Large-scale mobile video games are making their mark in Montreal.

A wind of change is blowing on mobile video games, which increasingly look like large-scale games on consoles or computers. And Montreal is well placed to take advantage of it.

We usually associate mobile gaming with minimalist software, whose graphics are simple and the mechanics are easy to understand. Titles which we play distractedly with one hand while waiting for the bus. Another genre, however, is beginning to gain in importance: mass-market mobile gaming, also known as AAA mobile gaming, the phone equivalent of mass-market gaming (AAA gaming) found on computers and consoles.

Large-scale mobile video games are making their mark in Montreal.

While mobile games are often designed by real developer-orchestras, who wear several hats simultaneously, this is not the case with large-scale mobile games. "For me, the AAA mobile game is a game where experts in their profession must carry out every facet, whether we are talking about special effects, cutscenes, the game itself or the music," estimated the CEO. of Square Enix's Montreal studio, Patrick Naud, during the presentation "The rise of AAA mobile experiences," as part of the MEGAMIX 2021 video game event, in mid-November.

Genshin Impact, from the Chinese studio miHoYo, embodies this new wave. Released just over a year ago, this role-playing action game, reminiscent of Nintendo's Zelda series, is on a scale unmatched on mobile. As a free download, it is financed with optional microtransactions. This allowed it to rake in around $3 billion to $4.5 billion in revenue in its first 12 months, which exceeded Fortnite's performance in its early days.

The quality of these games is also such that they are beautiful and ambitious enough to be increasingly ported to consoles after that. After an initial release on mobile and Windows in 2018, the racing game Asphalt 9: Legends, from the Gameloft Montreal studio, for example, was launched on Nintendo Switch consoles in 2020 and Xbox (One and Series X/S) in the spring.

The evolution of smartphones towards more extensive and more powerful models in recent years also allows the opposite: to adapt games for consoles to mobile devices. The shooter Call of Duty, in particular, now has a version for phones and tablets that carries over several elements from the standard game (some maps that players compete on are the same).

Call of duty

Call of Duty Mobile was downloaded 300 million times in its first year. This is out of proportion to console games since it exceeds the number of Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox One, and Xbox Series X/S consoles sold worldwide to date. "They've created a massive game that incorporates the franchise's most important concepts. Fans have therefore embarked," analyzed at the MEGAMIGS 2021 conference Matthieu Dupont, director of the Gameloft Montreal studio.

Mobile studios woo artists and developers.

The scale of recent mobile games and the scale of their success – the majority of video game industry revenue now comes from mobile – finally, offer arguments for mobile studios to attract new talent, which artists and developers have sometimes shunned, often more interested in traditional games.

Even if mobile game development teams are getting bigger and bigger, they are generally still far from those for consoles, for example. "Our first teams for Go Series games were only 8-15 people. We are more than 40 on the next game that we are going to unveil," explains Patrick Naud. As for Gameloft Montreal, the recent Star Wars: Castaways, launched in November on Apple Arcade, required about fifty workers. A large-scale console game, such as those in the Assassin's Creed franchise, may require up to nearly 1,000 people.

A minor team "allows the employee to have a greater impact on the product," adds Matthieu Dupont. For the latter, the importance of mobile gaming is also a factor of attraction. "Our Asphalt franchise has been downloaded over a billion times. We reach a much wider audience than on console," he recalls.

Over the next few years, the arrival of a new generation of developers who have grown up with mobile versions of games like Minecraft and Fortnite could also be a game-changer for recruitment.

Montreal is well placed to take advantage of it.

Montreal has been a hub for large-scale video games globally for several years. For mobile studios looking for talent, the city is the ideal place for a new base.

This happened last month, with the opening of miHoYo's first foreign studio. "Montreal is a city with a rich community of game developers as well as world-renowned universities. We highly value the expertise and creativity of the local ecosystem, which we believe will inspire miHoYo in its game creation process," said Forrest Liu, co-founder of the studio behind Genshin Impact.

"Several studios that make mobile games are set up in Montreal," confirms Philippe Valentine, Montreal International, in an interview with L'actualité. The city also attracts subcontractors, who make certain parts of the games for large foreign studios. "Over the past 25 years, we have generated a pool of talent capable of covering the entire video game production value chain," he recalls.

Mobile game studios that could once make do with a few employees now have to hire experts in every field, and every one of those experts can be found in Montreal.

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