Ubisoft Graduate Program : a GPP survival guide

As the project I was working on is getting to an end, I thought it might be the right moment to take some time and write down my impressions of those first 8 months of Graduate Program in Ubisoft Montpellier.

Let me introduce this Graduate Program survival guide! I’ll first talk about how I experienced the recruitment process, then some insights about the job of Gameplay Programmer and I’ll close this guide with more details about the Ubisoft Graduate Program itself.

Introduction

About the Graduate Program

The Ubisoft Graduate Program is aiming at recruiting graduate from MSc/Engineering schools. It is not some kind of training or education like what you’d have in university. You will be actually working at Ubisoft.

The program consists in two years: the first one in your country and the second one abroad, in another Ubisoft studio. At the end of the program, if everything went fine, you might get a long-term contract in the original studio. It is also a fast-track program, as there are many events organized in order to help you improve faster in your job.

The Graduate Program recruits in 4 fields : Gameplay Programming, Online Programming, Project Management and UX Design.

About me

First, here’s a little bit of background you may be interested in if you’re applying. I’ve attended a classic MSc. in Computer Science and Software Engineering, and not some kind of video-game-specialized school. It did not seem to be an issue for Ubisoft recruiters. In fact, they’ve recruited many software engineers with similar profiles as me as graduates.

Even if my education is quite classic, I was still always interested in game development, and I made many small prototypes of web game engines, usually reimplementing almost everything from scratch (I’ll get more into this point later). Even though I was writing “low-level” code, I always had a game concept and some kind of gameplay in mind. Maybe the most advanced (or completed) project was Arena Intelligence, in which I’ve had to lead a team of 11 of my fellow software engineer students.

I learnt about the Ubisoft Graduate Program through one of the professors of my school, as there was an alumni from the previous year who had given the Graduate Program a shot. As he seemed pretty happy with it, I decided to try my luck at it.

How I got there – Recruitment survival guide

The recruitment process is quite demanding, but, of course, it is worth it. At first, you apply through a single common process for all the studios in your area. You will have some technical pre-selection, and you may indicate if you have a preferred local studio. Then you will get into the process with the local studio. I had there a technical interview with 2 senior GPPs and a technical test on paper. I also had to provide a game demo in the following weeks (I guess, that was quite specific to my process, I’m not sure whether everyone goes through that step or not). Then I had a last technical interview based on the demo I provided.

Graduate Program

Tips

Here are some advice if you were to postulate at the graduate program. Some advice are common to most interview, some are more specific.

  • Have a portfolio with AAA-related technology

Even though I successfully passed the technical pre-selection, I hit a wall for not having that during the first technical interview. Writing an engine from scratch is really interesting to have an overview of the software architecture involved. But remember you are applying for a job in which you write gameplay code. That’s why they’ll probably mostly care of projects you made using common game engines (UE4, Unity, Source mods, anything relevant). It’s not important if your projects don’t have AAA visual assets. What they want to know is whether you have some gameplay programming experience with a technology that can ship AAA games or not.

  • Brush up geometry-related maths

Trigonometry, scalar/dot products, quaternions, transform matrices. Depending on how tough the interview is, you may need most of it. In any case, you will definitely be expected to know this kind of things in your job.

  • Brush up classic programming stuff

You’re applying to be a programmer after all!

  • Do not be afraid to admit you don’t know

During the interview in Montpellier, I got stuck on a math question. By admitting that I didn’t know, the interviewer gave me a hint that allowed me to continue working on the question. That’s also a way for them to see how you think around a problem.

  • Be yourself.

When I went through the process with Ubisoft Montpellier, my feeling was that they were not only looking for people who were technically good enough for the job; they were also looking for future colleagues that they would enjoy working with. So do not be afraid to show your (professional) personality.

  • Be ready to give more

As I wrote at the beginning of this list, I was quite in difficulty during the interview for not having a portfolio with common game engines. I suggested making a project to prove them I would be able to find my way with a real-world tool. A few days after the interview in Montpellier, they contacted me and suggested to make a game demo within two weeks. Free choice of gameplay, topic, and tech. I just had to ship it, and show them I could do actual gameplay. One of the recruiters, who is my lead today, told me that my demo made a huge difference in the application process.

Zombinvasion, UE4 project

Gameplay programmer: What’s the job about?

This part might be trivial if you are already working in the video-game industry, but this is the kind of details I would have liked to have when I was hesitating between GPP & Online programming.

As a GPPs (shorthand for GamePlay Programmers), our goal is to implement how the player and the game interact with each other. It can be obvious interaction, like handling the input from the gamepad and moving the character in a certain way. It can also be about implementing a system of wild animals roaming around the world, or an inventory, or some mission objective, a skill upgrade system, a tactical map, GPS, a new enemy behavior, etc.

