Canada’s Video Game Industry - A National Champion Making a Global Impact
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23 November, 2021 Canada’s Video Game Industry - A National Champion Making a Global Impact
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November 2021
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November 23, 2021

The Empire Club of Canada Presents

Canada’s Video Game Industry: A National Champion Making a Global Impact

Chairman: Kelly Jackson, President, The Empire Club of Canada; Associate Vice-President, Humber College

Moderator
Jayson Hilchie, President & CEO, the Entertainment Software Association of Canada

Panelists
Deirdre Ayre, Head of Canadian Operations, Other Ocean Group Canada
Francis Baillet, Vice-President, Corporate Affairs, Ubisoft
Michelle Liem, Director of Sales, Microsoft Canada - Xbox Team

Distinguished Guest Speakers
Cameron MacDonald, Partner, National Co-Chair, Sports & Gaming Law, BLG
Tara Koski, Dean of Students, Durham College

Introduction
It is a great honour for me to be here at the Empire Club of Canada today, which is arguably the most famous and historically relevant speaker’s podium to have ever existed in Canada. It has offered its podium to such international luminaries as Winston Churchill, Ronald Reagan, Audrey Hepburn, the Dalai Lama, Indira Gandhi, and closer to home, from Pierre Trudeau to Justin Trudeau. Literally generations of our great nation's leaders, alongside with those of the world's top international diplomats, heads of state, and business and thought leaders.

It is a real honour and distinct privilege to be invited to speak to the Empire Club of Canada, which has been welcoming international diplomats, leaders in business, and in science, and in politics. When they stand at that podium, they speak not only to the entire country, but they can speak to the entire world.

Welcome Address by Kelly Jackson, President, The Empire Club of Canada
Good afternoon fellow directors, past presidents, members, and guests. Welcome to the 118th season of the Empire Club of Canada. My name is Kelly Jackson. I am the President of the Board of Directors of the Empire Club of Canada, and Associate Vice-President at Humber College. I'm your host for today's virtual event, “Canada’s Video Game Industry and National Champion: Making A Global Impact,”

I'd like to begin this afternoon with an acknowledgement that I'm hosting this event within the Traditional and Treaty Lands of the Mississaugas of the Credit, and the homelands of the Anishinaabe, the Haudenosaunee, and the Wyandot Peoples. In acknowledging Traditional Territories, I do so from a place of understanding the privilege my ancestors and I have had in this country, since they first arrived here in the 1830’s. As farmers in Southwestern Ontario, I imagine they felt a deep connection to the land, and yet likely did not recognize how that connection was built on the displacement of others. Delivering a land acknowledgement, for me, is always an important opportunity to reflect on our human connection, and responsibility to care for the land; and to recognize that to do so, we must always respect each other, and acknowledge our histories. We encourage everyone tuning in today to learn more about the Traditional Territory on which you work and live.

The Empire Club of Canada is a non-profit organization. I would now like to take a minute to recognize our sponsors, who generously support the club, and make these events possible, and complimentary, for our supporters to attend. Thank you to our lead event sponsors BLG, and Durham College. Thank you, also, to our supporting sponsors, Global Public Affairs, and Nordicity. And thank you to our season sponsors Bruce Power, Canadian Bankers Association, LiUNA, and Waste Connections of Canada.

I want to remind everyone participating today, that this is an interactive event. And so, those attending live are encouraged to engage with our speakers, by taking advantage to the question box by scrolling down below your on-screen video player. We have allotted some time for Q&A towards the end of the discussion. If you require technical assistance, please start a conversation with our team, using the chat button on the right-hand side of your screen. We also invite you to share your thoughts on social media, using the hashtags you will see displayed on the screen throughout the event. To those watching on demand at a later date, and to those tuning in on the podcast, welcome.

It is now my pleasure to call this virtual meeting to order. I am delighted to introduce our panelists, Jayson Hilchie, President and CEO, Entertainment Software Association of Canada, and our moderator today; Dierdre Ayre, Head of Canadian Operations, Other Ocean Group Canada, also known as Beep; Francis Baillet, Vice-President, Corporate Affairs, Ubisoft; and Michelle Liem, Director of Sales, Microsoft Canada, Xbox Team. Welcome to the Empire Club of Canada's virtual stage. Before we hand it over to our panel, I'd like to invite Cameron MacDonald, Partner, National Co-Chair of Sports and Gaming Law at BLG, one of our lead event sponsors, to deliver some opening remarks. Over to you, Cameron.

