Nathalie Bouchard: 1st year as MD of Ubisoft Québec
In January 2021, Nathalie Bouchard took over as Managing Director of Ubisoft Quebec. She entered a whole new universe in the middle of a pandemic. To celebrate this first anniversary, we had some questions for her to learn more about the evolution of the last few months, but also to know what she has in mind for the future of the Québec City studio.
WHEN YOU LOOK BACK AT YOUR LAST YEAR AT UBISOFT QUÉBEC, ARE YOU HAPPY WITH HOW IT WENT?
I have to say that it went great. Despite the context and the distance, I had the opportunity to really connect with the people. I made it a priority to understand the culture and I feel like I am now 100% integrated, that I really understand the issues, the challenges, and the opportunities.
Well, it’s true that I didn’t believe that 1 year later, I would STILL be behind my screen at home. Like many people, I have been working on my resilience. I’m also not hiding the fact that I’m looking forward to getting back to a live studio where we can have more spontaneous exchanges and more human connections.
YOU WANTED TO COME BACK AND LIVE IN THE BEAUTIFUL CITY OF QUÉBEC? DID YOU MANAGE TO DO IT?
Yes, it’s been done since the summer of 2021. I do half of my time in Québec City and the other half in telecommuting in the Laurentians. I found a great apartment that I love in the St-Roch district, very close to the studio. I took the opportunity to rediscover the city and the strength of local entrepreneurship in Quebec City.
There are dozens of independent businesses to shop at. One of my favourite places is definitely St. Joseph Street and the Pantoute Bookstore: a must-stop every time I’m in town.
1 YEAR LATER, WORKING FROM HOME IS MORE RELEVANT THAN EVER. TELL US ABOUT HOW YOU SEE THIS TRANSITION WHEN THE PANDEMIC IS FINALLY BEHIND US?
Right now, I think what’s weighing on us is the lack of choice. We’re all at home, waiting for things to get a little more normal. Personally, I can’t wait to live and see the kind of revolution in the workplace that is currently underway.
This crisis has given us the opportunity to question ourselves. Because of COVID, we’ve had to step back from the way we organize work, we’ve been able to re-examine paradigms and question our ways of making video games. I try to focus on the positive and I’m really excited to see what comes next. From now on, we’re not going backwards: we’re moving forward! Our challenge will be to make the best of it all.
WHAT IMPACT WILL THE PANDEMIC HAVE ON THE WAY THINGS ARE DONE IN THE STUDIO?
We can no longer be static, we must see how the market, the industry and our world evolve. We must keep an Agile mindset. We were already there for our games, but now it’s much broader. It’s touching all the spheres of our work. We’re starting to see the future and that’s what drives me.
How are we going to organize ourselves? What resources do we give ourselves? These questions are fascinating and clearly, the hybrid model will be present. We’re going to have to be open, listen to what people want, and allow ourselves to experiment to find the best arrangements and tools for our teams.
Personally, I think the studio will always be a place to meet and socialize. That’s why we are currently working with Coarchitecture to rethink the use of our spaces. How can we improve our offer? How can we rethink the collaboration at the studio? Can we go elsewhere with our facilities? What does that mean in the long run? Do we have too much space with UbiNord and UbiSud? We are asking ourselves many questions and we are not closing any doors. One thing is for sure, we are not in a “cutting” mode, not at all. I am really excited to see where this reflection will lead us. I’m especially looking forward to getting out of the theoretical phase and into the practical.
THE LAST FEW MONTHS HAVE ALLOWED YOU TO LEARN MORE ABOUT THE VIDEO GAME INDUSTRY. WHAT ARE THE THINGS YOU’VE LEARNED?
I’ve been diving even deeper into the world of video games. I started playing Assassin’s Creed, but I would say I still need coaching.
My first year was mostly made up of many meetings where I was able to ask every possible and unimaginable question to fully grasp this universe. The industry is so fascinating, always in motion, always innovating and pushing the limits of technology. I really had the chance to discover a living industry, in constant transformation. It’s a good thing, I’m passionate about transformations and I find it exciting to be part of these great movements.