All the systems within the game (road traffic, weather, etc.) have to be polished enough to provide immersion to the player. To me, that’s already half the way toward telling the story your game has to tell in a convincing way. That’s what will make the difference between a classic piece of software displaying 3D models and a good game. At the end of the day, our competitors are not Google or Facebook, but rather Lego and Hasbro. We’re not shipping software, we’re shipping games. We’re shipping stories and worlds. We are part of the toy market.

For the players (but not only)

More precisely, as GPP, we write code for two kind of person.
The first, and most obvious one, are the players. For instance, the players should enjoy moving their character around and see clearly what they’re doing. Thus, GPPs have to implement camera behaviors that depends on the context. It’s important to take players comfort into account (eg: preventing nausea from camera movement). Another important point is giving them feedback when they do something the right/wrong way. More generally we have to ensure their experience is smooth and polished.

On the other end, our mission is to empower content creators, like level designers (LDs). Their work is to populate the world with things to do. For instance, GPPs can provide LDs with basic elements to build missions, implementing single objectives or conditions like “Go there”, “Kill this entity”, “Interact with this”, “Gather this item”, “This entity has to stay alive”, “Finish this step before n seconds”, etc. The LDs will then combine many of those atomic elements to create complex missions. There are still some additional steps to be done, like adding the narrative layer in the missions, to provide immersion.

“The whole is greater than the sum of its parts”

― Aristotle, LD at Ubisoft.

My experience as a junior GPP

A (not that) new project

I landed in Ubisoft Montpellier mid-October 2016 on the Ghost Recon Wildlands DLC production. I have to mention that I received a really warm welcome from the team. In general, there was a really good spirit within the whole DLC team.

Montpellier was in charge of some of the main game development and the two DLCs of the game. The first DLC was expected to ship by March. At that time, it’s already been 6 month that both DLCs were being produced, so most of the gameplay features were already implemented. Because of that, my first reaction was at first some kind of deception. But in the end I’m glad that I arrived at this stage of production, and I’ll explain why.

Ghost Recon Wildlands

Of course, the most exciting part of a project is when you are building it from ground up, adding new features, and witnessing the transformation of some code into a product people will use, and hopefully enjoy. As most of this was already done, the remaining work was mainly polish, slight improvements that are necessary to ship a quality game, but which add nothing actually new to it.

Pros of end-of-prod

But, stepping back a little, I realized that by working on an almost-finished product I could have a great insight on how an AAA game looks from the inside. Moreover, it is really interesting to witness all the things that have to be taken into account when you actually ship a game: technical requirement validation by first parties for consoles (Microsoft, Sony), epilepsy checks, dispatching to online stores, in-game store, organizing live streams, and many other things.

Even if this production step can be frustrating because you’re not really be able to “prove yourself” as a GPP, if you’ve been recruited, you certainly have the skills and the mindset it takes for this job. You will definitely have the opportunities to experiment and prototype new features & things from scratch in your career. Take this as a chance to learn about the production/shipping process (alpha, beta, gold/master). In the end, I’m considering myself lucky that I was able to witness the last months of production of such a massive title.

Next project

There’s still a couple of month before I move abroad for the mobility year of the Graduate Program, so I’ll get to work on another project within Ubisoft Montpellier. As the staffing depends much on the creative process of pre-prod teams, it’s hard to plan who’s going where in advance. Be prepared to play a little bit of musical chairs between projects.

The Graduate Program – Year 1

First weeks

Even if the recruitment process is organized by the Graduate Program of Ubisoft, the first weeks are pretty normal. Actually, I haven’t noticed any difference in being a graduate during my first weeks in the company. Indeed, in the first days, you are really busy discovering your workplace, your colleagues, the project you are working on, all the HR stuff. In the following weeks you still keep training to grasp the technical aspect of the project. Still, I had a few calls with all the graduates in order to ensure everything was OK, but nothing really special.

Graduate Program fast-track

Things tends to get more interesting in the following months as you get to participate in calls with experts in various topics. It is nice to get some insights of subjects you don’t have to deal with in your everyday job. You also get a better overview of what’s going on at Ubisoft on a broader scale.

International Mobility

You will also have to start thinking about your mobility destination. I highly recommend taking the time to compare all aspects that matters to you. In my case, the key factors were: interest for the studio projects, interest for the studio location, english-speaking, and distance. (My personal pick is Massive Entertainment, the studio located in Malmö, Sweden). You’ll have several meetings with HR from your location in order to help you choose your favorite destinations. When it comes to the mobility negotiation itself, you (hopefully) won’t have to do it by yourself. The HR will handle it, based on your year performance, and eventual recommendation from your colleagues/superiors. In case of a “draw” between two Graduates for only 1 available job (which happened to me), the studio will choose a candidate based on an additional technical interview.

