Panic Attack


We got close when Alan Yu and I designed the Game Developers Choice Awards… One of the rules was that studios had to name their key people for a given award (eg, creative director and lead designer if your game was up for the best game design award). We had to fight in a few cases (and push back on “the team” attributions), but only lost two nominees over the years (might have been Halo2 and one of the GTA games, if I recall correctly). But, somehow, it felt so good/right to announce “and the award for best game design goes to John Smith and Mary Jane for GameXYZ”.

With the newly announced Canadian Game Development Talent Awards, we’re going a step further and focusing just on the talent. Who is the designer of the year? The best artist? And so on… Let’s give them all a pat on the back and shine a big spotlight on them and their achievements.

I have no doubt that some studios/bosses will make a fuss about it (scared of their top talent getting poached, or having too much attention). Also, I’m guessing that some developers will balk at the idea that it is unfair to recognize individuals since game dev is such a team effort. True, but someone was ultimately the lead, the director, guiding the others and pushing everyone forward. (Besides, Valve is not Canadian so we don’t have to worry about how to handle their “cabal” process ;)

I’m envisioning a moment, after the ceremony, where all the recipients are on stage for a group photo, and we can look at them and say, “Wow these people represent some of the best creative talent that Canada has to offer,” and be inspired to match, and surpass, their achievements.

I was interviewed for GameInformer’s February ‘11 issue for an article titled “Widening The Scope: A Look At Racial Diversity in Video Games”.

My bit was specifically looking at the need to diversify who gets to make games. And, that stemmed from the workforce demographics research released back in 2005 when I was serving the IGDA, which quantified the glaring homogeneity of game developers. (Sad side note that the IGDA has yet to re-run that research.)

As expected, the article has the usual quote about not caring if someone is purple as long as they have the needed talent. In that regard, my thinking is that “being different” is in fact talent - not in the traditional/usual sense, but definitely of merit.

The Medici Effect was a particularly inspiring book in making the case for diversity. Not directly, however, as the book never discussed diversity in the usual political context, but rather discusses how the intersection of two different things (cultures, disciplines, markets, etc) is what brings about truly breakthrough innovation.

I recently signed the ECA’s “Freedom of Speech, Freedom to Game” petition. And, somehow, it’s making me feel even better about clearing out all the crime from Crackdown 2’s Pacific City ;)

Ok, more seriously, freedom of speech and creative expression for game developers was always one of the big topics I dealt with while at the IGDA. Now my work is much more business/strategy focused, and I don’t really get to wrestle with stuff like censorship anymore. Though, I will often bring it up in terms of governments who are keen to support/grow their local game industry, need to be thinking about the overall “atmosphere” for games and removing as much “friction” as possible. In fact, a critical success factor is embracing games as art and culture.

Anyway, takes all of 20 seconds to sign the petition. Do it!

Was back in Ottawa to speak at the opening Generator event. Generator is the game/digital media cluster support group under the Ottawa Centre for Research and Innovation (OCRI) umbrella.

My presentation was focused on economic/cluster dynamics, related to my consulting efforts. Another lecture, by the director of PlayReplay (game marketing specialist), covered the evolving nature of the business, along with the impact of digital distribution, and how it is/will shift the balance of power to developers.

That last point incited a good deal of discussion among the audience, with a key  point being that developers want to develop - and not worry about all the business dirty work. Meaning, many devs are simply not interested in taking back power, if that means they gotta worry about marketing and distribution and customer service, etc, etc. Let alone stuff like cashflow management, funding, and not getting screwed on contracts, etc.

Interestingly enough, we are starting to see the rise of new “small game” specialists that will handle that for you. From PlayReplay’s guerrilla marketing/PR services, to traditional AAA game agents now servicing the casual/social/download space, or specific advice on funding and business support from industry veterans. The services are out there, and you’d be wise to leverage them so you can focus on the dev part of the equation.

Amazingly, so many devs are either outright hesitant to get help, or are concerned about trust issues with using a consultant (or often, more realistically, they just don’t have the money for it). One bit of advice I give to start-up studios is to hire a biz kid straight out of school. Find someone who just got a business/finance/management/MBA style degree, who is super keen on games and get them to come on board to take charge of all the business bits. They may be a complete game industry rookie, but even just their textbook knowledge of business will be a massive help! Bonus: They won’t be completely jaded about the games business… yet.

The big news in the UK dev scene is how the government snubbed the game industry by not including any tax breaks to support game development in the next budget. In part citing that the case made by industry for a tax break was unconvincing, as well as the overall tough economic climate.

While industry reps are in rage, they should not be overly surprised as they themselves claimed it would “never happen”. On a panel at Develop in Brighton, they stated it was an impossible task, but on principle they had to fight the fight.

It is the same panel that I got into a bit of a shouting match, blaming them for using the tax break fight as a distraction from doing real (hard) work on things they could effect and could have an impact on the UK industry.

I also made the bold claim that if a tax break did happen, it would have literally no impact on the UK situation. Meaning, a tax break is not some kind of all-in-one solution that would all of a sudden resolve all the challenges the UK community is facing.

As an example of progress, at roughly the same time, it was announced that Ł10million is being invested in the game industry to support education and the development of prototypes and original IP. Similar initiatives are popping up across the country.

Now we’re talking. Now we’re getting somewhere. This approach speaks more to the ecosystem nature of the industry and working to build things out and support efforts at a more organic level. Though, this gets marginal coverage/attention versus the tax debate…

Even Canada, with all its national and provincial aids, is at risk. Blamed for “buying the video game industry“, Canada needs to build a more holistic strategy to foster the community from top to bottom - not just chasing down big publishers to set up shop…

PS: Does anyone have details on the UK “brain drain” to Canada. UK reps continuously claim that they are losing their talent to Canada. But, I’ve never seen any real data or research. Is this a valid claim? Or, mainly based on anecdotes and really, all the UK talent is just shifting to some other sector in the UK?

Game dev education in the UK has come under attack over the past couple of years. Despite great efforts by many schools, the ones mucking things up are somewhat ruining the entire UK reputation.

Some of this has to do with raw “quality control”, for which the SkillSet accreditation scheme will help. But, largely, it comes from a huge disconnect between the academic world and industry. Partially due to developers’ aloofness when it comes to academic collaboration; partially due to academia not even bothering to check in (ie, to get context/relevance, guidance, etc).

In that regard, I’m happy to see that pixel-lab is organizing another edition of GAMES:EDU to take place alongside the Develop conference in Brighton at the end of July. This will be the third EDU event I attend. It is an important/rare opportunity for industry to connect with academia. And while the set lectures/panels are great, the most enlightening part has always been when attendees get around the table to discuss specific issues among themselves.

Admittedly, the IGDA has not done as much as it should to better reach out to UK/Euro educators. We’ve had a lot of success in North America, but need to bring some of our EdSIG pixie dust abroad. I’ll be sure to bring a pouch of it to Brighton ;)

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