No.1: Jade Raymond
Jade Raymond knows a thing or two about world-building. In the span of her two-decade career, the 47-year-old veteran developer from Montreal watched (and played along) as the standard for gaming technology rose from Mario—now in 3D!—to characters rendered in such uncanny detail that they could easily be mistaken for flesh-and-blood humans. Reality blurred even further during the pandemic, when gameplay morphed from an entertaining pastime to a full-blown social lifeline, whether in the form of a chaotic Fortnite battle royale or a friendly night-fishing expedition in Animal Crossing.
In February of 2021, Raymond learned that Google would be shuttering Stadia, its in-house gaming operation, where she was VP. She saw a window to carve out her own niche: Haven Studios, a game development firm headquartered in Montreal’s Ville-Marie neighbourhood. Last year, Sony acquired Haven—its first Canadian PlayStation Studio—and tasked Raymond and her team with making a much-anticipated, hush-hush multiplayer PlayStation title. Basically, it’s Raymond’s universe; we’re just playing in it.
— PlayStation (@PlayStation) July 11, 2022
Before she was the heaviest hitter in Canadian gaming, Raymond and her sisters honed their chops on their shared Nintendo consoles. (Their mom figured: Hey, it’s more interactive than television!) Other well-meaning, slightly unimaginative adults often told Raymond that the only logical endpoint for her combined passions of math, science and art was an architecture career. Instead, she devoted her teen years to beating her uncle’s high scores (all of them), dabbling in robot-building and rudimentary programming, and eventually enrolling in a computer-science degree at McGill University. Her first postgrad job—as a software engineer for Sony’s online Jeopardy! game—was followed by some breakneck levelling-up: a producer of Electronic Arts’s The Sims Online; co-creator of Assassin’s Creed, an adventure franchise that’s sold more than 140 million copies worldwide; founder of Ubisoft’s first Toronto studio; and, eventually, her VP role at Stadia. By 2018, Raymond was name-checked alongside Jeff Bezos and Ellen DeGeneres on the Variety500—as its resident “gaming powerhouse.”
The first female coder we would like to introduce is the award-winning game developer and founder @ibjade. Among many other accomplishments she is known for creating Assassin’s Creed, founding UbiSoft Toronto and Motive Studios.#femalecoders #gamedeveloper #femalefounders pic.twitter.com/zJ8dDbPckK
— Female Coders Linz (@FemaleCodersLnz) March 2, 2021
Raymond’s vision for her own firm involved a flatter, freer hierarchy untethered from day-to-day corporate oversight. Funny, then, that one of Haven’s earliest financial backers was none other than Sony Interactive Entertainment. Raymond’s initial team, a ragtag group of 25 who’d clocked time at Google and on titles like Tomb Raider and Rainbow Six Siege, quickly got to work designing new IP via the cloud. The Sony acquisition—for an undisclosed sum—came a year later. (N.B. “undisclosed” doesn’t typically mean “small.”) Also cryptic are the details of Haven’s first live-service multiplayer game, one that Raymond has, to date, only described as an “evolving world focused on freedom, thrill and playfulness.”
It’s no mystery why Sony chose Raymond’s outfit to be the first PlayStation studio in Canada, a country with a video-game industry that generates an estimated $5.5 billion annually. In the last four years, big-name foreign companies like Nintendo have snapped up domestic studios—like Halifax’s Alpha Dog and Vancouver’s Next Level Games—eager to capitalize on our animators, engineers, composers, AI experts and wealth of developers. Montreal, home to Haven, Epic and, as of early February, the South Korean developer Krafton, is the fifth-largest video game development hub in the world.
In the past, Raymond has modestly joked that Quebec’s temperatures lend themselves well to a flourishing gaming culture, but Haven’s work on that secret Sony title has itself become a huge talent draw. As of this past February, the company had grown to a staff of 130. That head count now includes former aerospace engineers (experts in simulation environments) and machine-learning whizzes (busy working on customizable 3D avatars for players). Among Haven’s high-profile hires are Corey May and Raphael Lacoste, who helped create the Assassin’s Creed franchise with Raymond and the team.
Last week, Haven Studios hosted special guests and select press for a studio launch event! We took the opportunity to discuss our plans for the future and our ambitious vision for game development.
Check the 🧵below for all the wonderful coverage! pic.twitter.com/5X6FMpAdyy
— Haven Studios (@HavenStudiosInc) October 12, 2022
Haven’s staffers are hard at work: in the coming months, they’ll be moving from pre-production to proper production on the still-definitely-super-secret multiplayer Sony title. Raymond, whose startup has officially graduated from itty-bitty indie to a full-blown expansion pack (to borrow a phrase), continues to bolster Montreal’s gaming scene, often inviting smaller local developers to Haven’s HQ for instructive “tech talks.” For all of her public engagement, Raymond, a self-described introvert, still makes time for play, her original passion—kicking back with a headset and enjoying rounds of Valheim with her staff, or the slightly more analog multiplayer title Catan with her kids.