Tom Clancy’s Splinter
is making a comeback. After years of dormancy, Ubisoft Toronto (the studio
responsible for the franchise’s most recent entry, Splinter Cell Blacklist) is
hoping to revitalize the franchise and has begun work on a
A lot has changed for the studio since it launched Splinter Cell Blacklist in
2013. In the last few years, the studio put out Starlink: Battle for
Atlas, Watch Dogs:
Legion, and most
recently Far Cry 6. Shipping
two AAA games during a pandemic is no small feat, and to understand more about
what the studio learned during this time, where it’s going with Splinter Cell on
the horizon, and how the studio is reinforcing its commitment to the well-being
of their employees, we spoke with Managing Director Istvan Tajnay.
Ubisoft Toronto got started with Splinter Cell Blacklist in 2013. Where was
the studio then and how has it evolved since?
Istvan Tajnay: Blacklist was the catalyst for building the studio. It
started with about 20 people that had moved from Ubisoft Montreal, and we
basically recruited the entire team over the course of that game’s development.
Of course, the biggest change since that time is the studio shifted from being
fully focused on one project with one team, to multiple teams working on
multiple projects in parallel.
So up until 2013, Ubisoft Toronto was a one-project studio. Everybody was fully
focused on Splinter Cell Blacklist, from the development team to the HR and
recruitment teams. Since then, we’ve had to learn how to collaborate in a more
transversal fashion across different projects and support each other through
that effort. It’s been a big evolution for us. Blacklist laid a super strong
foundation for collaboration, and the next evolution was obviously to do that on
Splinter Cell has been dormant since Blacklist. What does it mean for the
studio, as the last people who touched it, to be able to bring it back?
IT: I mean, very clearly for me, it's excitement, pride, and responsibility.
Excitement, because it feels like a Splinter Cell game is among the most-wanted
comebacks in the games industry. Pride, because Splinter Cell is fully part of
the studio's DNA, and the studio’s roots. And responsibility, because we know
how high the expectations of the fans are for us to modernize the brand while
making absolutely sure we don't lose any of its essence; we want to make sure
that Splinter Cell fans really love it.
Where were you when the first Splinter Cell came out? What was your reaction
to it? Do you have any personal memories from back then?
IT: Well, I wasn't working in the game industry at that time. I joined it
two years later. But I remember having played the first Metal Gear very
intensely, and I remember where I was when I first saw Splinter Cell. I was at
my local Fnac in Brussels – that’s where a lot of people in French-speaking
Europe bought their videogames – and I saw Splinter Cell running on a huge
screen. I just remember being blown away by the visuals. There was something
there that was far ahead of anything else being done at the time. Of course, I
remember playing it later when I got an Xbox. It was the first title on Xbox I
As much as I enjoyed the stealth genre with other titles, I remember being
impressed with how unique the Splinter Cell experience was. How uncompromising
the focus on stealth was, and how it redefined what stealth meant in a
videogame. I also remember how every single element of the game – graphically,
from an audio perspective, every single piece of design – was really conceived
to focus your intention towards stealth and espionage.
In less than a year, Ubisoft Toronto put out Watch Dogs: Legion and Far Cry 6.
What have you learned from those two games? And from less-recent games, like
IT: First and foremost, what we've learned is what it takes to ship games of
this scope at a high level of quality. We've also learned it's incredibly
challenging to produce two games, two AAA games of that scope, almost at the
same time. The keys to doing this are collaboration, resilience, and trust --
even more so in the context of COVID -- in which most of us were working from
home. With Starlink, we learned that we're capable of producing something
completely new and unexpected. That we are capable of innovating and delivering
within game genres that weren't previously part of our studio’s wheelhouse.
When players hear that Ubisoft Toronto is making a game, what do you want them
IT: I want players to be taken on a transformative journey. I want them to
experience a gripping game filled with purpose, immersion, and challenge. I want
them to play because what they're doing in the game feels really meaningful to
them. I want them to keep playing because they're so immersed in the game world
that they feel a strong sense of belonging to it, and I want them to feel like
they're growing as players because the experience is ultimately challenging.
You were appointed managing director in February 2021. What has your journey been like? How did you get to that point in your career?
IT: I've always been very interested in the art of storytelling, specifically within literature and animation. From there, it’s what got me into games in the first place. I was hooked on the medium of videogames as a young kid in 1984, when my best friend’s dad brought the Famicom back from Japan two years before the NES launched in Europe. That pretty much hooked me.
When I was thinking about how I could contribute to making games, I was interested in the craft of turning a concept, an idea, into a compelling product. That's the main reason I became a producer: I felt uniting talented, inspiring people around a common focus is where I could add the most value. So I took that journey from QA to producer, with all the steps in between. I continued that journey all the way to Toronto, which I see as a new opportunity with a super interesting future, in a new city, working with a very passionate group of people.
Having worked at Ubisoft for almost nine years now, I've had the opportunity to visit the studio prior to taking the role. I have family in Toronto, so obviously I knew how incredibly diverse and international this city is, and that's also reflected in our studio. Before I joined Ubisoft Toronto, I also had the chance to work on Far Cry 6 while I was leading Ubisoft Berlin. Now that I am here, I’m really excited to build the next chapter of Ubisoft Toronto and build on the solid foundations that have been laid.
You took on the role during an interesting time, at the height of a pandemic.
What are you most proud of for the studio during your time as managing
IT: I'm extremely proud of the Watch Dogs: Legion team for delivering
top-notch post-launch content with the Bloodline DLC and with the Legion of the
Dead online zombie mode, all while in the context of a pandemic. I'm also very
proud of the energy, drive, and resilience that the Far Cry 6 team has shown to
ship and continue to support an extremely well-executed, true-to-the-brand Far
Cry experience in that same context.