Opening Remarks by Cameron MacDonald, Partner, National Co-Chair, Sports & Gaming Law, BLG
Thanks very much, Kelly, and good afternoon, everyone. On behalf of the entire BLG team, I'd like to extend our warm thanks to the Empire Club, for providing us with the opportunity to be here today as lead sponsor, alongside such great panelists, who we’ll hear from shortly. It is definitely an exciting time to be in the video game industry in Canada right now. Our country has become a major leader in this emerging industry, quietly growing into one of the largest, and most successful of its kind in the world. And as Canada's largest law firm, with a national sports and gaming law focus group that extends from coast-to-coast, with subject matter experts across all areas of the law, we are well-versed in supporting the growth and the development of both established, as well as start-up, and high-growth companies in the space. And in that capacity, we find these reports that come out from ESAC and Nordicity on a biennial basis very useful, as they help provide the reader with a more holistic, and macro appreciation of the growth opportunities, and challenges, arising in the Canadian video game industry, year-over-year. And this report is certainly a great interest this year to many in the industry, as it covers the period most impacted by the global pandemic, and illustrates the resiliency of this sector, as well as the challenges that it faced, as the way that we were all used to doing business seem to turn upside down overnight. In this regard, and as you'll see later in the video, the latest report reveals that the majority of video game companies in Canada experienced declines in productivity over the pandemic, with the larger players suffering the bigger brunt of that impact. As well, only 1 out of 10 large companies in Canada intend to return to a fixed-office environment in the sector. So, the video game industry is certainly no exception to these new demands for hybrid work environments, and we could likely devote an entire segment at the Empire Club just to discuss this topic; it's certainly something in hot debate right now in the legal community.

In terms of success stories, notwithstanding the challenges posed by COVID-19, the Canadian video game industry continued its tremendous growth trajectory over the past two years, injecting much-needed capital into our economy, and living up to its reputation as a national champion, making a global impact. To that end, the latest report reveals a significant number of new active video game companies emerging in Canada since 2019, something we've certainly witnessed at the firm over the course of the past couple of years, especially in our Ontario and Québec offices. Video game companies are also expected to generate upwards of $4.3 billion in revenue this year, reflecting 20% growth since 2019—and I'm fairly certain that my son's addiction to playing Fortnite may have contributed to at least half of that $4 billion revenue figure, but I will digress. And last, but certainly never least, the report reveals that a large proportion of established companies in the sector have also adopted equity, diversity, and inclusion programs, which is certainly a positive development, and always a much needed one. So, there's no shortage of encouraging data from this report, but being mindful of time, I'll wrap up here, and would just like to reiterate how delighted we are as a firm to be joining some of our clients and industry friends today at the Empire Club, to hear more about this latest report, as well as the insights of our fantastic panelists. So, without further ado, I'll now turn it over to Jayson Hilchie, who’s monitoring today’s panel, and you can get the discussion started. Over to you Jason.

Jayson Hilchie, President & CEO, the Entertainment Software Association of Canada
Thanks very much, Cameron, and I just want to thank the Empire Club of Canada for hosting us today. I want to thank all the sponsors that have made this event possible, and I want to thank the great panelists that we have here today to talk about some of the things that Cameron just mentioned, about how the video game industry is making a big impact on Canadian economy and social fabric. So, before I do that, I do want to play a video for you to really set the stage. It is a video that really kind of creates the greatest hits of some of the statistics that have come out of our economic impact study that we just released a couple of weeks ago, and it really will show you some of the innovations and games that are being made in Canada. It really is an exciting time to be in the video game industry, and we want to really show you, and give you the context before we get into the conversation today. So, if you'll watch this two-minute video will begin the panel immediately afterwards.