You will have to be patient while waiting for the mobility studio attribution: the process is complex and involves many different people from each studio. The Graduate Program HR will also take into account in which fields you could improve (eg: a certain technology, some specific topics). I’m currently waiting for my own attribution, so still crossing fingers ! 😉
Update: I’ll be going to Massive Entertainment in Malmö, Sweden!

The Graduate Week

You wouldn’t want to miss it for anything in the world! You’ll go to Paris in Ubisoft HQ for five days, and you’ll have the opportunity to attend presentations from Ubisoft experts from all around the world. I enjoyed the variety of the topics that were covered during the presentations. This is also a chance to discuss with a group of senior GPPs from many studios. We’ve learnt some good practices (both technical & non-technical) and some fun facts. We also had a chat with Serge Hascoet, head of the editorial team, about the editorial vision of Ubisoft, which was quite enlightening.
At night, you’ll go out in many restaurants in Paris for good food and have some drinks!

During this week, I had the chance to meet other GPPs from the Graduate Program, but also regular junior GPPs from Montréal, Buccarest, Annecy, Sweden, and Paris of course. The week was exhausting but it definitely was a great moment for us all.

What’s next

My contract with Ubisoft Montpellier will end in September, after what I’ll move abroad in my new studio. There will be a small transition phase with a little help from Ubisoft in order to move in to this new location. It will be an opportunity to discover an other studio with other people, in a possibly very different culture. I’m also looking forward to get my hands on some other pieces of technology (maybe Snowdrop!).

Conclusion

My first year in Montpellier is not over yet, but still, I’m very satisfied with how everything went. I enjoy each aspect my job, whether it be the Graduate Program itself or my daily tasks. I met many amazing people in Ubisoft Montpellier, some of which became friends. Overall, that’s a great place to work, even as a junior not coming from a video-game school. Still, I’m really looking forward this year abroad to meet more people and live in a different culture. I highly recommend the Graduate Program to anyone that would be interested in joining the video-game industry.

If you are interested in the program, you can get more information at www.ubisoftgraduateprogram.com

Ubisoft Graduate Program : a GPP survival guide was last modified: February 17th, 2018 by Tom Guillermin

22 thoughts on Ubisoft Graduate Program : a GPP survival guide

  1. Hi Paul it feels so great to learn about you experience in Ubisoft, hope you are enjoying the work.
    I have one question for you, is it mandatory to have less than one year of experience because I work in a IT company have 1.4 year of experience but I am so much interested to join the upcoming Ubisoft graduate program.

    • Hi! Yes, I really enjoy it, and if you have the opportunity to jump-in, I definitely recommend it!
      About the 1.4 year of experience, I don’t know how strictly the HR department applies the 1-year limit. But I think you should try your luck and apply as soon as the online application form opens! This year it is on January 1st. If you are motivated, it will be on your favor for the selection process. Good luck!!

  2. Hi! I come accros this blog very helpfull,
    I would like to try this year but I have graduated 2 years ago and have not got work experience in industry but joining short courses here and there. Is it possible to join the program after 2 years graduate?

    • Hi Nur! I don’t know how strict the HR are when it comes to enforcing the maximum-years-of-experience limit. But 2 years is still quite fairly recent, and if you have some experience that could be relevant somehow, you should take advantage of it and try to apply, and see if they call you back. At least, you won’t have any regret for not trying! You can also try to apply through the regular process. And as I said in the article, having personal projects to show can be a great advantage!
      Good luck!

  3. Hi Tom,

    Your review is simply amazing! I am a gameplay programmer, too, but I mostly worked with Unity and C# rather than C++ itself. Does the technical pre-selection and the technical interview emphasis heavily on C++, and to what extent? I do have prior experience in the language, but academic, not professional. This is the thing that concerns me the most.

    Also, are there any foreign fellows that you met in the graduate program? I am from Vietnam, there is no Ubisoft local studio here so I am looking for an opportunity in Ubisoft Singapore.

    Thanks in advance

    • Hi 🙂 Thanks, I’m glad you liked the review!
      The pre-selection did had a few C++-specific questions which were pretty standard: inheritance, constructors/destructors, const, references, pointers. Even if you never had the opportunity to work on big C++ projects, you have enough time left to practice a bit on writing some C++ code. I would recommend using http://www.codingame.com, which offers a variety of algorithmic puzzles. Try to solve a few of them forcing yourself to write clean C++ code (classes, using const, using references and pointers).
      During the technical interview, you will probably have similar questions, and will also be asked to solve a specific game-related problem. In my case it was more about explaining what my approach would be rather than writing code on a whiteboard (but maybe I was just lucky!). And then expect more C++ on the written test, but with a bit of practice, it is definitely possible to succeed. Look online for typical C++ technical test and train to be warmed-up 🙂

      And yep, there are graduates in different countries other than France, and I guess Singapore is participating in the program (one of my friend and fellow GPP graduate is moving there beginning of 2018). Unless there are some specific visa issues, I guess you will be able to apply there, and Ubisoft studios are usually happy to have talented people from all around the world!

