She’s got game
Meet the woman who played a key role in developing Assassin’s Creed, one of the hottest video game franchises around
by Gary Francoeur
Forget the stereotype of gamers being pasty, anti-social nerds holed up in their parents’ basements. Video games have gone mainstream, with software sales in the United States alone exceeding $19-billion in 2009—that’s more than double the amount that the American theatrical box office brought in last year.
As one of the creative forces behind the blockbuster Assassin’s Creed games, Jade Raymond, BSc’98, has carved out a spot as one of the top producers in the booming industry. Her meteoric rise in a field dominated by men, where few women hold important roles, has earned her an enduring place in the hearts of many gamers, some of whom now call themselves members of the “Jade Empire.” But don’t tell Raymond that her achievements are anything extraordinary—her career has been driven by a simple desire to do what she loves most: make video games.
Born in Montreal, Raymond’s love affair with video games started at a young age, but truly blossomed when she was 14 and spent a summer visiting her uncle in San Francisco. She remembers spending most of her three-month stay playing video games. “One day it clicked that there were people who made these games, and I wanted to be one of them,” she says.
Enchanted by the harmony of arts, mathematics and science that goes into making video games, Raymond completed a bachelor’s degree in computer science at McGill, which she credits with giving her the background and skills to break into the competitive field. Within days of graduating, Raymond packed her suitcases and moved to New York City to start a job as a game programmer with Sony, where she later helped establish Sony Online’s first research and development group. Building on this success, she landed a position with Electronic Arts to serve as the producer for The Sims Online, an immensely popular game that allows players to create and control characters and interact with other players online.
After more than six years away, Raymond returned to her hometown in 2004 to work for Ubisoft, where she was quickly appointed the lead producer of Assassin’s Creed. She and her team worked tirelessly for more than two years to develop the action-adventure game, based in 12th-century Jerusalem.
Since its release in 2007, the wildly popular game has sold more than eight million copies, which prompted a sequel that Raymond headed as executive producer. For this version, she and her team enlisted the help of historians to ensure the realism of the customs, clothing and buildings of the game’s different cities.
“We set the bar really high,” she explains. “We researched city layouts and recreated real buildings and cities, we made sure the plot is tied to actual historical events, and we created a character that has over 1,000 distinct moves and can interact with everything in the environment.”
But Raymond was apparently not busy enough—she signed on as co-host of The Electric Playground, a popular TV show that previews upcoming video games and reports the latest industry news, and until recently, she sat on the Quebec board of directors for Leave Out ViolencE (LOVE), a non-profit organization established by McGill grad Sheila “Twinkle” Rudberg, BA’56, to help curb youth violence in Canada.
Raymond is now preparing to undertake her greatest challenge yet: she will head up Ubisoft’s new development studio in Toronto. “I’m motivated by new experiences and I put myself in situations where I have to tackle new challenges,” she says. “I’m always trying to look ahead.”