In-Depth: Montreal Game Biz Sees Salary-Fixing Collusion?
Industry sources often claim that certain kinds of "truces" between game studios are fairly commonplace.
For example, competitors might occasionally agree not to hire one another’s talent for the duration of a given project, to help each other retain staff when all hands are needed on deck.
But a correspondence obtained by Gamasutra suggests that some Montreal-based companies may be attempting to collude on salary caps, under the auspices of benefiting the economics of the industry in a given region – and at the expense of competitive wages for development staff.
According to a scan of an internal email that we translated from French, human resources director Flavie Tremblay -- when employed by Eidos in June 2007 -- reached out to fellow Montreal publisher Ubisoft to propose just such a collaboration.
"As you know, there are more and more important players in the Montreal industry, and the well of our resources is limited," wrote Tremblay, herself a former Ubisoft employee, to Francis Baillet, as she welcomed him to the role of human resources vice president at Ubisoft.
"I sincerely believe that a collaboration would eventually allow us to better provide for our needs in forming a workforce, and avoid a bid for higher wages which would only benefit the employee, and which would end up harming the industry in the long term," Tremblay’s message continued.
"I know that all of us face the challenge of employee retention, but I sincerely believe that salary augmentation does not represent a long term solution. Let me know if you are interested in an eventual discussion. I believe that [Montreal-based] A2M will probably be interested; then, we’d only have EA left to convince."
Electronic Arts did, in fact, verify that it received a correspondence from competitors in Montreal similar to the one obtained by Gamasutra. But the company declined to provide any further details, neither to show us the correspondence nor to confirm the company or individual that sent it.
When approached by Gamasutra for comment on this story, EA Montreal vice president and general manager Alain Tascan called the letters "troubling."
"Colluding with competitors to restrict salaries in Montreal appears unethical and definitely contradicts EA’s core values," Tascan said. "EA is currently reviewing records to affirm our understanding that no representatives from our company participated in the meetings referenced in these letters, and that no one from EA colluded with competitors to restrict employee salaries."
Notably, Tremblay’s correspondence was written prior to the public launch of Eidos’ Montreal studio. According to claims from Gamasutra sources, Tremblay composed and sent the email in question on her own initiative and without the support of executives at Eidos. The company allegedly dismissed Tremblay some months after she sent the email.
However, there is no confirmation of how or whether Ubisoft or A2M responded to Tremblay's invitation, the status of any discussions or whether any such agreement was put into place.
Following her dismissal from Eidos, Tremblay has since returned to Ubisoft, and according to public information, is currently Ubisoft’s human resources manager.
Tremblay’s original memo -- independently verified by Gamasutra as being legitimate -- was also recently leaked onto the web
, and the timing of the leak appears significant – it is, after all, over a year old.
According to Eidos Montreal’s official website, the studio held an open house to attract new talent on November 15 – the same time frame that Tremblay’s memo (which lists her as an Eidos employee) first surfaced and roused suspicions, making it possible the leak is another tactic in the region's recruitment wars.
Today also marks the kickoff of the Montreal International Games Summit, which aims to bring public and media attention to the games industry in Quebec and address the interests of its workers.
"Since EA opened a Montreal studio in 2003, we have fought a legal battle for an open employment policy that allows natural market forces to determine where people work and how much they are compensated," EA Montreal’s Tascain said.
"These letters are especially troubling given the generous support that the Quebec Government and taxpayers have provided to help these companies create jobs in the region."
Gamasutra attempted to contact all parties involved for further comment on this story. Ubisoft declined to comment or address questions on this matter, calling the issue "rumor and speculation," and Gamasutra was not able to reach either A2M or Eidos Montreal to obtain an official comment as of press time.