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Certain Affinity expands studio in Toronto in spite of downturn

Bynewsmagzines

May 4, 2023
Certain Affinity expands studio in Toronto in spite of downturn

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Certain Affinity, a game development company that has partnered to make games like Call of Duty and Halo, made a commitment to Canada when it expanded from Austin, Texas to Toronto in 2019.

And now it is expanding its Toronto team in a new location in the city’s downtown, said Paul Sams, COO of Certain Affinity in an interview with GamesBeat. It’s a rare case of a company that is still hiring in the midst of the downturn. In fact, Certain Affinity has gone 16 years without a layoff.

The new location is double the size of the company’s previous facility at 12,000 square feet. It needs the space now that the company has more than 200 people — and even though many of its people choose to work at home in the post-pandemic era. Toronto has about 30 people now and it could grow beyond 100.

“We first opened in 2019 with a much smaller site, and we’ve doubled our space moving just down the street,” Sams said. “We’re still in a great area, very central to the city, and the team is really excited about it. We’re really focusing heavily on doubling down on our investment in Toronto.”

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Certain Affinity made a name for itself by partnering with major studios on world-renowned franchises like Call of Duty, Halo, World of Tanks, Left 4 Dead, Hearthstone, Hogwarts Legacy, New World, and many more. Over the years it has developed or co-developed more than 39 games and significant content updates across 16 different franchises, including the original games Age of Booty and Crimson Alliance. 

Lately, however, the company has been adding staff and working on its own intellectual properties, in addition to its work-for-hire with other game publishers.

Max Hoberman is CEO of Certain Affinity.
Max Hoberman is CEO of Certain Affinity.

“Toronto is incredibly supportive of game development, and we’re blown away by the up-and-coming talent in the region,” said Max Hoberman, Certain Affinity’s CEO, in a statement. “It’s an exciting time for us as we make progress on an ambitious original game while continuing to co-develop some of the most exciting games in the industry. We are thrilled to bring these games and new worlds to life, and our growing Toronto studio continues to be critical to our long-term strategic plans and success.”

The amenities of the new space include a rooftop deck that sports views of the city, a recreation room where colleagues can play Ping-Pong and board games, and the necessary space to grow its current regional headcount to more than 100 developers.

Part of Certain Affinity's Toronto team.
Part of Certain Affinity’s Toronto team.

“The Toronto Region is drawing the attention of the world for its emerging digital media and game development sectors, its diverse and welcoming community and its dynamic cultural scene,” said Stephen Lund, CEO of Toronto Global, in a statement. “I’m thrilled that after helping Certain Affinity to launch here in 2019, the company continues to succeed and grow its presence in Toronto, and contribute to our reputation as a global center for innovation and creativity.”

Sams said the team isn’t part of a stand-alone studio just because it’s in a different location from the Austin team. In that sense, it isn’t yet working on different games than the mother ship.

“Certain Affinity continues to set the standard for what the video game industry can accomplish in our province’s thriving techno-creative space. Since choosing to expand to Ontario in 2019 and working with Interactive Ontario as a Torchbearer member, Certain Affinity has had a profound and long-lasting impact on our sector,” said Lucie Lalumière, CEO of Interactive Ontario, in a statement. “This next chapter of the studio will create exciting additional opportunities for the highly skilled techno-creative talent that our province is known for.”

Certain Affinity is seeking a variety of skilled and passionate team members to join the company, including artists, programmers, designers, producers, and more. Anyone interested in check out the jobs here.

Certain Affinity was founded in 2006 as a bootstrap startup with the goal of creating innovative, top-quality action games.

The rooftop view at Certain Affinity in Toronto.
The rooftop view at Certain Affinity in Toronto.

Sams said the Toronto government has impressive subsidies and tax benefits that make it more cost-effective than the U.S. The company looked at more than 30 cities before it settled on Toronto, “and I think it was the combination of the deep connection and integration with local universities and colleges, the commitment that the government was making, and talent flow,” Sams said.

As for the new game, Sams said the company isn’t talking about it yet. But the company is self-funding it at the moment and is starting to pitch it to publishers.

Sams said that the company has operated without a “crunch culture.” That’s one reason why Sams chose to join the company last fall as COO after serving as a strategic adviser for three years.

I asked Sams about the impact of generative AI, and he said the company is still evaluating how it could affect game development. He said the company isn’t going “all in” yet on generative AI and it wants to bring the technology in at the right time.

“We don’t try to force it,” he said. “We find the right way to utilize and integrate it.”

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