Friday, 16 December 2016

Assassin's Creed goes to the Symphony

Last week I was in Montreal visiting old haunts including among them the Salon de Musique at Place des Arts.  This is the concert hall where I first experienced symphonic music and I fondly recall throwing red roses on stage decades ago– in the company of men wearing white tuxedos. 

My most recent experience was entirely different but equally heady: l'Odyssée 2016, Musicale du Jeu Vidéo.  I had expected that the event might be similar to ones mounted by Video Games Live and I was wrong.  There was no Internet celebrities, costumed performers or musical stunts with blindfolds.  This was music pure and simple performed by the Montreal Orchestra Company.  Lush, big sounds worthy of the epic, heroic music produced by a radiant orchestra who clearly enjoyed every moment on stage.  The delicious hook was that the vast majority of the music had been composed in Montreal– all of it for the international video game market.

"How had Montreal become a Mecca for the video game industry?" I wondered.  There are currently approximately 30 game developers, with Ubisoft alone employing 2,700 workers.  Curious, I did a little digging.
Guilde Des Développeurs De Jeux Vidéo Indépendants Du Québec

When the global economy unfolded it took with it many jobs from North America such as the textile industries that had been a significant presence in Montreal.  That absence meant empty vintage industrial buildings and an alarming vacancy rate in the city's housing of 25%.  Ubisoft originally had wanted to set up an office in New Brunswick but eventually was sold on Montreal as a city with a reputation for being cosmopolitan, creative and - most importantly- generous with incentives.  Quebec lobbyist Sylvain Vaugeois went to the provincial government 20 years ago because he knew that it was interested in job creation in the high tech fields.  He proposed that the government offer $2,500 per job but the P.Q. declined.  Undaunted, he went to France to approach Ubisoft and sell them on Montreal as their North American office.  They were keen but wanted the incentives Vaugeois described.

Eventually, it was leaked to the press, which in turn basically shamed the P.Q. for potentially missing the opportunity.  Cap in hand, the provincial government went to their federal counterparts and a deal was hatched.  The feds kicked in $1,000 per job if the P.Q. contributed $1,500 and the rest is history.  After Ubisoft opened up in the Peck Building, the Mile End district was revitalized and other video game companies followed turning Montreal into the hub it is today.
I will admit that the crafting of an ethical business deal intrigues me.  Identifying opportunities, finding partners, carving out the benefits and hammering down the details is, in my opinion, a creative act.

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