208: Games from the Great White North

Games from the Great White North

Canada is home to nearly 250 game studios, employing upwards of 15,000 people. But some in the industry feel their country doesn't get the credit it deserves from the gaming media. Nicole Tanner speaks with a few developers about the past, present and future of the Canadian games industry.

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I think there's more of a Western vs. Eastern dichotomy in terms of how people understand game production and tropes, rather than being a specifically national thing. Although, I've noticed that the 'Asian' style of game art and design is always Japanese (even if it's Korean or Chinese). The 'Western' style of game is assumed to be American (even if it's Canadian or Australian).

Is it necessary to start looking for further distinctions, define additional influences and groupings?

I think a good game deserves its just deserts. When A company does well and makes a game that is truly a cut above the rest you should be recognized. But i know theres people out there who will say that the country they live in will take credit for being able to pump out such good games. Also we don't have beautiful summers. Its always To hot in the after noon and evening lol.

From an objective point of view, I can't help but feel that focusing on spreading the game production industry behond the traditional centers (America, Japan ect) has much more importance than simply making a name for any one country which is coming up in the industry. The real focus, I feel, should be applied to ensuring the creative potential of the whole world is utilised.
I think it is fair to say that the industry is somewhat in a rut, as far as new ideas are concerned, in a world where any sucessful original idea (the wii motion controller for example) is A- A rarity and B- quickly adopted by the competitors. There simply must be more enphasis on harvesting the fresh ideas which must be lurking in the corners of the world which the games industry has not yet touched.
For the industry to truely advance, some of the American and Japaneese monopoly will have to be outsourced to the rest of the world, failing that, I think that we are in real danger of running out of fresh ideas alltogether, leaving us to play the same tired old games over and over.

One thing Canadian developers do seem to agree upon is the fact that it's nearly impossible to define the country's games industry as a whole due to the cultural differences between places like Vancouver and Montreal. Nonetheless, Ward sees some key distinctions between Canadian and U.S. development styles.

"Overall, I think that there are great similarities in what the goals are in Canadian and U.S. development. Our cultures are close in many ways, and we grew up playing the same games," he says. "That said, the ways in which those goals are achieved are often quite different. Canada places a really high emphasis on team development and a lot of different publishers work really hard to try and keep the same groups of people together for long periods of time. This is something I'm really fond of, as it has a tendency to wipe out a lot of the 'rock star' crap you run into elsewhere. More importantly, you know the strengths and the weaknesses of the guy who's sitting beside you."

This emphasis on slowly growing, unified development teams is one of the reasons why cities like Vancouver and Montreal have become global hubs for game development.

Ah, and again the impact of the frontier spirit of America is contrasted with that of the much more orderly western expansion of Canada on the national psyche:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Metropolitan_Thesis_in_Canadian_History

they should just put a little Canadian flag in the logo screens of game startups :P

SeymourSan:

I think it is fair to say that the industry is somewhat in a rut, as far as new ideas are concerned, in a world where any sucessful original idea (the wii motion controller for example) is A- A rarity and B- quickly adopted by the competitors.

I would argue this more a side-effect of the economic heights that the game industry has now reached, more than anything else. More than say, just the amount of ideas that creative gamer types are coming up with.

When game budgets began emulating Hollywood film budgets, there is some formula that no one has worked out precisely, yet I imagine does say something like : The greater the potential the game project has of losing some company's money, the less chances the development team will take, and the less new ideas will be used in the generation of the game.

As a young lad, I never knew for a while how many of my favorite games were by Canadians. But as I grew up, I found that studios like Bioware and Ubisoft Montreal have created some of the greatest games of all time for me. And that is why I salute our Maple Syrup Loving cousin's to the North.

My cousin works at the EA Burnaby studio, which is not even a 15 minute drive from the EA Vancouver studio, and he was one of the people who made the mark and did not get cut due to the recession.

Yeah I'm really happy to be able to say that Bioware which is for sure one of my favorite game developers has it's HQ in this country same with ubisoft being founded in this city :D and what makes me happiest is that my favorite game to be Mass Effect 2 is being made also in this city :D. It's an overload of awesome.

Also from what I understand this thesis is saying how the USA focuses more on expansion of the unknown and Canada focuses on improving and expanding the already established urban areas. Is that about right?

mckin3228:

Also from what I understand this thesis is saying how the USA focuses more on expansion of the unknown and Canada focuses on improving and expanding the already established urban areas. Is that about right?