[Introductory Video is Shown]

Jayson Hilchie
Well, I hope you all enjoyed that; it really is an easily consumable way of understanding the context of how big the video game industry is becoming. I was in this job, I started this job in 2012, and the amount of growth that I've seen over the last nine years that, you know, I've been working, and working with our members to grow this industry, has been phenomenal. And like Cameron said, the ability of our industry to be resilient through the pandemic really, truly was remarkable. But I'm not the speaker today, and I'm the moderator, and so, we've got a great panel of people that really represent the entire industry. We've got Dierdre “Beep” Ayre, from Atlantic Canada, running a Canadian-owned and operated studio; Francis Baillet from Ubisoft, they are the largest employer in our industry in Canada; and then Michelle Liem from Xbox, Xbox is building consoles, but also making games in their own studios in Canada. So, we've got a really interesting group of people to talk about the full gamut, so let's get into it. And Francis, I'm going to start with you, from Ubisoft. You are the largest employer in our in our video game industry in Canada, you've got studios across the country, obviously in Montreal and Toronto, but also smaller cities such as Halifax and Winnipeg, and you've recently opened studios both in Saguenay, and then last week in Sherbrooke, in Québec. Now, as a global company, why has Ubisoft chosen to invest so heavily in Canada? What makes Canada such a great place to make video games?

Francis Baillet, Vice-President, Corporate Affairs, Ubisoft
Do you actually want the recipe, Jayson?

Jayson Hilchie
If you've got the cookbook, yeah.

Francis Baillet
I think there's four ingredients, really, when you look into that, and after that, it’s question of mixing all of those ingredients properly together. But I think the first ingredient is really the right financial conditions to set a studio. You know, creating a game—I don't need to tell you, Jayson—it’s an innovative, but yet a very risky proposition. And so, if you want to reduce your investment risk, having such programs like you have in multiple provinces here in Canada, the IDM program, the Interactive Digital Media program, coupled with SR&ED tax program, the scientific research and experimental development program that you have at the federal level, when you work those two things together, it really helps reduce your investment risk. And when you reduce your investment risks, you automatically create more appetite for risk; and when you create appetite for risk, you create innovation. And so, this proposition that we have here in Canada, on the financial side, is really one of the four key ingredients.

The second one is really the access to talent. And, you know, don't get confused, there's always been a scarcity of talent in our industry. You know, we've never seen a situation where there was a surplus of talent in the video game industry, so what's happening now is not new to us. So, what we've been able to do everywhere we set a studio, is to work in partnership with colleges and universities and create new programs or, you know, accelerate the existing programs, with new people and new students coming into the program to feed that new world, or that those jobs, the future that we're creating in the industry.

The third ingredient, I would say, is something that sometimes is in the shadow—I think most of the time’s in the shadow—is the extraordinary people that work in the economic development agencies around Canada. And every time you see a press conference like the one you saw last week in Sherbrooke, you always see the conclusion of multiple years of discussion with development economics agencies, or foreign investment agencies, or people really passionate around creating opportunities in their cities, or province, or their country. So, this is the really the third, but sometime more absent element, that people don't realize right from the start.

And last but not least, I would say that the opportunity to work on iconic brands is really important. When you have the luxury to work on Splinter Cell, and Assassin's Creed, and Rainbow Six, and Far Cry, and Watch Dogs, those are the type of brands that are played worldwide by hundreds of millions of people. So, what happens then, is that you have commercial successes. Money that comes from outside the country, that comes back to the country, to be able to pay for more talent, and be able to create more games. So, it's really a virtuous circle.

Jayson Hilchie
Yeah, and some of these games that we're talking about Francis, we’re talking about budgets similar to motion pictures, I mean, $100 million productions, just for the production of the game, plus another $100 million for marketing and distribution. I mean, these are massive games. And, you know, I just go back to your comment about talent, and not finding a surplus of talent. You know, our economic study showed that Québec generated about 1000 new jobs over the last two years in our industry, but there are about 2000 open jobs available right now, in our industry, in that province alone. So, the growth could have been, you know, much more substantive, but, you know, we were struggling, I think, to find those people. But, you know, it does lead to my next question to you, Francis, I'll go back, you know, why has Ubisoft decided to open so many studios across Canada? You know, is it because of the want and the need to diversify where you're finding that talent? Because you've opened up studios in some really interesting spots, right? I mean, obviously, Sherbrooke wouldn't come to mind as the top spot where you would open up the studio, obviously, you've been doing this for a reason, Halifax as well on the East Coast. Why not just hire everybody in Montreal and build a mega studio there?

