FULL INTERVIEW: Ubisoft dips into Philippine talent pool
Recent times has seen the growth of an increasingly vibrant gaming industry in the Philippines. Gaming conventions now act as venues where tournaments take place among teams and individual gamers for glory and prizes. So when a big-name company in the gaming world decides to set up shop locally, it’s understandable for the community to be more than a little excited.
The announcement was made in March 2016 and it created quite a buzz among gaming enthusiasts, artists and aspiring developers. Ubisoft Philippines is now officially open for business and it’s on the look-out for some promising talents. INQUIRER.net was able to sit down with three of its representatives to tell us more about the studio’s current status and its plans for the future.
Below is the full transcript of the interview:
Alfred Bayle, INQUIRER.net content strategist: It was around March of this year that Ubisoft announced it will be putting up a studio here in the Philippines. The target for the initial staff was 50. How is the hiring going so far?
Suzy Belizario, Ubisoft Philippines recruiter: So for our first year, yes. We are hiring around fifty until first quarter of next year. So, we started our operation second half of this year, around July. Currently we are a mix of various artists already and some people from support—those who are actually supporting the studio, the creation of the studio. So yeah, we aim to reach that count of fifty for next year. Early next year.
Alfred: I read in a previous interview, I think it was IGN, that some of the staff from Singapore will be supporting…
John Paul (JP) Eli Tan, lead artist, Ubisoft Singapore: Yes, I’m one of them.
Alex Lim, talent acquisition of Ubisoft Singapore: Yes! He’s one of them. Homegrown man!
Alfred: How long were you in the Singapore studio?
JP: I’ve been with the Singapore studio for six years—almost seven years. And I’ve already done some trips here, back and forth. Done some training for the team.
Alfred: So how many people from Singapore got shipped here?
JP: I’m one of the first few. Definitely there will be more depending on the needs and depending on the expertise that we have. We will be flying over a few more experts.
Alfred: Can you give me a hard number? How many people from Singapore?
JP: No numbers yet because there’s a lot of factors that go into that. Let’s say the needs of the studio right now, what are the things that we need to develop, what will be the future contributions of the Philippine studio to the cross-development with Ubisoft Singapore. There’s a lot of factors that go into that.
Alfred: So right now it’s more of just getting the team together, that’s what’s been happening right now?
Alex: No, it’s more about getting the right people. The quality. JP is actually one of them that’s actually coming back. We’re actually starting to form a lot more of, you know, school collaborations. Local recruitment. Attracting Filipinos from abroad to actually come back home. And we’re actually doing a lot from the Singapore Studio to actually start to not just training but imparting to them the knowledge, the skill sets that are actually required for the production of triple-A games. A lot of things has been going on. We’re super-busy actually (laughs).
Alfred: (laughs) I would imagine!
Alfred: You’re currently training the new people, and well; are they involved in any of Ubisoft’s projects right now as like a training module for them?
JP: Well, we will be initially doing cross-development with the Singapore studio and all of this training will fall into that. And as for the expertise, we have expertise in art, level design, and we’ve already started the training process to work closely with the Singapore studio.
Alfred: So no projects for them yet.
JP: No, not yet. But very soon. You’ll find out when it’s announced.
Alfred: Alex, you mentioned partnership with schools. So currently you are partnered with De La Salle.
Alex: Yes, we are.
Alfred: And why De La Salle, by the way?
Suzy: We partnered with De La Salle University because here in Ubisoft every time we open a studio, we do want to partner with the best local university.
Alfred: So you saw, think that De La Salle is the best.
Suzy: One of the best.
Suzy: Actually in Singapore we have a partnership with a local university.
Alex: Yeah, our partnership with DigiPen. They actually have a very good history in terms of educating and grooming some of the best young talents for the video game industry. So they actually have a campus in Singapore. Fortunately, we actually started our operation in 2008. And we have a really good relationship since the last few years. A lot of cross campus-studio collaborations. Sharing curriculum, if there are some improvements to be done. Exposure for the students, what is it like in video games production. Not restricted to just in general but go into deep art, concept art, lightings, VFX, full production. So there’s a lot of collaboration. We want to do the same thing here in the Philippines. And De La Salle University is our partner to work with.
Suzy: The course is Bachelor in Computer Science Major in Game Development. By next year September, it will be the start. That school year will be the start.
Alfred: Kids are going to be excited. Really excited.
Alex: Excited and fortunate. Before there was no proper structure for game development. We knew how to play games but we never really knew how games were really made. So now we do have one program going on.
Alfred: So eventually, the Philippine studio will be taking part in developing triple-A titles. How long do you project before that happens?
