It's not easy to win one of our Best Places To Work awards.
There are two hefty surveys to fill in - one for the employer and another for its employees. Over 2,000 surveys were completed in judging our inaugural Canada awards, with more than 30 companies taking part.
Therefore, we know with confidence that the four winners we revealed today - Beenox, Behaviour Interactive, Ludia and Ubisoft - are all very deserving of this prize.
In an industry where issues such as crunch, stability and culture are coming under increased scrutiny, these awards are designed to highlight the businesses that do it well. We want to throw light not just on the bad working practices that exist in games, but the good ones, too.
The 28 companies that didn't win a badge are not necessarily bad places to work. Far from it, most of them received excellent scores - they just weren't quite high enough to win (in fact, we didn't receive one 'bad' score from any of the participants). Over the coming days, these companies will receive their average employee scores, so that they can identify any areas of improvement. That's what is at the heart of the Best Places To Work Awards - they're designed to make the global games industry a better place to work.
And what about the hundreds of businesses that didn't take part? Well hopefully the winners for 2018 will help inspire some change. Below, we have interviewed each of our winners to find out the secrets behind how they achieve a maintain a happy workforce. This is what they said:
The Activision-owned developer offers a wealth of benefits and processes designed specifically to boost the happiness and professional growth of its staff.
The company boasts first class training and coaching, and the majority of its leadership roles are filled internally.
"That guarantees that the persons responsible for taking decisions on behalf of the team know how their decisions will impact the day-to-day job of everyone and what type of concerns may arise from a production standpoint," explains creative director and co-studio head Thomas Wilson.
"We also foster leadership development through our Beenox University program, which allows employees to take leadership classes."
Then there are the benefits, such as affordable group insurance, employer-sponsored retirement plans, paid overtime, on-site gym and flexible working hours.
Those, combined with the fact Beenox works on some of the biggest AAA IP in the world (including Call of Duty and Skylanders) has made the firm a popular place.
"We also feel what sets us apart is the camaraderie that we cultivate through our numerous social activities," continues HR manager Maxime Turcotte. "The Christmas Party, the end-of-project celebrations, the movie nights out, the annual BBQ, the Friday mixers, the Extra-Life fundraiser, the boxing club, and the list goes on. In addition to these employer-sponsored events, we benefit from a prolific social club that makes sure no special occasion goes unnoticed. All these activities help Beenox to create a tremendous atmosphere and to develop a tight-knit studio culture."
Beenox collaborates with various Activision studios and is often jumping from project to project, which means its teams have to juggle different styles, engines and development processes.
"To support employees, we need to continuously invest time, energy and resources in developing new skills and exploring new tools and methods," Wilson adds. "This is by far our greatest challenge and, interestingly, our biggest strength. In the long run, working on so many titles allowed our employees to gain a large spectrum of skills and to explore a vast array of methods and tools that they would not have been able to acquire in a traditional AAA environment.
"One other perk of having to work with many partners is the opportunity to travel. Many of our employees are traveling to other studios."
Beenox is constantly looking to evolve. The firm is upgrading its offices by improving the common areas, meeting rooms, cafeteria and lobby. It is also planning to add a new rooftop terrace. These changes have all come about through employee surveys and meetings.
"When Beenox introduces something new, like these facility upgrades, it does not come as a surprise," Concludes president and co-studio head Sylvain Morel. "It emerges from all the ongoing conversations and transparency that have happened previously."
Working overtime is often a necessity in video games development, but Behaviour Interactive is proactive in making sure it never becomes commonplace.
"We offer a great variety of benefits to our employees but the one that we are really proud of is the quality of work-life balance we offer," explains Behaviour's CEO Rémi Racine.
"Overtime is strictly limited at Behaviour. And if they really must work overtime, we offer them compensatory vacation time in return."
The Behaviour team is best known for the likes of Dead by Daylight and Fallout Shelter, and has worked with some of the biggest publishers in video games. It also encourages its staff to work on their own person projects, too. It has a 'BeFree' policy, which means its staff have the freedom to create their own games or works (during their personal time, of course) as long as it doesn't conflict with the company's current projects.
