The video game industry in the Toronto Region is buzzing, and a major reason for that is Certain Affinity – the 2021 Canadian Game Awards Studio of the Year.
We recently caught up with Paul Sams (President & Chief Operating Officer) to learn more about what the company is up to, their future aspirations, and how they’ve settled into the Toronto Region.
The story of Certain Affinity in Toronto is one of perfect timing. When the company first visited Toronto, they noted a sizable opportunity for talent in the industry. Since then, Certain Affinity has grown exponentially, recently doubling down on its investment in Toronto by opening a new 12,000 square foot office in downtown Toronto.
Tell us a bit about Certain Affinity and how the company fits into the video game industry.
PS: Certain Affinity is one of the largest independent video game developers in North America. We were founded in 2006 by former Halo veteran Max Hoberman, with a goal of creating innovative, high-quality action games.
We currently have more than 200 incredibly talented, full-time employees across our Toronto, Ontario, Austin, Texas, and a handful of remote locations across the US and Canada. We work on a wide variety of different projects, tools, engines, and IPs, both as a co-development studio and as an original game developer. We were named “Studio of the Year” in 2021 by the Canadian Game Awards, which was an awesome honor for the entire company.
I think one of the most important aspects about Certain Affinity is our strong track record partnering with different world-renowned studios throughout the industry, working on AAA games across so many different iconic franchises, and the fact that we’ve been in business for more than 16 years with consistent profitability and growth, and no layoffs. Me, Max (our Founder and CEO), and the rest of our leadership team are all committed to creating a fun, ethical, and stable workplace where our team members can bring their creativity to life and feel supported doing so.
What has Certain Affinity done in the past?
PS: I mentioned the fact that, for some projects, we partner with other awesome studios. We’ve had a hand in several beloved, global franchises like Call of Duty, Halo, World of Tanks, Left 4 Dead, New World, Hogwarts Legacy, Hearthstone, and many others. Over the years we’ve developed or co-developed nearly 40 games and significant content updates across 16 different franchises, including our original games Age of Booty and Crimson Alliance.
What drew Certain Affinity to Toronto?
PS: There’s always a lot to consider when deciding where to base a studio, but Toronto stood out to us for several reasons. Ontario has put a lot of work into developing regional talent and has strong incentives in place to help tech innovators succeed, which has led to the creation of a thriving development community. Toronto’s people-first culture also aligns with our own—we want to provide a supportive environment for developers who value the unusual combination of a healthy work-life balance with work on top-tier, top-quality games, and we believe Toronto is a great place to find them.
To boil this down a little, we chose Toronto based on the region’s existing development talent, the city’s commitment to becoming a tech/innovation hub in North America, the strong public/private partnership that exists in the region, compelling incentives, and the numerous colleges and universities producing amazing up-and-coming game developers.
Over the long term, we hope to show our continued commitment to the region and the larger Canadian game development community by doubling down on our hiring efforts here.
We want to have an ongoing positive impact on the local game development scene and hope our presence will benefit game creators here in many ways and for many years to come.
What role did talent play in your decision to set up a studio in Toronto?
PS: It was a large part of our decision. Toronto is not only home to several highly skilled veterans of the video game industry; there are also numerous universities and colleges that offer programs in game design, computer science, 3D art, animation, and a multitude of related fields, which provide a steady stream of talented graduates. Additionally, Toronto’s cultural diversity and inclusive spirit make it an attractive destination for people from all over the world, adding to the already awesome talent pool.
I think it’s important to highlight that the Toronto studio is an integral part of our company’s strategy and future growth plans and the team in Toronto plays a crucial role in the company’s ongoing co-development on some of the world’s biggest game franchises. (Not to mention, several CA Toronto team members are contributing to the development of an extremely ambitious, unannounced, original action game that we’re working on!)
How has Certain Affinity grown since setting up in Toronto?
PS: We first expanded our operations outside of Austin to Toronto in early 2019, and we had some early success finding talent in the area. We also participated in meaningful conversations with local industry support organizations and colleges and universities. Like everyone else, the arrival of COVID slowed our progress a bit, but we’re happy to be past the worst of it now, and to officially announce our new facility and ambitious growth plans.
In addition to having an awesome new space in the heart of downtown Toronto, we’ve also recently invested heavily in our talent acquisition team, which is proactively recruiting and sourcing talent from near and far. We’re especially excited to resume conversations with local colleges and universities, as we’re looking to more than double our Toronto staff in the next couple of years.
What is the culture and working environment like at Certain Affinity? What are some of the initiatives you take to demonstrate employee appreciation?
PS: Certain Affinity has championed a culture of openness, support, and transparency since its launch in 2006—and to a level that’s unprecedented in my experience. We try to help facilitate connections early and get new team members integrated quickly so they can focus on collaboration, creativity, productivity, and innovation. The company emphasizes diversity and inclusion and strives to create an environment where all employees, no matter their role or experience level, have a voice and feel comfortable and supported. We also encourage a healthy work-life balance, providing flexible schedules, wellness programs, generous paid time off, and other initiatives to promote employee well-being. Another unique and compelling differentiator of being part of the Certain Affinity family is our company’s long-term commitment to not supporting “crunching,” which we continually prove with both our words and actions.
Regardless of location, Certain Affinity is one team—Toronto is fully integrated into our development process and overall operations. Our team members here play a crucial role working in unison with our US-based team members on development of a tremendous amount of cool new features and content.
In addition, we set aside time for regular social digital department meetups, and most recently, in December 2022, the studio invested in an amazing company-wide “Dev Day” event hosted at our Austin studio focused on our developers by flying in any staff who wanted to attend in person and bringing in many renowned game industry speakers for three days of learning, inspiration, and connection.
Is there anything exciting on the horizon for Certain Affinity that you can share at this time?
PS: Yes! We have many projects in development, including important work on some of the most popular franchises in the industry. We’re also in the early stages on an ambitious new action game in a new universe. One of my personal favorite contributions to the company so far has been the ability to free up bandwidth for Max, who has a very successful background as a designer, so that he can oversee the development organization and be the Game Director leading an awesome team on our new project. Max is a uniquely talented game developer and leader, and we can’t wait to share more about our new game as we get further along in development.
Both the Toronto and Austin teams will be critical in bringing this new game to life, and we have a bunch of current openings in both of our locations across a variety of disciplines and experience levels. Check out our website careers page and please reach out to us, even if you don’t see your specific discipline or an appropriate job posting listed. We are always open to opportunistic hires under the right circumstances, so we’d love to hear from you!
Courtney Bowen is the Senior Advisor of Talent Partnerships at Toronto Global.