Jade Raymond is best known not as the head of Ubisoft's new major Toronto studio, but for her role producing Assassin's Creed - and the rather disheartening amount of flack she received for it.
Some corners of the internet exploded at the idea of a woman taking charge of a triple-A development team. It was a difficult period that eventually led to her stepping out of the limelight for the sequel and maintaining a surprisingly low profile ever since.
While quietly conducting her work as executive producer on Assassin's Creed 2, Jade was also responsible for all new IP output at Ubisoft Montreal.
Then, heavily pregnant, she was called into the office of Ubisoft Montreal boss Yannis Mallat and asked to form a brand new studio in Toronto - a role she initially declined, before realising that, as The Godfather would put it, the offer was one she simply couldn't refuse.
Raymond is now committed to growing Ubisoft Toronto to 800 people within a decade. The studio's first title will be Splinter Cell 6, before it shifts focus to the key ambition: creating the next Assassin's Creed-calibre new IP from Ubisoft. A prospect we, for one, find incredibly exciting.
CVG met with Jade at GDC last month where she revealed the secret to forming a great games team ("beer on tap") and we resisted asking her any gender-related questions whatsoever. Except the first one.
How are you balancing being a new mum, heavily pregnant with your second child, and setting up one of Canada's most promising game studios?
It's been great because obviously before you have your first kid you don't really know. I was asked to set up the Toronto studio when I was eight months pregnant last time, so I wasn't exactly planning on relocating my family and starting a big new thing, but it was a great opportunity I couldn't refuse. I'm actually happy to say you can balance both. It's tough - you don't get to do much else - but you can definitely do it.
Where's Ubisoft Toronto at right now? How are you getting on?
It's been tremendous growth. I don't know if you've seen we have a mandate to grow to 800 people, we're focussed on triple-A, and also we announced new IP when we started, so basically there are really big, high expectations out the door. In under two years we've ramped up to over 200 people, so it's been very fast and we're actually about to announce our first big triple-A game being developed by the studio.
"It's going better than I could've imagined... I'm amazed at the team we've put together."
I've got to say I think it's going better than I could've imagined. I'm really amazed at the team we've put together and proud of what we've been able to accomplish, and I think Ubisoft is pretty excited too. Soon we'll find out what everyone else thinks!
You're committed to creating a new IP in Toronto but you're also creating the next Splinter Cell. As a creator, do you prefer working on new IP or existing properties?
Well there are a bunch benefits to both. I actually think within existing IP you can sometimes take bigger risks because certain things are there as a base that you know work already, so you can pick one thing to really focus on and try and push what you know might not pan out, and you still have the rest of the stuff that works.
With new IP obviously it's really exciting because everything is starting from scratch, so you get to ask yourself questions about all kinds of things. For example, when we were building Assassin's Creed we got to ask: 'What does the main character look like? How does he feel about his job? What's his past? How does he feel about death?' Everything is a question.
But I think the most exciting thing about new IP is also the fact that you're trying to create something that has longevity so you're thinking more than just 'how do we innovate for this game?' You're thinking, 'how do we create something that has staying power?' Which I think is an interesting question.
Ubisoft has a huge library of much-loved franchises already, some of which aren't updated as much as fans might like. Can you explain the need to create new IP, alongside reinventing old ones?
I think it's important for us to continue to focus on the existing IP because there are those things that have really big fan followings. Imagine for example if they stopped making Batman movies, games or comics... there would be a huge fanbase that would be disappointed. We have a really strong fanbase for Splinter Cell and stuff like that, so we have to continue to push that forward.
I know from the internal team perspective, people in games really want to create something new and leave their stamp. Maybe in your career you'll start working on a game that you don't care about as much but you're just excited to be in the industry, then hopefully you'll graduate to work on a game that's your dream and then maybe the next step you take is to create your own thing once you get to a certain level of seniority.
Our industry I think is different from any other because it's not just the creative director or the designers who are creative - everyone is passionate and has their game idea. You can talk to anyone from a programmer, to a tester or a texture artist and they're all in the games industry rather than other industries because they have this idea for a game they wanted to make. You just have that kind of passion where people want to come together and see those ideas eventually take shape in a game.