Reflections on a Maturing Industry (Nordicity Snapshot)
Posted by Kristian Roberts in Toronto on Dec 22, 2015

Montreal – November 15-17

Having returned from the Montreal International Games Summit (MIGS) some things struck me about the on-going maturation process of Canada’s (video) games industry:

1) It’s really darn big!
2) It’s asking big (and hard to answer) questions of itself.

That’s no moon…

My primary reason for attending MIGS this year was to provide support for the Entertainment Software Association of Canada (ESAC) in their launch of Canada’s Video Game Industry in 2015 – a report that I and number of other Nordicity team members created. Among other headlines, the report finds that the video games industry in Canada contributed more than $3 billion (with a “B”) to the Canadian economy in 2014. The 472 companies that make up the Canadian video game industry employ the equivalent of about 20,400 people (roughly the number of people who live in Owen Sound, ON), and are responsible for the employment of the equivalent of about 36,500 people (once we include all those people whose jobs are stimulated by the industry).

So, that’s pretty big. And it seems to be growing. All of those impressive figures are up significantly (24% or more) from the similar report Nordicity prepared for the ESAC in 2013.

Han will have that shield down. We've got to give him more time!

But growth isn’t the only reason that I think the industry is actually maturing. While I didn’t attend as many sessions as I might have liked, those I did have the opportunity to see focused on the big, meaningful questions. For example, EA’s Amy Hennig (Visceral) and Jade Raymond (Motive) opened Tuesday’s sessions with a conversation (facilitated by Jason Della Rocca of Montreal’s Execution Labs) on the creative process. How does one balance the need for organization, process and planning (as demanded by ever-growing budget and consumer expectations) with the organic nature of creativity? Implicit in that conversation is the assumption that the video game industry is one of growing companies – not just individual creators. Our report supports this notion by identifying the growth of medium-sized firms since 2013. No easy answers were proffered, but the discussion suggested that a more methodical approach to game development was beginning to form.

At the same time, the content of games continues to be scrutinized. When Brenda Bailey Gershkovitch (Silicon Sisters) talked about what she learned about Glu’s Kim Kardashian: Hollywood, she raised the (seemingly perennial) question of what a game for girls actually looks like. Does it – and games like it – suggest that to be a girl, one must pursue heels, handbags and fame above all else? Are such assumptions any different than presuming that games like Call of Duty naturally appeal to boys? What makes purses better or worse than machine guns? Again, good questions with no easy answers. That said, Brenda probably came closer than anyone I’ve heard before to a good, if somewhat Socratic, answer: “what makes you think that girls can’t distinguish between fantasy and reality?”

So, while the (growing) industry may not have the answers (yet), it’s asking good questions. A pitiful little band no more.

Kristian RobertsKristian Roberts is a Director in Nordicity’s Toronto office. He leads Nordicity’s video game practice (in terms of both economic analysis and games-related office banter) -- and is also a Star Wars fan to a (nearly) embarrassing degree.