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THQ unveils Montreal super-studio plans

400-person facility to benefit from strong education environment and 37.5% tax break on labour

THQ has unveiled plans to create a new 400-person super-studio in Montreal, Canada, which will benefit - according to executive VP for core game brands Danny Bilson - from a strong education environment and a 37.5 per cent tax break on labour costs.

The studio will be formed of two separate development teams, one of which will be led by former Ubisoft man Patrice Desilets, who is heading up an original IP project.

The other team will be led by a US designer, and will either be a new title based on an existing THQ franchise, or new IP if that doesn't work out.

"There are actually two main reasons [for going to Montreal] - first of all it's a phenomenal digital development community," explained Bilson to "There are 2000-3000 game developers there that have been working in studios over the years, and they've been building out a really robust talent community there.

"Also their university system offers a lot of training in the digital arts, so the province has a world class community there and they're determined to grow it.

"And along with that comes a fantastic subsidy to make it more economically feasible for us - they're giving us thirty-seven and a half cents in every dollar of labour there, which is a huge win in the world of blockbuster games, which is what the core division of THQ is about.

"We want to deliver a great experience for our gamers in really huge, immersive worlds - and it's starting to cost upwards of $35 million and more, so to be able to get a [tax] break, it enables us to put more on the screen."

The headcount commitment has a five-year time frame and will comprise a mix of experience and fresh talent - but Bilson is confident that the publisher enjoys a stronger reputation today than in the past, and will be able to attract talent as appropriate.

"It'll be more well-known as these releases start to come out, starting in calendar Q1 when some of the games that have been green-lit since I got here and the new team start to roll out - beginning with Home Front, then Red Faction, Space Marine and ultimately Saints Row," he said. "You're going to see a quality level.

"The other thing is a series of announcements that you're hearing from us, where we really realise that great games are made by great game-makers. This is the entertainment business, it's talent-driven. It's not process-driven, it's not spreadsheet-driven, it's talent driven - just like the film business.

"When we started with our signing of Itagaki-san and his Team Ninja guys in Japan who are building a game for us, and we move on to Patrice, then we have a major announcement coming from a major piece of talent in the games industry who we're going to be building a series of games with - as well as releasing our first game with Tim Schafer, who's one of the finer talents in the industry."

He added that the publisher today has a "respect" for talent - and has built a system around it that's supportive - and that it has no plans to compromise its firm stance on only releasing a game when it's finished.

"We're not a company - and I've experienced this in the past - where 'marketing tells us what to do.' Marketing does not tell us what to make, what the features should be - that comes from artists, sort of like the best parts of the film business when it was at its finest. It was artist-driven, and that's when the greatest films came out.

"We're trying to use that system here, and it works two ways - one, I believe we're going to get the greatest, most exciting games, but it also becomes a really inviting place to work for artists. That's a huge initiative here and we're executing on that. You're seeing talent start to choose to work at THQ - it's really exciting and it is an achievement of a goal."

The full interview with Danny Bilson, in which he also talks about the possibility for large, publisher-owned studios returning to the UK, is available now.

Image courtesy of S Lacasse, used under Wikimedia Commons license.

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