It only took Ubisoft, the international French video game company, nine months after announcing its intention to set up a studio in Winnipeg to get up and running.
WIth their official launch on Thursday, the company is letting the community at large know of their presence. Located in a 3,200 square foot space in a classic West Exchange building, company officials say they already feel like they are part of the community.
"Honestly, it has been extremely rewarding for me and my family. Winnipeg has been very welcoming as a city," said Darryl Long, managing director of Ubisoft Winnipeg. "Other local business owners, the ICT (information and communications technology) community have all been extremely supportive of Ubisoft opening a studio. It has been incredible."
Already hopping with a staff of 25, including a handful of video game industry veterans from other Ubisoft studios and some Winnipeg ex-pats who have returned to the city, the plans for the Winnipeg shop is to grow to about 100 people over the course of five years.
So far, Long said, "The talent pool has been fantastic."
Winnipeg becomes the company's sixth location in Canada where is has close to 5,000 employees, including more than 3,500 in Montreal and about 750 in Toronto.
Yannis Mallat, CEO of the Ubisoft Canadian Studios who is in town for the Thursday evening launch of the Winnipeg studio, said the company learned a long time ago that it had to follow the talent. It has led the company to open studios in 35 countries, probably the only video game company in the world to have such global breadth from the talent side of things.
With over 12,000 employees (and close to $560 million in revenue in its most recent quarter) the company is responsible for such massive industry brands like Assassins Creed, Far Cry and Watch Dogs.
The Winnipeg studio may be small but it has an ambitious mandate.
Mallat said, "We are doing something different here. It is the first studio focused on developing the technology of how we build our games. It is very much oriented to innovation, creating new technologies."
Ubisoft already has University of Manitoba co-op students on site and it is still looking for engineers, programmers and technical artists including entry level positions.
Louie Ghiz, executive director of New Media Manitoba, said the addition of such a high profile name, known for producing some of the most popular video games on the market, is an excellent development for the video game industry in Winnipeg.
"It is fantastic," said Ghiz. "We're very much supportive of a company like Ubisoft coming to Winnipeg. It shines a light on the video game development industry. It will mean more jobs in the future as the industry grows as a result of Ubisoft being here."
A recent survey of the digital media industry in the province indicated that there was a great deal of growth in the sector with many companies anticipating double digit growth. And while there are greater numbers of new graduates with the kind of skills the industry needs. Ubisoft is the first video game company in the city producing at the highest industry levels of sophistication so it is likely to up the game of the entire sector here.
Ghiz figures that over time the company will probably have to continue to recruit talent from outside the market for the simple reason that the city does not have any other triple-A video game studios.
"I love the approach they are taking, bringing in highly senior talent with decades of experience to lead teams and to teach the intermediate folks and train them up," he said.
Long, the producer of Ubisoft's hit game Far Cry 5 and an industry veteran himself, grew up in Alberta and Saskatchewan and feels right at home after 15 years of working all over with Ubisoft.
"There really is a Winnipeg advantage," he said. "There's a real community of techno-creative industries including AI, game developers and other tech-related enterprises like animation. We're getting to know each other. We're really happy to be a part of it."
Martin Cash has been writing a column and business news at the Free Press since 1989. Over those years he’s written through a number of business cycles and the rise and fall (and rise) in fortunes of many local businesses.