Francis Baillet
I think there's been a shift, right? So, if you look back in 1997, and a few years after that, it used to be, you know, if you want to employ the economic development terms, it used to be that investment attracted talent. So, wherever you set up shop, people flew from all over the country to work in this specific location. But now there's been a change, and really, over the last few years, what we see is that actually it’s the opposite, it’s investment follows talent. So, we are following talent wherever it is, and we are offering that talent to work either in one of our main studios, or in a smaller studio, but in their own city. So, you can actually be born, be raised, study, and now work, if you want to work in the video game industry, in your own city. And that's a very interesting proposition to the people from those cities. It sure is

Jayson Hilchie
It sure is definitely an interesting proposition for the economic developers too; in a past life I was one of them, and I can tell you that every small town across Canada right now is trying to figure out how they can get the video game industry to come now, with this work from anywhere kind of approach that seems to being taken. Thanks Francis. So, I'm going to pivot now to Dierdre. Dierdre, you're based in Atlantic Canada. It's not an area that's traditionally known for game development, even though we just talked about Ubisoft has a studio there, as are some other big brands; but in spite of this, you know, your Other Ocean Group’s been able to grow into a real success story, with multiple studios in a couple of different provinces on the East Coast, and you're making games that are being played all over the world. Now, outside of creative talent that Francis was just talking about, what are the factors that have supported the game development industry in smaller provinces like PEI, and Newfoundland, you know, and how have you been able to grow there; how have you been able to find the talent that you need in that part of the country?

Deirdre Ayre, Head of Canadian Operations, Other Ocean Group Canada
I think, Jayson, it's important first to understand how devastating out migration and brain drain has been for Atlantic Canada for many, many years. So, there has been for such a long time—I mean, I'm 55 years old, so, you know, from when I was a child, I was hearing about diversifying the economy from our resource-based industries. And, but it's taken a long time for all the players to really understand that, and meaning, you know, the educators, industry, government, but I think now we're really getting that right. And so, for the video game industry, I think we, you know, we ticked a lot of boxes, right? We were appealing to young people to want to work in our industry, we have a very creative, I would say, culture, in Atlantic Canada—I mean, specifically, if you look at Newfoundland and Labrador, for example, I mean, every second person on the CBC is from Newfoundland and Labrador—you know, it's, disproportionately so. And also, of course, our technical and engineering background, from mining, and oil and gas, etc. So, I think, you know, the tools were there, we just needed the people to do it, and we needed that collaboration to do it. And people like my brother, who left Atlantic Canada back in the ‘80s, and went to California, and started his first video game studio out there, you know, he had a passion to want to give back to the region. And I think that's quite indicative of a lot of people who've left our region; they won't necessarily come back and live, because they've started their families and homes other places, but they are prepared to help, either financially, or through their networks. I mean, look at yourself, Jayson, I mean, Jayson's from Nova Scotia, his wife's from Newfoundland and Labrador, and he's the first one to always, you know, reach out to me, to get me to the table with these larger companies like Microsoft, and Ubisoft, and be able to have our voice heard. So, I think that's, that's really played a part too.

I will go back to the ticking of the boxes, though. I think as well, you know, we've embraced the importance of immigration in Atlantic Canada, and that's allowed us, while we were working with the long-term strategy of getting our educational institutions to bringing the curriculum that we needed for industries such as ours, we had an immediate need, of course, for experienced talent. I think some of the biases toward Atlantic Canada that are often the case in other regions of Canada meant that we weren't having—plus also competition from the larger companies—in the early days, we weren't having success in recruiting from other parts of the country, but great success in recruiting from all over the world. And that, of course, also has ended up giving us a very, in many cases, a very diverse workforce, which helps the bottom line in the end, because it makes our products better. I could really go on this whole day, but I'll leave it there.

