— 27 November 2019 | Corporate
Andrée Cossette was just appointed Managing Director of Ubisoft Québec, the studio behind Assassin’s Creed Odyssey and Gods & Monsters. After over 20 years at Ubisoft, mainly in organizational development and communications roles, she takes the reins of the studio she founded back in 2005 with Nicolas Rioux, now VP Technology for the Ubisoft Canadian Studios.
We sat down with her to discuss the present and the future Ubisoft Québec, as well as her vision for the studio.
Andrée Cossette: Thank you very much! Where to begin? In 1998, I completed a Bachelor’s degree with a major in PR and a minor in management & marketing at Université Laval. The same year, after a brief stint in a communication agency, I joined the Ubisoft Montréal team as an Internal Communications Specialist. I quickly transitioned to Human Resources, first as HR Advisor, and then as a HR Business Partner for the Technology Department. It was then that I met Nicolas Rioux, who was the Director for that department. It was the beginning of a great partnership that continues today.
AC: Exactly. In 2005, I had the privilege of being given the mandate to start a new Ubisoft studio in Quebec City. Initially, the deal was for a 3-month mission, since my life was in Montréal. A few weeks later, Nicolas Rioux was appointed Managing Director. He used many clever strategies, so 3 months became 6 months. Then 12 months. It’s been almost 15 years and I can’t see myself anywhere else. My life is here. I adopted Quebec City. Or it’s Quebec City that adopted me.
AC: Exactly. I saw the studio grow from 30 employees on day 1, to over 500 today. I saw our teams gain experience on smaller projects on consoles such as PSP, DS and Wii. Then, came the first collaborations with Ubisoft Montréal on the Assassin’s Creed brand, the first leadership on a AAA project with Assassin’s Creed Syndicate and finally, the international recognition with our latest creation, Assassin’s Creed Odyssey. I saw young developers, just out of school back in 2005, become superstars of our industry. Every day, I have the privilege to work with committed individuals, willing to roll up their sleeves and get the job done. People who transform every challenge in opportunity. And I am proud. Proud to see the road travelled, but also proud looking forward and see that we still have great things to accomplish together.
AC: Accepting the leadership of the studio led me to question what I want to bring to the team. Above all, the future perspective I want to give the studio. I do not have the traditional profile of a Managing Director of a video game studio. I have built my career in organizational development and communications and it is with this background that I take the leadership of the studio. For me, first and foremost, I want us to bet on people, because that’s what’s going to make a difference. My vision is simple: I want Ubisoft Québec to be recognized as one of the best video game studios in the world, not only for the exceptional quality of our games, but also for the way we do things. I want us to be the reference. To that end, I want to develop skills to be at the forefront. Develop better mobilizing leadership to better engage our teams, in a climate of respect and transparency. From me to employees, from employees to me, from each employee towards his manager and from each manager towards his team. It’s a lot to wish for, I know, but that’s the vision I truly believe in for Ubisoft Québec. Outstanding games, recognition, absolutely, but most of all, proud, accomplished and happy. Happy to create the best games in the world. Happy to continuously challenge themselves. Happy. Period.
AC: Definitely. When we think about video games, we think of technologies, machines, software and consoles. But there’s a vital ingredient that we must never forget: the people. No machine can replace human creativity. Or the magic that happens when 500 people work together towards the same goal. And the experience that all 500 people gain each time they ship a game. That experience always gives us more tools to overcome the challenges that come our way. At Ubisoft Québec, I am lucky to be surrounded by very competent people. People who care. With a team like that, we’re ready to go to war. With a team like that, no challenge is too great.
AC: Good! It’s still sounds funny to say it. Last week, I announced to the whole studio my decision as well as sharing my vision for the studio. The first time I said “I am your Managing Director,” I had an emotion, it felt weird. I guess I’ll get use to it. What’s important is that I am ready for what comes next. We have an extremely competent team. I am their #1 fan. I am always amazed by their work. They are constantly surprising me by what they manage to deliver. There’s no doubt that there’s talent at Ubisoft Québec. My job is to put that talent in the best possible conditions.
