to about 40+ major game stories so far. having a franscie with 30+ series. I know you may call me mad for this but I spend hours each day to change my story logics &parts of its gameplay. huh, I don’t know will I ever be able to give shapes to my imaginative paper filling game ideas, but I just want answered to keep me going. only if a UBISOFT employee would reply me. we’ll I’m just 15year old and that’s where people think my thoughts will be just childish. but I would say, thinking makes a man grow, not age. So don’t criticize a small boy’s thoughts being shaped for 2 years, they can think big as even a grown up man. my email—> 1to9.BC@gmail.com. I’ll be waiting ubisoft… 😐

  70. j’ai goûté au développement indie avant même de tomber dans une plus grosse compagnie. moins prestigieux, mais je peux dire que j’ai fait tout le art d’un jeu mobile – je ne m’accorderais pas du tout avec le manque de liberté des grosses industries, je pense. quoique un peu de sécurité d’emploi serait chouette… xD
    je suis avec une autre indie de Québec, Mirum, alors j’espère qu’on se verra éventuellement pour échanger/collaborer/envahir complètement un bar quelconque.

    1. J’ai une carte d’affaire de Rise of Balloons qui traine sur mon bureau depuis une semaine. :) Si vous voulez qu’on partage notre expérience de Open Bar avec vous, juste à nous poker et on ira jaser autour d’une bière.

  71. Do you believe that AAA quality games can be accomplished with a small team via outsourcing or some other means? (i.e. Having a small team making decisions while creating at the same time / having others do the needed work)

    Alternatively, do you think there could be some way to make working on AAA more enjoyable, if so, how?

    Fantastic post by the way. Thoroughly appreciate the insight & information.

    1. We’ve seen AAA game quality in a lot of indie games in the past few years… Braid, Limbo and Fez, just to name a few. More recently, Ori and the Blind Forest and The Witness are good examples of very high quality games made by small teams.

      I actually think many AAA games are pretty enjoyable. :) They’re not especially original nor creative, but that doesn’t mean they’re not fun. Creating a very different, original game is a risky thing to do. When hundreds of millions of dollars are in the balance, it’s normal to go for a safe bet.

  72. You know what? I totally get your point, although I can’t figure out how is it like.

    On the other hand, I still feel the need of working someday for Ubisoft, right now I’m a games programming student and I’m working really hard on improving my C++ skills, just so one day I’ll be good enough to work for a big company such as Ubisoft.

    I want to feel what you felt, I want to feel it on my own, so I’m not disappointed with a dream like this one turning into something that hard. In fact, I’m glad I’ve read this, since I hope the day I feel like this, I’ll remember that I’m not the only one who does.

    I wish you the best in your indie adventure.

  73. Maxime – I am so grateful to you for posting this article. I am a total outsider, but between your post and the comments, I have gained many insights into the industry. I have a bit of an obtuse question, but I want to ask anyway: given your experience in the industry, if you had to chose a cast of typical characters in a development studio – in general, those kinds of people you seem to ALWAYS find in development environments – who would they be?

    1. Hi Nikkole! I’m not sure about what you mean exactly by “cast of typical characters”. If you mean jobs, it really depends on the game you want to create. If it’s a mobile game, you won’t need the same team as if it was a AAA game. :) But at the very least, you need a game designer, a programmer, a visual artist and a sound designer. That’s the bare minimum. Some people can assume multiple roles, like programming and game design. Hope this answers your question. :)

      1. I’m sorry for not being clear, Maxime… thanks for answering anyway… I wanted to know what kinds of people – personality types – do you find frequent development studios. For instance, in a high school, generally speaking, there’s always a jock, a class clown, a nerd, the cool kids, the misfits, etc. I know that each studio has it’s own culture, but are there any development studio culture norms you find to be true in general?

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