Speaking with the Canadian Financial Post’s Post Arcade column, Ubisoft Montreal boss Yannis Mallat says that the company is “thrilled” to welcome the now ex-THQ Montreal to the Ubisoft family, but that they are only just entering the “analysis phase” where they will look at everything from the team’s office space, to their in-development projects, and even speak to previous Ubisoft escapee Patrice Desilets.
“This is the very first time in my life that I have come to a studio that was just newly acquired, given a speech to everyone, and then have everyone applaud,” says Mallat in the quote that is grabbing headlines this morning. “It was a very sincere reaction.” Mallat goes on to say that “maybe it was due to the fact that we at Ubisoft are a very humane company” and that the company is “talking to the people in a very fair way and are very approachable”, but I think there’s gotta be something said for knowing your job and work is at least temporarily safe after a long month of public (and many months before of behind-the-scenes) turmoil.[drop]Speaking about the game also acquired by Ubisoft alongside THQ Montreal, Obsidian’s South Park: The Stick of Truth, Mallat says that Ubisoft are going to “work with the development studio”, as well as claiming that some of Ubi’s internal teams will likely “have a look at the game”, but that the game “is in development”, and that the plan is to complete and publish it. Although some were hoping that the game would remain relatively untouched, Mallat’s words and the news that the game has been moved from its previous 5th March release date to “calendar year 2013” suggests that Ubisoft do plan, to some extent, to make the project their own. Ubisoft does have a track record of working with external studios, but whether Obsidian will complete work on the game or whether Ubisoft will bring it to their own internal studios to finish seems to be up in the air as part of this “analysis phase”. When asked if Ubisoft had a comment on the dispute between THQ and South Park Studios over whether the former can even sell on the game’s license, Mallat simply said “Nope. Absolutely not.”
What seems as-yet unclear is whether THQ Montreal will continue as their own entity within Ubisoft’s Canadian arm, or be absorbed by the already extensive Ubisoft Montreal. “Right now our goal is to keep the existing studio and to keep the possibility for people who are working here to stay in this studio,” says Mallat, but during the interview he also refers more to the members of the team than the studio themselves, noting that they are “170 experienced and talented game makers who will join our creative forces at the Ubisoft family”. What is perhaps surprising is that Ubisoft seems keen to keep THQ Montreal working on their own projects for now, even if they later move on to more core brands for the French publishing giant: “the projects that are going on here at THQ [Montreal] are a perfect strategic fit with what we are doing,” says Mallat. “Of course you have to understand that this is very, very, very fresh. This is very early. But indeed, some of the staff were actually working on projects that are now property of other publishers. So of course they will not be working on those projects anymore, but we are welcoming those guys to work on our existing brands.”[drop2]And what of Patrice Desilets, who left Ubisoft in 2010 apparently due to displeasure about the ongoing development of his creation, the Assassins’ Creed series. After leaving Ubisoft, Desilets moved to set up a new team, working on a new IP (which we know from the bankruptcy filings to be codenamed 1666, and rumoured to be set in Amsterdam), but now finds himself back at his ex-employer. “As a matter of fact, I’ve known Patrice for a while,” says Mallat. “Him and I were involved in the making of some great Ubisoft games: Prince of Persia: Sands of Time back in the day in 2002 and 2003 and then together with some core teams we created the Assassin’s Creed franchise. I’ve known Patrice for 13 years and I know him very well, he’s a great talent and I respect him as a creator. We’re very happy to look forward to working with him again. As a matter of fact, he’s actually in France right now because he’s giving a speech at a University. He’s coming back tonight and I’m having dinner with him tonight.” When questioned whether he’ll remain part of the team or not, Mallat simply confirmed that he “definitely” plans to speak with him.
When asked about the status of 1666 (which after almost two years is still apparently only in pre-production) and other unannounced projects inside THQ Montreal, Mallat refused to comment: “It doesn’t make any difference if it’s part of the acquisition or not, as it’s the exact same thing with our own unannounced projects: we don’t talk about that.”
Of course, we’re talking about things as they stand barely days after the break-up of a massive publisher, with projects and teams being split up to many recipients, so much is still up in the air. If nothing else, it’s been a fascinating insight into the early stages of game development and the running of a major multinational corporation, not something we normally get to see. Says Mallat about the future of THQ Montreal: “What I can tell you right now is that we’re entering a phase where we’re going into a more thorough analysis of everything here and in the coming weeks we’ll make up a plan for continuing operations with this new studio.”