What does it take to build a studio from the ground up, in a new region, with a non-native manager? That's what Ubisoft tackled with its Singapore studio, which formed in 2008. By 2009, the team put out the poorly received, but commercially successful Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Turtles in Time Re-Shelled.
The studio was then invited by the parent company to contribute a level to Assassin's Creed II's more linear areas. The team submitted 10 levels, hoping one would pass muster -- and they were all accepted. It was at this point, based on this success, that the team became a cohesive unit. This gave the higher ups the confidence to trust Ubisoft Singapore with a bit more work in Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood, and then to allow them to create the entire ocean sequence in Assassin's Creed III.
But it's not all so simple as that, of course. There are language barriers -- in a region where English is one of four major languages, but nearly nobody speaks it as a first language. And while building an international team is great, how do these people communicate? When you ramp up a company so quickly, how do you get to know everyone's name? How do you make sure everyone's doing what they should be?
Ubisoft Singapore general manager Olivier de Rotalier had to face all these challenges, albeit with a windfall in the form of government grants from the Singapore government. How does one go revving up from a studio of one to 300 in just four years? We aimed to find out.
With this venture, Ubisoft chose to build a new studio in a new region from scratch, where there is not really a very large existing talent pool. Within the team culture, you've got established people that you've shipped in, and you've got people you have to train, and you have to integrate these folks. How do you go about bringing people up to speed quickly?
Olivier de Rotalier: I think the first thing when you start a new studio -- what I did here in Singapore -- is you identify the potential of the country itself to beyond the video game company. What we saw in Singapore is that the education was very good, and the country was attractive to people whose first language is English. There were a lot of conditions that made us very optimistic about our ability to leverage this pool of people, of talent. So that was the first thing.
After that, when you start here, there are two things. First, there is how much training you can do, and this is where working as a network with other Ubisoft studios, we could bring people from Montreal, we could bring people from Paris, either for a short or a long stay to transfer their experience, share their expertise with people here, where the level of experience was proven to be lower than some of the Western countries. We could leverage this Ubisoft network and attract people here to provide that training. That was a big thing.
After that, as you can see in how we've handled those four years, the challenge that you take on has to match what your team can deliver. Of course we couldn't start from the beginning in Singapore working on Assassin's Creed III, for example. We had to move the teams, step by step, to take on challenge after challenge, integrating more and more people in the team, and making those people live together, to be able to take on these challenges. In terms of how you define a strategy for a new studio, you have to take into consideration the growth of your team and the growth for things that are more and more ambitious.
How important when you reach a new region is the government in terms of its help and subsidies? It feels like there's a pattern, through establishing companies in Montreal and Singapore, of heavy government assistance.
OdR: For government assistance.... When we considered coming here, what we needed to see was their commitment to build industry, their plan -- beyond the pipeline -- building a strong indication in the game area, and they had a long-term vision about what they wanted to do, and that they were committed into executing their plans. So, that's the main commitment we have on their side. But, yes, of course, if you need to build a full industry like this, it goes well beyond having one company and expecting it to build a fully custom system. So, we had this commitment from the government to build an ecosystem around us and to be serious about that.