A trip to the Canada's metropolitan development hub
Home to both the most populous Canadian city of Toronto and the national capital of Ottawa, Ontario is a hub of metropolitan life in a country with more than a few gleaming cityscapes spread out across its (mostly) untamed terrain.
“Ontario is really the engine that drives the rest of Canada in terms of economic activity, academic institutions and the like,” says Bedlam Games CEO Trevor Fencott.
“We benefit greatly by having so many top quality schools in the area and a government that understands our business. Ontario is also a huge centre of film and television production, so we also have a lot of cross-over talent coming from those industries.
“We’re actually located right in the heart of Toronto, Canada’s largest city. It is one of the most multicultural and cosmopolitan cities in the world which really helps to attract and retain top talent.”
Much of the games development scene in the region is located in the capital city of Toronto. With such a volume of talented digital entertainment professionals living in the town, Ubisoft Toronto’s managing director Jade Raymond points out the obvious benefits of establishing a development studio in an emerging, city-based development community.
“There is definitely a sense of community here in Toronto. The IGDA chapter here is about to be ‘re-launched’ with Ubisoft producer Lesley Phord-Toy as its new president,” she says. “There is the HandEye Society, which has a strong indie focus, and great companies are established throughout Ontario. Bedlam Games, Silicon Knights, Digital Extremes and some smaller mobile and indie studios.
“The diversity of studios makes the province a great place where an even stronger community will most likely develop. We have high hopes for Toronto.”
CEO of Big Blue Bubble Games Damir Slogar describes a shifting landscape in the national development scene.
“To a certain degree, Ontario has been in the shadow of Québec and British Columbia because they both have several major publishers located there,” he states.
“With the growth of the digital distribution model and the slight shift in the role of publishers that now sees them as not the only option for funding, Ontario is standing out more and more.”
And Slogar expects that new national position to have a very positive effect on his own business.
“We expect our studio to double in size over the next two years, and I see a similar trend with some of the other studios that we work closely with.
“The amount of change in the industry in the past year or so is unprecedented, so the type of industry we have in Ontario, with predominantly small developers, can only benefit from these changes as we will be able to adapt very fast.”
SIGN OF THE TIMES
Raymond is also noticeably excited about the future for the region.
“We are convinced that Toronto will in time become another great games development city for Canada. Indeed, Toronto has not yet been established as a gaming city, and Vancouver and Montréal have been far more present and recognised in what is Canada’s still short history of video game development,” she says.
“Vancouver is closer to Asia, while Montréal is a hybrid city, halfway culturally and geographically between Europe ad the USA. Now, Toronto has many other advantages, and we are sure that our newest studio will succeed within our group, and contribute to the Canadian industry’s growth.”
That expected growth will be built on strong relationships between universities and individual studios, as well as the development industry as a whole.
“Toronto universities have been training video game experts for the past few years and our plan is to collaborate with them to make sure that what they teach corresponds to the industry’s goals,” Raymond explains.
“We bring the practical knowledge, they have teaching resources. It fits.”
Trevor Fencott considers his company fortunate to be doing business in a region with the kind of links to education that Ontario offers.
“As an industry we have been very very lucky. Because of the huge film and television industry here in Ontario, schools have been turning out world-class digital talent for some time now.
“They have definitely been very receptive to working with us to make their programs even more relevant to the gaming industry.”
And Fencott also sees securing relationships with other local entertainment industries as the best course of action for building on the industry’s notable successes to date.
“It never exactly made sense to me that films like The Hulk were made here, but the game was made somewhere else. In its own way, Ubisoft has recognised this power powerful synergy and the fact that Ontario has such deep strength on the cinematic side,” he says.
Interesting things are going on in Ontario.