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Fan Expo Panel: The State of the Local Video Game Industry

This past weekend Fan Expo 2010 took place at the Metro Toronto Convention Center. Amongst the cosplay cuties, comic book artists, celebrity signings, the occasional waft of b.o. and merchant stands, I somehow found the time to sit in on a few interesting panels. One such panel was the State of the Local Video Game Industry, a comprehensive and in-depth discussion about how the Toronto video game industry is stacking up and where it’s headed.

The panel was moderated by Jason MacIsaac of Electric Playground and formerly the small Niagara Ontario game studio Cerebral Vortex Games. Joining him were the guests (from left to right):

Philippe McNally, from Longbow Digital Arts

Ryan MacLean, formerly of Pseudo Interactive and a founder of Drinkbox Studios

Leslie Phord-Toy, a producer at the new Ubisoft Toronto Studio

Ian Kelso, head of Interactive Ontario

And finally, the always entertaining and outspoken Ryan Henson Creighton, founder of Untold Entertainment Inc.

Unfortunately, as was the case with many of the panels I attended revolving around the Gaming Industry, the conversation and audience questions started to veer towards how students can break into the industry and what future employers are looking for in juniors.

Below are the few questions and comments that did relate to the topic at hand. No offense to students – and maybe I can say this because I graduated years ago, have gone through the whole grueling intern(ment) camps and finally landed a gig – but the majority of questions asked by them were things that their teachers should have previously informed them of, as well as just having common sense: be outstanding, have a great portfolio, do whatever it takes, talent beats educational pedigree any day etc. These are things that are not mutually exclusive to the video game industry but are applicable to any job.

(Ryan Creighton Henson and his Untold Entertainment Inc. Monster hat his wife made for him)

Why choose Toronto to develop games?

Ian Kelso answered by recalling a conversation he had had the previous week at GamesCon in Germany, it was with a developer from France, who called Toronto, “the Hollywood of the gaming industry.”

This was met with a chuckle and agreement as the panel members all nodded their heads. Although the other guests all approved of this declaration, there are other benefits and motivations to choosing Toronto, as Ryan Creighton amusingly exclaimed, “there’s no doubt that Ubisoft was enticed by generous government funding and tax credits.” But as Kelso pointed out, “there is no studio, big or small, that operates in Canada without the help of the Canadian government.”

For the majority of the guests, the three small indie guys in particular, the answer to the questions was simple. Family. Toronto is either where they were born and raised or where they have planted roots and are surrounded by friends and family. Pulling their kids out of school and away from grandparents is an option that just isn’t plausible.

Ian also went on to comment that, “there is so much talent that comes from Toronto and if we can just keep that talent here it’s a good thing.” The panel all agreed that a couple more big studios like Ubisoft were needed in Toronto to help keep the local talent planted here and not venturing off to other provinces or countries seeking employment.

How strong is the Toronto Indie gaming scene for upcoming programmers?

Creighton was the first to field this query and responded by saying that, “the Toronto Indie scene is incredibly rich and vibrant. There are numerous groups and organizations like the Hand Eye Society, are great at bringing indie developers together and creating opportunities and connections within the industry.” He went on to add that there are many parallels with the Toronto indie gaming scene to that of the indie film and music industries.

Ryan MacLean and Philippe McNally both agreed that Toronto is great at providing numerous avenues for young developers to get started and break onto the scene. Interactive Ontario and other strong government funds also provide much needed aid and assistance to help empty pocketed developers who might not be able to succeed without them.

It’s clear that the Toronto gaming industry is thriving and continuing to grow despite the recent recession. What’s needed now is to build on the already solid foundation and continue to bring in bigger studios that can foster young local talent and create a place where people throughout the world gravitate towards.

If you’d like to hear about the questions regarding students and how to break into the industry you can read about them on the Untold Entertainment blog.

For more news and information feel free to follow me on Twitter @The_GeekJock

One Comment

  1. Demologic says:

    Great Post, good write up.

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