Holidays are an important part of workplace in France. Unlike Americans, who tend to feel embarrassed even asking for holidays, the French will often vanish for a month at a time during the summer.
This tradition would seem to be at odds with game development, where crunch is continuously highlighted as a very real issue, but Ghost Recon Breakpoint executive producer Nouredine Abboud insists that work-life balance is as much a priority as ever.
"Work and life balance is very important not just for me as a producer, but as a human being," Abboud tells USgamer. "I like surfing a lot, and I want to make sure that my work always makes sense with my passions. If I apply this to myself, I think it's important that I apply it to the whole team."
Squaring this desire with the massive amount of work required to make a game like Breakpoint obviously isn't easy. Like Wildlands before it, Breakpoint is a large open-world shooter featuring both solo and multiplayer content. As a live service game, Ubisoft's ambitious content plan calls for 12 new faction missions per day, as well as multiple post-launch episodes.
This isn't all that's on the Ghost Recon team's plate. It's also averaging a title update a month on Ghost Recon Wildlands. As recently as July, Wildlands got an entirely new PvPvE mode called Mercenaries. That's a lot for one team to handle.
In light of games like Apex Legends intentionally keeping its content plans conservative in order to avoid overworking its developers, it's easy to wonder how Ubisoft is making it all work. The answer, it turns out, is to have a bigger team than anyone else.
Abboud credits the ability to maintain work-life balance to a battle-hardened group of more than 1000 people across eight studios who are coming off two years of working on Wildlands. "This team was able to deliver nearly one update per month [for Wildlands] and work on Breakpoint at the same time," Abboud says. "It says a lot about our capability as a team that we were able to do that while retaining work and life balance. This is not a promise for the future, this is the reality."
Abboud says this sort of scale affords the flexiblity to give developers time off as necessary, and also results in fewer bottlenecks. The Ghost Recon Breakpoint team is scattered across eight European studios, including Paris, Bordeaux, Montpellier, Bucharest, Belgrade, Odessa, Kiev, and Milan. While this structure might have the potential to be unwieldy, Abboud sees it as a strength.
"If you have people in eight countries with the management and motivation, and they know what they're doing, this gives you flexibility," he says, "We have Bucharest working on the PvP, they're motivated and know what they're doing."
Ubisoft is not the first publisher to attempt a multi-studio structure, but it does seem to have perfected the logistics needed for far-flung teams to collaborate successfully. Other publishers, most notably EA, have tried, but have run into difficulties with time zones and other issues. Mass Effect: Andromeda was one game where even the most basic tasks could be onerous owing to the logistics involved.
Larian Studios similarly had trouble integrating multiple studios while working on Divinity: Original Sin 2. Among other things, Larian tried to have the studios develop every act in parallel, resulting in a massive headache as studio founder Swen Vincke struggled to review dialogue from Ghent while in Quebec. Vincke claims the decision to shift resources to developing one act at a time "saved the project."
Ubisoft, with its network of 26 studios from Montreal to Sofia, appears used to such challenges. Abboud says he's lucky to have the publisher's resources at his disposal as he and his team race to finish Breakpoint. "As long as it's a goal, work and life balance, and you have the means, and the size... and I'm lucky because I'm working at Ubisoft, so I have access to studios, talent, and motivation, and not everyone is lucky enough."
We have just about a month to go until Ghost Recon Breakpoint is out. It will release on October 4 on PC, PlayStation 4, and Xbox One. You can register for the open beta here.