A recently-passed law in the Canadian province of Quebec called "Bill 96" is starting to worry those in the local game development community. As several of them explain to the CBC, the law's restrictions on access to English-language government resources might hurt development studios trying to hire international talent.
If you haven't heard yet, Bill 96 is a piece of legislation that aims to mandate the use of the French language when accessing government services (with the exception of healthcare).
Enforcement of the bill is complicated, because there are two groups of Quebec residents ("historic" English-speakers who were educated in English, and immigrants who've been in Quebec for less than six months) who are still allowed to access English-speaking services.
That means that on paper, game developers headed to Quebec from other regions or countries will have six months to get caught up on la langue Française after moving to the area. That's not an easy task, made harder if they have to do so while helping build games with primarily English-speaking teams.
Bidding Quebec adieu
Some developers (like an anonymous one named "Remy") told the CBC that they accepted employment at Quebec-area studios because they were told that learning French was "optional," and that their coworkers would mostly be speaking English. He says that he knows several developers making plans to abandon the region.
Unity senior partner relations manager Osama Dorias (formerly of WB Games Montréal) explained that he's been advising colleagues only to take jobs in the area if they speak French. "It's like night and day. I shifted from being an advocate for people to move here, to warning people away," he stated.
Even though many game developers pass through Montréal's university system, Dorias says that they're likely to leave the city if they get better offers from developers in the United States or Sweden.
The Guilde du jeu vidéo du Québec, a nonprofit organization representing Canadian studios, says that it supports the spirit of Bill 96 but is also worried about its impact. Representative Christopher Chancey told the CDC that the organization fears the bill's passing will send a message to international game developers that other cultures aren't welcome in the province.
The CBC has also reported on the broader tech industry's worries over Bill 96.
It's worth noting that Quebec-area game studios appear to have not previously emphasized the need to learn French among international hirees. Part of the issue being faced by game studios may be that they have not built up any services to help developers learn French despite it being the official business language of Quebec since 1977.
The repercussions of Bill 96 are causing headaches for Quebec residents in all walks of life, as the bill also changes the rules for filing contracts, access to 311 services, and more.
Developers not familiar with Quebec or other Francophone countries may not be aware of the cultural conflict that surrounds the French language. In both France and Quebec, many French speakers take extreme effort to allow the language to be overtaken by English language usage. These actions range from specialized language for video game industry terms (mostly harmless, also charming) to public condemnations of multiculturalism (possibly harmful, tacking too closely toward xenophobia).
Part of this conflict even manifested during revelations about allegations of abuse at Ubisoft's Canadian studios. In 2020, associate producer Stephane Mehay was accused of refusing to speak English to some colleagues in order to exclude them from conversations. He even would allegedly insult them in French, thinking that they could not understand his words.
It isn't fair to cast the English language as a victim in this scenario, (it's still the most-spoken language in the world, only rivaled by Mandarin and Hindi). However, Canada's game development boom over the last decade has been partly centered in the Montréal area, and such growth could be impacted if the region is unable to attract English-speaking talent.
The Guilde du jeu vidéo du Québec and other developers hope that the government will recognize the potential damage, and are open to the idea of extending the timeline for new immigrants to learn the French language. Hopefully the architects of Bill 96 will heed their warnings and work to adjust the impact on immigrants, rather than dictate a six-month timeline to learn a whole new language.