THIS TIME LAST YEAR, WE WERE TALKING ABOUT YOUR VISION FOR THE STUDIO AND YOU SAID YOU WANTED TO “PUT PEOPLE BACK AT THE CENTER OF THE ORGANIZATION”. WHERE ARE YOU TODAY IN RELATION TO THIS GOAL YOU SET AT THE BEGINNING?
I sincerely think that today, it’s not just an objective, it’s something that we live in the studio, it’s a mission that we carry. We all want to be a reference in the group, in our ecosystem and I feel that it’s our case. When I look at our evolution, we have been established in Québec City for 17 years now, we are a lead studio that has proven itself and continues to challenge itself. The studio is made up of people who want to triumph, deliver the best possible game experiences, and make a difference in their industry.
Putting people at the center is exactly that. It means finding meaning in the work we do every day. In the past year, we’ve been working on our leadership, exploring important themes like work-family balance, the right to disconnect, how we create together, how we help our world evolve and grow with us. The “NEW life at Ubi” plan is one of the best steps in this direction, whether it is our 6 weeks of universal vacation for all, the possibility of doing part-time work, the improvement of parental leave, etc.
And this is only the beginning, we still have work to do. We will continue to put humans at the center of our reflections and our actions. If our teams feel good and are healthy, the whole studio will benefit.
LAST DECEMBER 18TH, YOU EXPERIENCED YOUR FIRST LAUNCH AT UBISOFT QUÉBEC WITH THE CROSS-OVER STORIES OF ASSASSIN’S CREED ODYSSEY AND VALHALLA. WHAT CAN YOU TELL US ABOUT THIS PROJECT AND YOUR EXPERIENCE?
From a business standpoint, our first goal was to rekindle interest in the Assassin’s Creed brand. Which we succeeded in doing. This project also contributed to the brand having its best Christmas ever without a new game release. So that’s great news.
From a human perspective, I’m super proud of this project, because it’s been an opportunity for many people to take on new leadership roles. It allowed our people to grow, to test new ways of doing things, and it was a success all around. They did it on schedule, taking vacations and taking advantage of our lighter summer schedule. This is an aspect that we watched very closely because there was no way we were falling into crunch time issues. Today, when we look back on this project, we see people who are proud to have delivered a quality result in a healthy context.
A LOT HAS HAPPENED SINCE OUR LAST INTERVIEW, CAN YOU SHARE WITH US ONE OR MORE ACHIEVEMENTS THAT MAKE YOU PROUD?
There are many things that have made me very proud in the past year. Obviously, the “NEW Life at Ubi” plan is one of our great accomplishments. What motivates me most about these new measures is that they send the message that we trust our employees. That we understand and value the balance between professional and personal life by giving ourselves the means to achieve our ambitions. It’s not a magic formula.
Now, the next step is to revisit how we can develop our world, facilitate, and support the individual evolution of each person. I am currently a member of a pilot project to create a Leadership Academy within the group. This initiative aims to create a clear path for internal career development. Ultimately, we want Ubisoft Québec to be known not only as a creative hub but also as a human development hub. This is an aspect that is too often overlooked, and we need to do something about it.
Finally, I also want to give a little nod to the colleagues who have sent me feedback throughout the year, saying that they see the change in culture taking place and that they want to continue their evolution with us. I was very touched and motivated by this.
WHAT ARE YOUR AMBITIONS FOR THE STUDIO IN THE COMING YEAR?
In the last few months, we have selected 3 key areas that we want to develop and integrate into our way of working: the evolution of our Agile mentality, conscious leadership for all employees and improving our employee experience as much as possible.
I am deeply convinced that in such a competitive market, we must go even further to be the place where everyone wants to work. If we don’t step up, the industry will move on without us and we will miss the boat. That’s not what we want. There is too much talent and passion at Ubisoft Québec. We are in a good moment right now at the studio, our production schedule allows us to evolve our practices within our projects and to make changes that will be beneficial for the future. 2022 will be a beautiful and motivating year, full of reflection and questioning.