      Good luck for the recruitment process and feel free to ask any other question 🙂

  4. Hi! Thanks for the tips, I’m sure they’ll be really useful! I applied this year since I expect to graduate in July. Just as a curiousity question, how long does usually pass between submitting the application and getting it under review? I applied earlier than it was previously announced (forms were online already before Christmas) and I just wanted to be sure it was submitted correctly.

    • Your application should be OK, they opened it a bit earlier, so it’s normal 😉
      It should be something like a few weeks, I’m not sure btw. Good luck!

      • Thanks Tom! Actually I came back to this page because I have still received no communication from SmartRecruiters and my apply is still ‘New’, but I see some other people already asked that ^^” Hopefully things will go along just fine.

        Do you mind if I add you to LinkedIn? I swear I won’t pester you, just wanted to have a new contact 🙂

  5. Hi! Thank you so much for sharing your experience with Ubisoft. I, too, have applied for the Gameplay Programmer role under Ubisoft’s Graduate Program. I was just sent an email to take an online test. I am more familiar with C# because of its use in Unity. Do you remember if the first online test allowed languages other than C++ to be used? Thank you so much!

    • Hi Lutfan! You’ll be expected to know your way around C++ when applying for GPP as this is the standard language used almost everywhere! So you better check the main differences with C# (pointers, how inheritance works under the hoods, constructors/desctructors, etc.). For the first test you should be fine with the basics, but the technical test in the studio will be more demanding on C++-specific things, so if I were you, I would prepare well for both of them 🙂
      Wish you good luck!

  6. Does everyone get the programming test? When should I start getting worried after not hearing anything back?

    • Hey Lyuu! If I remember correctly, the first online test is sent if the resume matches their expectations (for GPP applications at least). They usually do this within a couple of weeks but they also have waiting lists so it can take some time depending on how other people do. Wish you best luck!

  7. Hi Tom,

    This was super insightful! Glad to hear everything’s working out for you. 🙂
    I was wondering if you had any information on the Project Management role?

    • Hi Jasmine! Glad you liked the article!
      Regarding the recruitment for PM role, I don’t have much information but I guess the structure is pretty much the same (PM online test, remote interviews, on-site interviews) . Still I know that PM graduates also have the one-week training in HQ, with presentations about PM-related stuff of course! (and some are common to GPPs, like editorial vision and stuff)
      Wish you best luck if you applied 🙂

  8. Hey, Tom, great article, I loved it!

    I applied January 1st for the GPP in Gameplay Programming, but didn’t get anything back about an online test yet, should I be worried? In the submission platform “SmartRecruiters” says they didn’t go through my resume yet. Also, do you know if there is any difference in logistics for international applicants? I mean if we get to to tests later on or something.

    Thanks a lot!

    • Hi Leandro! Glad you liked the post 🙂
      Regarding your question, I’m not on the HR side but I do know that the recruitment process is still ongoing for now, so if you already went through the online test, it’s still possible that they reach out to you in the upcoming weeks (it can depend on each studio needs in terms of staffing and how other applicants perform during their own interviews of course!). I don’t really know how it goes for international applicants, but I hope it’s not reducing your chances…
      I wish you the best luck with the process, and keep me posted if any good news happens 😉

      • Yeah, I see, no online test yet, though! But gotta be patient, there is still time and I can study more haha.
        Surely will keep you posted.
        Thanks for answering so quickly xD.

    • Same here, no online test at all. In smartrecruiters it still says “New” so they either haven’t even looked at it or we were discarded right away.

      • I am hoping they would have closed it off and let us know if we got discarded so soon. I was discussing with some friends and Ubisoft may be doing things in packs so it doesn’t overwhelm them, hope we have our turn soon!

  9. Hi Tom. Great info, thanks for sharing! Hoping you could answer a couple of questions?

    I applied for the project management role and I am currently waiting to hear back. My application was actually set as inactive and a new title was added titled ‘GP 2018 – PM – EU’ and isn’t under review yet.. Did something similar happen to you too when applying?

    Secondly how long did it take you to hear back from Ubisoft for the first stage after CV screen? I saw in the email they said it could three weeks or more!

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