In 1998, the same year she graduated from Université Laval with a degree in public relations, Andrée Cossette joined the Ubisoft Montréal team as an internal communications specialist. She quickly transitioned to Human Resources, first as HR advisor, and then as an HR business partner for the Technology department. It was then that she first met Nicolas Rioux, then director for the department. Little did Cossette know that the meeting was the beginning of a great partnership.
In 2005, Cossette helped Rioux – now VP of Technology for Ubisoft Canadian Studios – found Ubisoft Québec, the studio behind Assassin’s Creed Odyssey and the upcoming Gods & Monsters. After more than 20 years with Ubisoft, she recently took the reins as the studio’s managing director. We sat down with her to discuss the present and the future of Ubisoft Québec.
What went into the founding of Ubisoft Québec?
Andrée Cossette: In 2005, I had the privilege of being given the mandate to start a new Ubisoft studio in Québec City. Initially, the deal was for a three-month mission, since my life was in Montréal. A few weeks later, Nicolas Rioux was appointed managing director. Fortunately, he implemented some clever strategies, so three months became six months. Then 12 months. It’s been almost 15 years, and I can’t see myself anywhere else. My life is here. I adopted Québec City. Or it’s Québec City that adopted me.
What has it been like to see the studio grow into what it is today?
AC: I saw the studio grow from 30 employees on day one to over 500 today. I saw our teams gain experience on smaller projects on consoles and handhelds like the PSP, Nintendo DS, and Nintendo Wii. Then came the first collaborations with Ubisoft Montréal on the Assassin’s Creed Brotherhood, taking the lead on a AAA project with Assassin’s Creed Syndicate, and finally, the international recognition with our latest game, 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 who are willing to roll up their sleeves and get the job done. People who transform every challenge into an opportunity. I am proud to see the road travelled, but also proud to look forward and seeing that we still have great things to accomplish together.
Speaking of the future, what’s the next step for Ubisoft Québec?
AC: Accepting the leadership of the studio led me to question what I want to bring to the team. Above all, it’s the future perspective I want to give the studio. 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 videogame 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 their 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, but most of all, proud, accomplished, and happy. Happy to create the best games in the world. Happy to continuously challenge themselves. Happy, period.
Why is it so important to prioritize people in the videogame industry?
AC: When we think about videogames, 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 toward the same goal. Or 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, no challenge is too great.
How does it feel to become managing director at the studio you help found?
AC: Good! It’s still sounds funny to say it. Last week, I announced my decision to the whole studio, and shared my vision for the studio. It was an emotional moment for me, but I’ll get used to it. What’s important is that I am ready for what comes next. We have an extremely competent team. I am their biggest fan. 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.
What motivated your decision to come to Québec City to start a studio in 2005?
AC: The Montréal studio was on a roll, but we felt that recruitment was difficult. 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 Québec City, and we decided to make the jump.
When we arrived in 2005, we adopted the same philosophy we used when we arrived in Montréal in 1997: We were dedicated to starting a videogame 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 schools in the area. We developed strong ties with education programs and organizations with whom we’re still involved today.
When you think about Ubisoft Québec’s community connections, which initiative are you the most proud of?
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 were part of our Ubisoft Éducation initiative, which educates and encourages students to prepare for the next generation of tech jobs. But there’s a new project that especially inspires me, 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 helping propel their ideas. As a woman working in a technological field, it inspired me.
What does it mean to be a woman in the videogame industry in 2019?
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 managing director position, I received so much support and touching testimonials from men at the studio who encouraged me to take the position. Today, there still are not enough women in the industry. As women in the videogame industry, I think we all need to promote career opportunities for women and democratize the field.
You’ve been at Ubisoft for the past 21 years. What’s the secret to such longevity?
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 that I feel like I have lived many phases, as if I’ve changed industries many times in my career.
I was there when Ubisoft Montréal still felt like a startup. I was also there when we reached a thousand employees at the studio. After that, I was back in a startup 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: being challenged, constantly.
How does a studio stay up to date in the ever-evolving videogame industry?
AC: I think the key is to give our teams freedom. 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 and that’s the mission of Ubisoft Québec.
How do you hope the videogame industry evolves in the future?
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 quality level of games 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.
For more interviews like this, be sure to visit our Women of Ubisoft hub.