Jayson Hilchie
Well, the pandemic has really kind of changed the situation there, right? I mean, it's in The Globe and Mail today, they were saying Nova Scotia is about to hit a million people. You know, I know, when I worked in economic development in Nova Scotia, that would have been a dream that I don't think any of us thought we were going to see, because the trend was moving the other direction. You know, and Francis has a studio there, Ubisoft, and, you know, Take-Two that makes the PGA Tour games has a studio in Nova Scotia, and, you know, obviously, you're in PEI and Newfoundland. So, what we are seeing is some opportunity on the East Coast. And it'll be interesting to see as this maybe this out migration from Ontario to the east coast, where, you know, houses are a little cheaper, and people are moving, whether or not that's going to have an impact on our industry there.

Deirdre Ayre
Yes, certainly, those things like the cost of living were very helpful in the early days. Prices are rising now, and, you know, that's something else, we'll need to, you know, get our heads around as we move forward. But I did want to pick up on one point that Francis mentioned, too, and it's sort of interesting, at least for our company, specifically, when he spoke about working on these iconic titles, and that's, that was really a big part of our ability to attract, because Other Ocean, because we had originally started in California—although with Canadian owners—we, you know, we were a third-party publisher, for the most part, that was our bread and butter in the early days, and so, we've worked on some really great titles, and that helped us with the attraction of our staff. So, for those who wouldn't know this, larger publishers like Ubisoft would hire companies like Other Ocean to work with them on the development of their products, so we would be able to have those games in our roster as well. But also, there's a group of people, too, who want to work on their own original titles. So, it's great to work on these iconic titles, but then there are also those in the industry who have worked on these titles, and have those on their resume, but also have an interest in developing their own original IP; some would call it the sort of Holy Grail of video game development, to be able to work on your own IP. And indeed, like, a company like ours, we've had the ability to be able to do to do both, because of the great relationships we have with our publishers, and the success we've had on projects like Rick and Morty—which we were nominated for an Emmy—and Minecraft, and some other titles that we've worked on. So, we had those on our roster, and that allowed us to be able to develop our own products too, which is really interesting to a lot of creative talent.

Jayson Hilchie
Yeah, that is all additional information that really sets the stage for this question to Michelle. Now, you used the term be third-party publisher. And I mean, that's maybe a little bit of inside baseball for a lot of the people in the audience today. Now, Michelle, Xbox is the example of a first-party publisher. So, we use these terms, first-party publishers, third-party publishers, but first-party publishers, they make the boxes, right? They make the consoles like Xbox, and PlayStation, and Nintendo, that's what we call first-party publishers; and then third-party publishers would be like Ubisoft and Other Ocean, those who make the games that are then played on those consoles. Kind of like, I guess if we were going to compare it to TV, which I hate to do, it’s kind of like the channel and then the producer, the film company that makes the show, and then the channel is the distributor. I don't know whether that's an exact good example, but you’re an example of the first-party publisher, Michelle, you know, meaning that you produce consoles people play, but you also produce amazing games here in Canada, like, you know, Gears of War, made in at the Coalition Studio in Vancouver, but you're also well known for other games that are sold worldwide like Halo. You know, what does the growth of Canada's video game industry mean for Xbox, both from a hardware perspective, but also because you are making games as well? So, you're doing both. So, what does this amazing growth that we're seeing mean for you?

Michelle Liem, Director of Sales, Microsoft Canada - XBOX Team
Yeah, no, thanks, Jayson. First, I would say, it's great that you do have first-party and third-party and, you know, big developers and small developers on the panel; I think it's perfect to represent really the industry as a whole. But from a Microsoft perspective, you know, the demand has just been unprecedented, both from a hardware perspective, as well as a games perspective, whether it's a game that Microsoft has made, or a third-party game. And, you know, what I love about this industry is, gaming is really one of those things that's introduced a lot of young people into careers in tech. So, not only are we, as a whole, entertaining and building communities, but the platform is there to build interest in tech careers as well. So, when you think about Microsoft on the game development front, I kind of think of two things. One, really proud of the first-party, bigger, you know, development, like the Coalition who's made your Gears of War, you know, these big AAA titles made in Canada—such a great story, big commercial success. But we also have a program that I'm really proud of, called Idea Xbox. And this is a platform that actually supports smaller studios around the world, including in Canada. So, studios like MDHR, that made Cuphead, Capybara made Super Time Force, there's even a single developer named Andrew Shouldice, who made a game like today. And what I love about this is, it's important to recognize that in order to create a really broad, inclusive gaming community, there has to be something for every type of gamer. You know, there's so many devices to play on, and so, many different types of games, that, you know, it's symbiotic; it allows more development to create more games, that is then broader and more inclusive for the different types of gamers out there. But it also, from this Idea Xbox platform, also supports these independent creators, it really gives them a platform to showcase their creativity, their art, and really help them potentially reach broader audiences that they wouldn't otherwise be able to reach.

