Montreal and video games gaming city

Photo by Montréal International

Welcome to Montreal, the city of video games

“Montreal is home to over 200 studios and publishers with 20,000 folks working in the industry. What makes Montreal different is that it’s an art-first city. It caters to whimsy and imagination, and rewards playfulness.”

A truly Montreal experience is when you roll along the bike path through Mile End and come to the realization that every second person is wearing something from Ubisoft. In fact, Montreal may be the only place on Earth where you will see a person riding a unicycle while wearing an Assassin’s Creed-cowled hoodie. In the middle of winter.

You might not realize it but Montreal is big on video games. Tons of AAA studios like Ubisoft, EA, WB Games, Eidos, Epic Games, Gameloft, Take-Two, Behaviour Interactive and Rovio have studios here, with many of the biggest titles (including Assassins Creed, We Happy Few, Deus Ex, everything Tom Clancy, Mass Effect, Tomb Raider) coming out of the city. 

Montreal is home to over 200 studios and publishers with 20,000 folks working in the industry — the city is ranked fifth in the world and first in Canada for games, according to economic development organization Montréal International. It’s also the fourth most liveable city in the world, according to the Economist Intelligence Unit’s Global Liveability Index.

Games as art

Boyfriend Dungeon KitFox Games
Boyfriend Dungeon by KitFox Games

What makes Montreal different is that it’s an art-first city. It caters to whimsy and imagination, and rewards playfulness.

Most in the Montreal community agree that the city’s chillness contributes to this creative energy. One of the city’s coolest indie studios is KitFox Games, the developer behind the genre-crushing title Boyfriend Dungeon: a dungeon crawler/dating sim where your weapons become characters you can date. Of Montreal, KitFox co-founder Tanya X. Short notes: “I love that there’s so many strong traditions of fine arts — not just the museums, but things like Nuit Blanche or the Quartier des spectacles and the anarcho-communist groups, they create micro-communities of people who are really thoughtful and ambitious in their creativity. I wish the games side of things wasn’t so intensely focused on entrepreneurship, but I suppose that’s a sign of the times.”

Short is also one of the founders behind Pixelles, a volunteer-run non-profit committed to helping marginalized-gender people get into games. “Most of our programs are deliberately local and tailored to the specific requirements of the Montreal game development scene,” explains Short. “It’s both for people in the games industry and for people just practising game-making as an art form.”

Experimental games-maker Raphaëll Maïwen founded le Dépotoir de recherche in 2020 as a collective for non-commercial game developers and creators that challenge the norms. “I believe game-making is a highly creative craft regardless of its scope or its aim,” says Maïwen. “People used to criticize Ubisoft for releasing an Assassin’s Creed each year, because according to them it meant (the studio) was lazy and unoriginal. However, every single episode required artists to draw and model new characters, composers to create new songs, writers to invent new stories, programmers to implement new systems and optimize them.” 

Montreal’s art-forward attitude extends to immersive galleries and experimental spaces where interactive works can be discovered. Art spaces like ZU, PHI Centre, perte de signal, SAT and ELEKTRA often have exhibits that test the limits between games and art. 

Join the community

As a player, the best way to be supportive is to keep playing! Wishlist, buy, review and support the creators, studios and games you love. Short recommends to “get involved in a game’s community — whether it’s on social media or newsletters or forums, wherever you can go to connect with other fans of that game, it’s great for the developer! We make our games for the fans, so when they get involved, it really gives us energy.”

But how can you get involved on the industry side? “I’d say that GamePlay Space should be your first port of entry,” says Execution Labs co-founder and prominent games industry advisor Jason Della Rocca. 

GamePlay Space is at the heart of Montreal’s indie dev community, and organizes a wealth of events, workshops and playtests while offering desk rentals and business development advice to startup studios. GPS was founded as a space where small studios and freelancers to network, share, learn and create together. You can become a free or paid member, but the access to the community is invaluable. 

“Next would be attending MEGAMIGS,” Della Rocca continues. MEGAMIGS is Montreal’s gaming conference (Oct. 19–22) where studios showcase their latest projects and social opportunities abound.

“The overarching message is: network,” says Astrid Rosemarin, Communications Director at  New World Interactive. “And GPS and MEGAMIGS are the main spots to do it. Rosemarin also suggests the L’Extension (fka Gang of Devs) FB group, which often organizes in-person events in the area. 

Hannah Cartmel, Program Manager at GPS and former instructor at Champlain College of Vermont, always advises her students: “Volunteer for events, including GPS events! It’s a good way to meet people, and removes the stress of ‘networking.’” Cartmel also recommends checking out events at Concordia’s TAG MTL and programs run by Pixelles. ■

Game Jam is a monthly column about Montreal’s video game community. Are you a Montreal studio releasing a game soon? Please contact me here.

For more Montreal arts coverage, please visit the Arts & Life section.