Toronto has a bunch of small indie studios that are constantly making great games (just look at Capy’s success). Thanks to some keen efforts by the Ontario government bigger studios have been eyeing Toronto too, Ubisoft came to Toronto because of those efforts.
What I find interesting is that these efforts have changed the digital industry in Ontario and these changes have reverberated down to the the street level.
Ubisoft has moved into the Junction neighbourhood of Toronto and has had a positive impact on that section of the city. The area suffered from old manufacturing industries closing down but saw artists moving in to fill the gap. Ubisoft hasn’t pushed out the artists (thankfully) so much as they brought new local food options for them.
Since Ubisoft Toronto opened its doors, the list of notable new restaurants and cafes to set up shop in the neighbourhood include the aforementioned Wallace Espresso, Cafe Neon, and Wallace and Co. The businesses that were open before the studio came, such as the Starving Artist, continue to flourish.
If one extends the list to include nearby Brockton Village, which is reasonable given that the studio is a short walk away from the neighbourhood boundary line of Bloor Street, then the list of new businesses expands to include places such as the Whippoorwill and Brock Sandwich, the latter of which opened as recently as this month. Obviously not all those businesses opened with the express purpose of servicing Ubisoft’s employees, but a workplace that is set to grow to 800 strong before the end of 2019 is going to have an effect on business nonetheless.
The first game to come out of Ubisoft Toronto is Splinter Cell Blacklist and the reviews have been positive. I’m proud to say that a former student has been working on the game’s story. The success of the game is a great sign for a new studio that only opened in 2009.
The CBC recently covered the studio and they quote managing director Jade Raymond:
“Setting up a new studio from scratch, hiring over 300 people in three years and shipping the biggest game ever to come out of Ontario and the biggest game in the franchise to date is quite an accomplishment,” says Raymond.
“The game industry and our team here is full of people who want to outdo ourselves each time, so we’re setting the bar even higher with all of our next projects.”
Back to the independent studios we find that Phantom Compass, They Bleed Pixels, and Little Guy Games are getting praise for their work too (there are too many studios to list!). These smaller studios benefit from support from the province too but mainly rely on contract work to keep them going while they finance their own intellectual property. Organizations like Interactive Ontario help in that process (FYI: I worked for IO a few years back).
One of the ways Interactive Ontario aims to help its members is by connecting them with potential contract opportunities, which often involve creating interactive elements for web and television.
“A lot of companies start out that way,” Henderson says. He’ll also be speaking at today’s conference. “They take some jobs to pay the bills and keep the lights on while they work on their own intellectual property (IP). Eventually they get to the stage where they’ve created their own IP and now they own it.”