Mamas, Let Your Kids Grow Up To Be Game Developers

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I had the opportunity to spend Thursday at DIG 2010, the Digital Interactive Gaming conference, held in my home town of London, Ontario (Canada). While it’s always interesting to hang out with gamers and the people who design, build and publish games, it’s even cooler when an event of this caliber is only a fifteen minute drive from my house. After dropping the kids off at school on Thursday morning, it was time to head downtown and get my game on.

DIG 2010 (Photo by Brad Moon)

This conference has been held in London for several years now, recognizing the fact that the city is developing into a recognized video game development hub, thanks to a growing number of local studios like Big Blue Bubble (Thumpies, I Spy Universe) and Digital Extremes (Unreal Tournament, Dark Sector, Bioshock for PS3, Bioshock 2), not to mention a well respected game development program at the University of Western Ontario. Actually, one of the cooler aspects of DIG was the level of student involvement in the conference. Sure, there were plenty of opportunities to sit down and play new titles on big screens, but the conference organizers intentionally make the event accessible to students through discounted passes and many of the panels are on topics that would be of considerable interest to someone considering a career in the video game industry. This approach benefits the students by helping them to tailor their education and training to meet what developers need, while the local industry benefits through the availability of skilled talent. I was impressed by the questions students were asking during sessions and by the candor offered by the panelists.

A number of industry trends were reviewed, which is not surpassing considering the tumultuous year video gaming has had. One in particular that hit close to home was the reliance of digital download games (primarily casual titles for iPhone, iPad and iPod Touch) on blogs for promotion since, under the current publishing model, digital download titles don’t typically have a significant marketing budget. We get a ton of review requests from App Store developers, so this makes sense. For those of you who might be considering a career in gaming or who have kids who are looking in that direction for a career, there was plenty of advice. While a solid education from a recognized educational program is high on some developers’ lists (and some I spoke to pretty much take degree-bearing applicants only), enthusiasm and a portfolio are important too. And despite highly publicized layoffs at studios this year, industry analysts are shrugging those off as being minor in the grand scheme of things, with industry growth rate projected to be 5% or higher per year for the next decade. Cities are scrambling to land video games studios, governments are offering generous tax incentives to studios and salaries are pretty decent. Seems like a good field to go into- just don’t expect to take shortcuts or land a dream job after a 3 month course run out of a strip mall.

Unfortunately, I was sick on Thursday night (falling ill suspiciously quickly, unexpectedly and less than a day after having my flu shot- not going there, but the timing does make one wonder), so I missed the second day of DIG. I leave you with a quote from Frozen North‘s Julian Spillane on the concept of starting up one’s own video game development studio: “Don’t listen to people who call you stupid or crazy -unless you are.”

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