The idea is that Canadian expansion proceeded in a much more orderly fashion than that of the American west. Canada had the Mounties, while America had lawmen like Wild Bill Hickok and Wyatt Earp; the Canadian frontier wasn't the 'Wild West' that the American frontier was, and thus Canadian culture is basically an expansion of European urban culture to an entire country, while a distinct frontier culture developed in America that wound up influencing the overall course of American culture.

Looking up that link, it struck me that the American Civil War ended in 1865; Canadian Confederation was completed in 1867; Mexico's War of Reform ended in 1861: it's interesting that such nation-shaping events all occurred within basically the same time period.

kspiess:

I would argue this more a side-effect of the economic heights that the game industry has now reached, more than anything else. More than say, just the amount of ideas that creative gamer types are coming up with.

When game budgets began emulating Hollywood film budgets, there is some formula that no one has worked out precisely, yet I imagine does say something like : The greater the potential the game project has of losing some company's money, the less chances the development team will take, and the less new ideas will be used in the generation of the game.

I can see that you are most likley right on this one, it is a crying shame what capitalism has done to the world, is it not? :/

I think for the most part Canadian game studios produce games of a high quality and do so with consistency. We know Bioware makes a damn good RPG and EA Vancouver makes a damn fine hockey game. I think gamers know who makes their favorite games and from where they come from, at least in Canada we do. Perhaps the lack of chest thumping by Canadian game developers is due to the fact that they are too busy making great games that speak for themselves.

SeymourSan:

I can see that you are most likley right on this one, it is a crying shame what capitalism has done to the world, is it not? :/

Well, there is always indies :)

But honestly, I don't really see the situation as a negative or positive thing. Just as a natural outcome of the situation: bigger the budget, the less likely the financial backers of projects will want their studios to take creative risks. There are of course exceptions; but even in such a creative industry, when game budgets routinely rise about the 70-90 million mark (which they will), I'll bet you my hat that triple-AAA titles will began to settle into even more rigidly defined genres and sub-genres, and game design will become more uniformed and standardized in its application, even across different game studios.

So like there will be one standard RPG model, for example, --maybe two (North American and Eastern) that mostly every RPG game will confirm to, with only slight differences from game to game, and slight evolutionary changes to the formula brought with each new successive title.

Just my thoughts. I'm always willing to be wrong of course.

Outsourcing is definitely a good idea, it would be great to see games from other developers in other countries as there are great ideas all over the world and they shouldn't have to travel to specific regions for the ideas to come to fruition. The gaming market has become stale in many areas, and that's why the Wii was such a welcome change. It was new, it was different and provided us with something that we hadn't seen in this way before. But in saying that, the lack of third party titles has really brought the console down in a lot of ways, developers aren't willing to put much effort into their Wii titles as they know they'll make a profit if they make the games cheaply, but that often means making the games unimaginative and dull.

But kspiess is right, bigger budgets mean less risks, but then smaller budgets can often mean suffering quality. A middle ground needs to be had, and I think a great way forward is games funded by gamers. I recently saw something on the news (in Ebgland this is) about three guys who want to make a film based on some old book. They need a million to fund it and their genius idea was to sell film credits. You buy a credit, get your name at the end of the film under 'Producers' and they get to make their film. It has celebrity backing and I'm sure it's well on it's way to making a good amount of that budget for the film.

Why don't smaller devs do this style of thing? Pay an amount of money and get a credit, or send a pic too and you get your face in the game somewhere, maybe in a background image or as a character. Smaller ideas become bigger one's this way, good games are made cheaper and maybe big publishers pick it up when it gets enough interest, they're getting a cheaply made game, making up the rest of the budget, spending less than usual on marketing and making a tidy profit on any platform.

We can start seeing games from less likely places, from smaller, tighter teams. Of course, this doesn't solve the problem of job losses in the current game market, but it opens up a lot of fresh stuff and a lot of opportunities for those who don't have work right now.

Just saw this on Reuters; Ubisoft is opening a new studio in Toronto with 800 positions to fill. Private capital may be hard to come by, but fortunately the industry's still growing here.

(Pity they're not looking for writers, though.)

-- Steve

Yay, Canada! Glad to see the home turf getting some respect, with more to come: United Front Games, makers of Modnation, are based out of Vancouver - they should be selling plenty of units with their game.

Woo PEI! I'd forgoten we had Other Ocean.

I've been amazed over time as I discover more and more of my favorite games were actually Canadian made.

 

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