The Montreal Video Game Industry: A Developer's Dream



The gaming scene in Montreal is among the liveliest and most relevant in today's global video game industry. In fact, the city boasts over 100 studios currently working on games for PC, consoles, and mobile devices. Why is Montreal such an attractive game development locale? A talented workforce, sound funding program, and multicultural climate make it one of the best places to open up shop for any game-loving entrepreneur.

Many of Montreal's colleges and universities offer training in digital arts, programming, modeling, and 3D animation. Dawson, ÉTS, and Herzing College can all equip passionate students with the technical know-how that employers look for in a society increasingly driven toward games. Most graduates come out of school ready to work as hard as they play. Other institutions help the medium in different ways: Concordia University's TAG Centre, for example, conducts research in game studies and digital culture. New game developers can get funds and expertise from Execution Labs' accelerator program, meant to help turn projects into commercialized games. It's no wonder Ubisoft, a France-based developer and publisher, was so impressed by Montreal's workforce.

Ubisoft Montreal was born in 1997 after the firm took over an abandoned textile factory in Mile End. Not one of the city's most dashing neighbourhoods at the time, Mile End benefitted greatly from the new business, and even became a respected cultural hub. Ubisoft Montreal created thousands of jobs, reinvigorating the multimedia industry and preparing for today's extremely diverse, rapidly evolving market. Although Ubisoft has offices in 29 countries, its Montreal arm is particularly well-known, having produced uniquely innovative games like those in the Assassin's Creed, Splinter Cell, and Far Cry series.

Pagan Min, the main villain in Far Cry 4

On the other end of the spectrum, we have small, sometimes tiny development teams making riskier commitments. Independent game development means less investment than a large-scale production and no need to rely on all-too-controlling publishers. Outlast, Papo & Yo, and Contrast are all examples of shorter, Montreal-made experiences that have truly resonated with gamers. In Quebec as a whole, 88% of video game companies are small or micro size. Indie studios, often teams of less than ten people, account for almost 60% of enterprises. The ratio is similar in Montreal--despite the evident success that Ubisoft and some medium-sized studios are enjoying, a significant number of up-and-coming developers are choosing to go the indie route. And in terms of creative freedom, it makes sense.

There are more than a few challenges in assembling a small team and beginning independent production of a passion project, however. With no publisher to look to for funding, money can be hard to come by. Montreal and other large cities in Quebec nevertheless attract many start-up companies because of their highly competitive tax program. In 1996, the provincial government launched a tax credit incentive for production of interactive digital media that can cover up to 37% of development costs. Initiated to encourage growth in the entertainment technology sector, the program is a godsend for small teams working full time.

Unfortunately, the government is beginning to cut back on the tax credits, threatening to disturb emerging and long-standing studios in Quebec. Not only are large companies shaken by the rise of operational costs, they're hesitant to make major investments. The Minister of Finance has been understanding in this regard, pledging to compensate Ubisoft Montreal as well as Warner Bros. Games for the reduction of tax credits due to a prior agreement. Other developers aren't so lucky: Montreal's second largest studio, Eidos Montreal, must completely revisit its financial forecast.

The tax credit cuts are worrisome, to be sure, but some argue that they are no longer necessary in the current economic climate. Guillaume Provost, head of indie studio Compulsion Games, points out that "tax credits were important 15 years ago to attract the industry to Montreal." As the game industry evolves at a dizzying speed, it's no wonder economic circumstances shift as well. Thankfully, Montreal has another redeeming quality that should keep developers from packing up: a palpable multiculturalism makes for an unrivaled breadth of creative diversity. Stéphane D'Astous, former general manager at Eidos, appreciates Montreal because it has the privilege of not making Europeans feel like strangers while simultaneously conforming to the "fast-paced business style of North America." This combination makes the city especially appealing to foreign developers, D'Astous explains.

With so many passionate developers and players, it's no wonder Montreal has a few gaming celebrations of its own. Montreal Joue, which comprises over 300 activities spanning over two weeks, is one of the most well-known. Around spring break, select game studios hold open houses and others invite interested students or developers-to-be for information sessions. Child-friendly live-action role-playing (LARPing) activities are planned all over the city, where players can fight it with styrofoam weapons while pretending to be famous characters. Many Montrealers also dress up to attend ComicCon, an annual convention where video games, comic books, and other pop culture products take centre stage.

All in all, Montreal is a first-rate place to be to make games. Capable students come out of school excited to join large or small development teams, studios of all sizes can get government funding, and the city is a great fit for new Canadian residents. Plus, being based in Montreal ensures developers that they are in great proximity to everything game-related. Factor in the ripple effect of having more and more studios put down roots in Montreal, and it's hard to ask for a better milieu to bask in the greatness of video games.


Nice, very informative article! It covers a lot of information without being overwhelming. I'll definitely keep it around for reference.

I've always found it great that such a reputable game developer is based in Montreal. I also like the way you made Stéphane D'Astous's mugshot only take up half the page; my only suggestion is to add captions to the image, as well as to the other two images.

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