"Behaviour is a very human company," Racine details. "We have always really cared about the well-being of our employees. We offer an amazing work environment, great benefits, a variety of quality projects, and more importantly: a very good work-life balance. At Behaviour, it is very important that our employees love their job, but also enjoy their free time with their family."
The company has expanded significantly in the last year, having added 150 names to its team. Finding talent is always tricky, especially in a saturated market like Montreal. This has forced the business to work internationally to attract talent, and it has also proactively teamed up with colleges and universities to bring in more interns.
Moving forward, Behaviour Interactive is looking at expanding its efforts in teaching its team new things.
"We are working on expanding our training program and sending more employees to conferences and video game industry events," Racine concludes. "We know for sure that if we care about our employees and if we help them to develop themselves inside the company, they will perform more; stay with us and naturally become ambassadors of our company."
The mobile game developer may not be the best known name on the list, but it has worked with some major entertainment brands including Jurassic World, How To Train Your Dragon and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.
The company scored very highly with its employees, and Kim Parkinson, director of Talent and Culture, feels that this has come from the firm's focus on that all-important work-life balance.
"I really believe that Ludia's human approach to management and game development is what makes this place special," she tells Gamesindustry.biz. "Ludians are our most precious resource and we factor them into our everyday decisions. Our philosophy is one of collaboration and that every person counts.
"We believe in going past the idea of work-life balance to ensure a healthy work-life integration. It's important for our employees to feel that they have the support and tools to do their best work and be their best selves. Our overall well-being program includes everything from a generous number of vacation weeks to virtual healthcare and training subsidies in order to help employees do just that."
This area remains a focus for Ludia going forward, and it is now making significant improvements to how it looks after the health and wellbeing of its staff.
"We are currently working on building our very own wellness center complete with gym facilities, massage therapy and a healthy snack bar," Parkinson continues. "We've got many other new and exciting initiatives in the pipeline but you'll have to stay tuned to hear more."
It's not the only changes the company is making, either, with new perks and values coming into play as the developer evolves.
"Our most recent challenge revolves around our current cultural and technological transformation," Parkinson says. "We've recently updated our company values and we're switching up perks to better cater to our employees and teams. We're growing up with our employees and that means creating a work environment that keep Ludians connected to Ludia and Ludia connected to Ludians. Although change can sometimes be difficult, it's an important, inevitable step to the growth of the company."
By far the biggest group to win the award, Ubisoft's Canadian studios are all quite unique and work on many of the biggest video games in the world - from Watch Dogs to Splinter Cell.
In fact, two of this Christmas' big retail games were developed a Ubisoft's various Canadian studios - Assassin's Creed Odyssey (Montreal and Quebec) and Starlink (Toronto).
However, it's also renown for experimentation, with entire floors and teams dedicated to experimenting and trialing new concepts. This can often result in more inventive products, such as the recently released VR game Transference.
"It's a perfect match between the excitement of working on AAA games in kind of a startup culture," says Nathalie Verge, external director of communications at Ubisoft Montreal.
"In order to deliver on the ambitious goals and promises of our brands, we nurture our talent. It is our utmost priority that our employees have the best possible tools, work environment, training and overall support to be as creative and innovative as they can be.
"We offer a variety of services and activities to help our employees maintain a great work-life balance and to progress in their careers. We pride ourselves into our family-style environment while providing an unprecedented variety of projects and initiatives within our studios.
"We take care of our people and are constantly improving and adapting our offer and our promise to our employees.
"We are a AAA powerhouse of studios that still offer a family vibe."
The various studios offer a wealth of different benefits, and have their own unique culture. However, with thousands of employees split across the country, there is no one benefit that's a clear standout favourite.
"Health benefits, family-oriented activities and programs, our wonderful sports teams, our famous celebrations and events... Our shared profits initiative has also been greatly appreciated," continues Verge.
"We offer multiple and personalized professional development opportunities to our employees. We believe in giving them opportunities to develop their technical skills as well as their leadership."
She continues: "We have a whole lot going on and our focus now is to keep on improving our existing processes to make life easier for everyone. These include easier ways to find and share information, better and more frequent feedback in teams, career development and so on."
Update: Following widespreads abuse allegations at Ubisoft, we have strengthened the Best Places To Work Awards judging to ensure we capture issues that may only have affected a minority of employees.
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