AC: The Montréal studio was on a roll, but we felt that recruitment was already difficult at the time. We wanted to get closer to the talent, instead of waiting for the talent to come at us. We felt that something special was happening in Quebec City and we decided to make the jump.
AC: Absolutely! When we arrived in 2005, we adopted the same philosophy we used when we arrived in Montréal in 1997. We were dedicated to start a video game studio, of course, but we also wanted to develop strong ties with the community that welcomed us. We wanted to be a part of our neighborhood and we wanted to be involved. Whether it’s by participating in our neighborhood’s development, by connecting with local merchants or by building strong partnerships with school. Quickly, we developed strong ties with education programs and organizations with whom we’re still involved today.
AC: It’s hard to choose only one! We’re involved in so many projects. Last year alone, 11,000 students from elementary school to university benefited from our initiative called Ubisoft Éducation. But there’s a newest project that especially inspires me, it’s called Le Code des Filles. It’s an initiative led by teenagers that aims at engaging girls to be a part of the ongoing technological transformation, by introducing them to coding. Not only is their mission inspiring, but the fact that it is led by high school and college girls is truly remarkable. Ubisoft Québec played a supporting role by propelling their grandiose ideas. As a woman working in a technological field, it inspired me.
AC: I’ll speak for myself and my experience at Ubisoft Québec. It means being surrounded and supported by men who want things to change. Men who want more diversity because that’s what feeds and enriches the creative process, by bringing different perspectives and new experiences. In the end, it can only make our games better. When I was trying to decide whether or not I was going to take the MD position, I received so much support and touching testimonials from men at the studio who encouraged me to take the position. They told me, “we need more female leaders!” Today, we’re still not enough women in the industry. As women in the video game industry, I think we all need to invest ourselves in promoting career opportunities for women and democratize the trades found there. We, women, are the best ambassadors to do so!
AC: It’s crazy when you think about it, 21 years. For the same company! Sometimes, when I say that to people, they are surprised, because these days, it’s not common to work for the same company for so long. The thing is, yes, I’ve been working at Ubisoft for the past 21 years, but to me, it doesn’t feel like I’ve been working for the same company or doing the same job the whole time. The culture and the values at Ubisoft have stayed the same since the beginning. The industry, though, is moving so fast, I feel like I have lived many phases, as if I had changed industry many times in my career. I was there when Ubisoft Montréal still felt like a start-up. I was also there when we reached a thousand employees at the studio. After that, I was back in a start-up vibe with the opening of Ubisoft Québec, then its development, its growth…And it continues. We want to surprise the industry with extraordinary products. It’s a constant build up and that’s why I never felt like I was stalling or standing still. I think that’s the key to longevity: is being challenged, constantly.
AC: I think the key is to give freedom to our teams. I repeat it: we have intelligent, creative and visionary developers. They are the ones shaping the future of our industry. Let’s put them in the best possible conditions so they can be leaders of change. Right now as we speak, our industry is evolving once again and I want Ubisoft Québec to be at the forefront of this transformation. By surprising gamers, by leading them somewhere new and by always offering high quality games that are critically acclaimed all over the world. Ubisoft’s mission is to enrich players’ lives, by creating original and memorable gaming experiences.
AC: On creativity and technology standpoints, I have no doubt that great things are being developed. The industry is constantly reinventing itself and we are at the dawn of a revolution. Of course, the game’s quality level will continue to increase, but I believe that the real change will be in our way of doing things. For the future, I wish for an industry that is more diverse, more open and with a willingness to take risks. Developers who dare to think outside the box. If we have teams that are more diverse, with people from different backgrounds, we will create games that will appeal to all types of people. There will be something for everyone. This is my biggest wish for our industry!