What is it like taking a leadership role at a time when most of the studio is
working from home?
IT: I don't think it fundamentally changes anything because we're all in the
same boat. We're all in the same situation. What’s key is being able to create
rapport and relationships of trust with people that I haven’t worked with
before, and that I haven’t physically met before. I feel like we've gotten
really efficient with remote tools in terms of communication, collaboration, and
exchange, and even creating
where we continue to build belonging and a feeling of togetherness – but when it
comes to building very strong relationships of trust with direct collaborators,
I do feel that can be a challenge given the remote work during the pandemic.
I put a lot of focus on communication and on exchanging with our team regularly
to keep everyone updated on our studio’s progress and to understand the goals
and needs of our team members. Obviously, video calls help, but that is a
challenge I feel were we're all facing and it’s definitely part of the challenge
of leading our studio, mostly remotely.
Now that the studio’s shipped Far Cry 6 and announced Splinter Cell, what are your mid- and long-term goals?
IT: In the mid-term, when it comes to Far Cry 6, we want to support the game for its entire lifetime to the best of our abilities and release some very compelling post-launch content. We've got a great lineup for
When it comes to future projects, I want the studio to revive the Splinter Cell brand. To really satisfy its core audience that is very hungry for a new Splinter Cell and also broaden the horizon of the series to new players.
I see a bright future for the Splinter Cell. Beyond that, I also see us continuing to build upon our expertise in creating urban open-world, action-adventure games to deliver something new and groundbreaking in that particular genre.
How do you see the studio growing in the next three to five years?
IT: I like to think of it less in terms of just size and more in terms of
growth goals. Our goal is really to continue growing our expertise, and be very
focused and very clear on where we want to go.
In terms of games, we want to continue pushing ourselves creatively with the
gameplay we create and with the way we tell stories. I really like the metaphor
of the hero’s journey. I think it's one that applies very well to game-making as
well, because it's all to do with meaning for the player. It's all about
relating and belonging to a game world that the player feels strongly about. And
it's also all about growth, improvement, and challenge.
I want us to continue to evolve and ensure that our culture and values reflect
the studio we want to be. We recently unveiled a new set of core
values – trust, integrity,
excellence and care – to help guide where we’re headed. I want everyone at the
studio to recognize some part of themselves in these four values and for us,
collectively, to have something to aspire to.
I also want us to be a place where employees can grow and really consider their
careers for the long-term future. And when it comes to our impact on our
environment or partnerships, it's very important to me that the studio has a
positive effect on our local community and on our city. So we will continue to
work with local partners to grow the gaming ecosystem in Ontario, because there
is still a lot of potential for further growth there.
Speaking of which, Toronto is an incredibly diverse city, as you’ve said.
What's the studio doing to ensure that that diversity is reflected inside of its
walls as well?
IT: You're absolutely right. I've really seen this since I've started coming
to Toronto in the late ‘80s. What we're focusing on is for this diversity to be
reflected in our workforce. This means we have to continue growing the diversity
of our talent pool, and of local talent pools, by working directly with
education partners in Toronto to support their curriculums through organizations
to engage students in game development at a young age, and to make sure we reach
underrepresented groups through programs like Damage
Labs and Hack the
We also need to rethink our recruitment process and are in the process of
adapting our recruitment philosophy to ensure we're reaching more diverse
candidates that bring their own unique skill sets and approaches. We recently
welcomed Erin Roach
as Director of Diversity & Inclusion for the Canadian studios, and we
continuously work with our growing D&I team to ensure we remain attractive as an
employer to diverse talents.
Finally, we need to ensure that everyone’s voices are heard. We need to foster a
context in which we listen to each other, where we're open to everyone's
perspectives and encourage young talents to continuously grow their skills and
feel comfortable taking on more responsibility with the right guidance.
Canada at large has become such a huge hub for videogame development. How's
Ubisoft adapting to that competition and making sure that Ubisoft Toronto is
still a desirable place for talented developers to work when the job market is
bigger than it's ever been?
IT: Well, we're obviously looking at the competition to make sure that we
are staying as attractive as we can. We’re continuing to transform our
workplace culture and
to ensure we are a place where employees can grow and consider their careers
over the long term. That includes providing more options and flexibility as an
organization in how they manage their work lives.
What this means, concretely, is that we're changing our approach to time off.
When an employee starts with us, they will receive six weeks of time off
starting from day one. We’ve also improved our parental leave program, created a
policy that ensures our employees can disconnect when the workday is over, and
added more flexibility to the ways we work with opportunities for part-time
work, and the possibility to work fully remote.
We've seen over the last two years that the hybrid model (working from the
office and from at home) has allowed us to better balance our work and private
lives. Ultimately, we want to allow people to contribute equally or more with an
improved quality of life, so the new hybrid working policy at the Canadian
studios will allow for the best of both worlds. Up to 100% work-from-home will
be possible, provided team imperatives and production needs are considered.
Lastly, what would you say to someone who is considering applying to Ubisoft
IT: We are in a unique position as a studio, having recently shipped two
major games that we’ve been working on for the last several years – Watch Dogs:
Legion and Far Cry 6. Now, as we move forward, this has given us the opportunity
to pause, albeit briefly, and take stock of what we want to build. From the
games we want to be known for, the culture and values of our team to the way we
impact the community around us.
Anyone that’s considering joining our team has the power to shape what this
future looks like, and if that's something that you want to do with us – we'd
love to have you.
Ubisoft Toronto is hiring! Candidates looking to work on the Splinter Cell
remake, or any of the studio’s upcoming projects can apply