The world of video games has changed a great deal since Christophe Derennes, general manager of the Ubisoft Montréal studio, began his career. The Ubisoft veteran, who is now entering his 30th year with the group, told us a little about his career and the changes that have marked the video game industry.
Ready to make his mark
Derennes arrived in Montreal in 1997 and was one of the founding members of the studio that sits at the corner of St-Laurent and St-Viateur. At the time, the company had only 50 employees, most of them between the ages of 20 and 25 and with little experience in video games, but all of them were gung-ho.
“Imagine a dozen people coming to Montreal with only a few years of experience in video games, building a team of 50 employees, and being given carte blanche. We were excited, ambitious, and ready to make our mark.”
Shaping the future
Coming in with both guns blazing, these youngsters laid the groundwork for Quebec’s video game industry.
In the early 2000s, there was almost no training in this field. But a need was felt very quickly, recalled Derennes:
A real opportunity was staring us in the face. With an ever-growing demand [for video games], the industry was in serious need of trained help.
Ubisoft was among the first to offer a video game design program. Students flocked to the new campus that Ubisoft opened in partnership with Cégep de Matane and Université de Sherbrooke in 2005. This initiative was a cornerstone for video game studies in Quebec and paved the way for universities to create video game design programs.
The industry became more professional and eventually took root.
“This development in education gave the industry a structure that was more solid. We created pipelines, frameworks, and it became standardized. This was a crucial step, because the same thing was also happening in Europe and the United States. We had to keep up,” said Derennes.
A booming industry
Along with these human changes, technology was evolving and shaping the video game landscape. When asked what innovations played a key role in the evolution of the field, Ubisoft Montréal’s managing director listed four.
“There was 3D,” said Derennes.
“Players were plunged into a whole-new 360-degree experience. It also transformed the jobs of level designers and 3D modeling artists.”
Derennes also mentioned the “advent and boom of consoles.” Consoles were more affordable than computers. They found their way into homes, deterring piracy, which had become a serious problem for the video game industry.
During the time, piracy was rampant, specifically with PC games, and was killing video game companies, as Derennes points out:
“There were as many pirates as there were games. For every 100 games played, only 10 were actually purchased. It almost destroyed the industry. Gaming consoles gave us a second wind, and we were able to bounce back.”
Consoles also experienced their own mini revolution with the advent of connectivity recalls the Ubisoft patriarch:
Online games brought a whole new openness, a new gaming experience, especially with multiplayer games, which now had PvP (player versus player) and remote co-op modes. What’s more, online allowed us to keep games alive.”
The possibility to improve, enrich, and enhance a game even after its release was a “big turning point for the industry,” added the studio’s managing director. We could give fans of certain universes extended experiences. Still today, games such as Rainbow Six Siege or For Honor, which are going on eight and seven years, respectively, continue to offer fresh content much to the delight of players. “Post-launch content is now an integral part of many games in the industry,” he said.
Finally, we can’t forget about AI, a technology that allows us to create increasingly rich and immersive experiences for players, as Derennes mentioned.
“In the beginning, AI was pure code. A computer that does as it is told. Then came machine learning, which allowed a game to understand how players moved and adapt to them. There are lots of tools of out there now that use generative AI, such as ChatGPT and Midjourney,” he says.
While the industry and technologies continue evolving, some things haven’t changed: You can still feel the same excitement, 25 years later, at the studio. With so many projects in the pipeline, the future of Ubisoft Montréal looks even brighter.
The Montreal studio and all the teams there would like to wish a happy 30th work anniversary to their managing director, Christophe Derennes. Thanks for all these wonderful years. May there be many more to come!