JP: There’s a lot of factors that come into that, into the development of our team, the type of expertise that we want to develop in the studio, and also the cross-studio collaboration we will have with Ubisoft Singapore. That was the case with Ubisoft Singapore before where they started out with, say, a few artists, a team of twenty. They did some arcade games at first, but then they actually moved on to work with the Assassin’s Creed franchise.
Alfred: Yes! I read that they were a big part of the Assassin’s Creed franchise.
JP: One of the first mandates, the team there needed to develop ten maps for the game and fortunately all of them was shipped within the game. After that we continued that cross-studio collaboration with Montreal.
Alfred: How long did that take for Singapore to get to that level?
Alex: AC2 (Assassin’s Creed 2)
JP: AC2… It was a few years.
Alex: Maybe around two to three years. It’s not going to be easy. Which is why we’re making sure that the foundation is actually very strong. The crop of the members that we actually hired in the studio right now needs to be exposed to the development environment. And we want to make sure that they are equipped with the right, strong knowledge. And their job is actually to train and groom the next group of hires. Just like passing on the knowledge generation after generation.
JP: And I think Ubisoft Philippines is fortunate in that case because Ubisoft Singapore has already accumulated the experience necessary and they’ve already passed it down to this younger brother of course. In our case we’ve already started transferring the knowledge. I’m one of those examples where I’ve come in and started helping out and grooming the team.
Alfred: With regards to the current talent pool, how are they coming along? Are they good? Do you have really good prospects right now?
JP: Yes definitely. They’re very talented. They’re very energetic. The energy is very positive. That’s our team culture actually, everything is fun. We love to work and then have fun. Just be loose. And I think that helps. When you’re relaxed, it helps actually bring out your artistic side.
Alfred: Are they already experienced? People who’ve done work in other companies? Or do you also have fresh graduates?
Suzy: Our openings for artists, we are open to artists of all levels. So they may be a fresh graduate or maybe they’re already experienced, we are very much open to them.
Alex: Moving forward, we hope to actually receive a few interns in the studio, right?
Alfred: Ubisoft is the first triple-A game company to be here in the Philippines, to have an actual presence to recognize the gaming culture here. Do you see any of the other companies moving in?
Alex: We don’t know about that. At least for us we represent the Ubisoft company. We are here. For the other companies I think it’s really up to them.
Alfred: But do you think Ubisoft’s presence here would be a trigger for the other companies to take notice?
Alex: I think what’s very important is, why we decided to actually choose the Philippines is definitely (because of) the talent. Talent would actually be the biggest assessment. Without the talent we wouldn’t actually be able to ship games of this quality. And we recognize this talent. We’ve actually done our homework with that. We’ve done our research. We’ve actually looked into the talent market in the Philippines. All of this has actually been done. It takes all of this to set up the business here. So we are very confident that this is a long-term strategy and not as a short-term plan.
Alfred: That’s good to hear. Well, here’s a little juicy question.
Alex: Juicy question? (laughs)
Alfred: Beyond Good and Evil. You’re familiar with the title of course. Rumors of Beyond Good and Evil 2 has been around for like ages and recently has been revived—the sequel is actually getting developed. So there’s a new studio in town, and then there’s the rumor that the game is being developed—is the Philippines going to take part in this particular game?
Alex: When it’s announced you’ll probably get all your information. (laughs)
Alfred: (laughs) Well, it was worth a try.
Alex: Good try! Thank you.
Alfred: Apart from De La Salle, are you also planning on expanding or offering the same courses to other schools?
Alex: Well, right now, working with De La Salle, that’s actually the focus. Moving forward, we don’t know. The curriculum that is actually built for this collaboration, we strongly believe it will work. It’s going to be the right curriculum, with the right modules for people who actually want to take a step into the games environment. This is our first mission.
Alfred: You’re currently taking part in this gaming convention (Electronic Sports and Gaming Summit 2016), do you have any other plans of promoting game development in the Philippines?
Alex: In terms of events for Philippines I think this one actually took us a lot of effort to put things together here. So this is something that we definitely want to see a big success. We’re confident with the show, the community, with developers coming here. It’s a sign, right? It’s a sign to say that this is a huge market here in the Philippines. Moving forward itself, what’s going to be planned in the next step is that we want to actually evaluate on how we are working on the success of each event. But definitely Ubisoft will be playing a big part to actually be the leader in having presence in the exhibitions and events.
Alfred: So eventually we can expect to see Ubisoft have a big presence in local events similar to the international ones?
Alex: I think the three biggest events globally (are) E3, GDC, GamesCon. Definitely a big presence. That’s without fail, for sure. We actually want to build that big presence, be it for brand, be it for recruitment, you know. For marketing, any part where we actually have a studio present.
Alfred: It’s really looking good for the Philippine gaming market.
Alex: It is, it is! It’s very exciting for us.
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