Jayson Hilchie
Yeah, it's a really interesting program. And I mean, it's extremely important, I think, as well, as we move into this next generation of the industry where content is king, right? Everybody is now competing for content. And so, a lot of the first-party publishers, like Xbox, and even some third-party publishers, like Ubisoft, are supporting independent developers, you know, helping them get their games to market, helping them get them out there. And, you know, a lot of people talk about this next generation of the industry being the content wars, because it's really not so much anymore about the hardware, it's about what games you can find on that hardware. And so, it should be really interesting. But that program is fantastic, and yeah, you've mentioned some really good ones that were actually made here in Canada, so. Now, Francis, the Canadian video game industry employs over 32,000 people, as we saw in the video, and that's up 17% from 2019, which, keep in mind, we're traversing the last year-and-a-half, two years of the pandemic. One of the things that's really changed, obviously, not only that we've been resilient, we've been able to create more jobs, but the whole way we work has been abandoned, right? How's Ubisoft been able to adapt to the pandemic, to sustain its growth and continue to release—you know, some of these AAA titles that we mentioned are costing upwards of $100 million—and how have you been able to maintain such strong collaboration with your teams, in this work from home, work from anywhere environment, to continue to put out things like Far Cry; and, you know, I mean, how are you doing it?

Francis Baillet
Yeah, it's a good question. When you think about it, we went from 7 studios in Canada to 6000 studios, from one day to the next, right, on March 12th, 2020. And I must say that, only after one week, we had everybody up and running in those 6000 different individual homes. It's amazing when you think about it, too, so quickly adapt to an unseen before situation, right? And so, when you look back, and you try to analyze what played in our favour, right, during that unbelievable period, there was two things. I think the first one, is that most of our employees are also gamers, so for sure, they have a great equipment at home, and they had a great internet connection; so it was not like they had to all of a sudden equip themselves with internet and fast or high-speed internet connection, or with a powerful PC. So, what we needed to do is to add a layer on top of that, to add the secure remote desktop access, thanks to the Citrix partners that we have, so that created the capacity to work remotely at home, in a confidential and secure environment, at least on your PC. But there was another ingredient in that sauce, and that was the capacity we had over the years to work in co-development with multiple studios around the world. So, we were not new to working on Teams, or creating on Zoom—this is something we did daily. Everyday, we worked, even before the pandemic, to connect with people in Singapore, and in Paris, and in India, and from all over Canada, to create together a single game. So, yes, we expanded that to 6000 different studios at individual homes, but the culture was already there to work in collaborative fashion, with people all across the world. Yeah,

Jayson Hilchie
That's really interesting. I mean, this concept of distributed development. I mean, Ubisoft is obviously, with all of its studios, probably, you know, one of the leaders in being able to make games across multiple studios, in multiple time zones all around the world. And that technology and expertise certainly helped with that ability to continue to release some of these games, but yeah, it's been really interesting. I mean, we moved home our industry, almost 30,000 full-time people, and then throughout it, you know, even more, obviously, as we've grown; but yet, most of our companies have been able to continue to release the games, you know, mostly on schedule, with the quality that we would expect, and, you know, some of them have done phenomenally well. So, that is, I think, a testament not only to the companies that work in our industry, but you know, the business underpinnings that you've all been able to create over the last decade or so that allow you to do this. Yeah, I

Francis Baillet
Yeah, I think we need to really raise our hat to, you know, we all have very expert IT personnel in our different companies, and, you know, on March 12th, they really rose up to the opportunity to make sure that everything was going to go smoothly for all of our employees. And so, I really want to regionalize their efforts, because, you know, they really allowed that, to allow it to function, to work out.

Jayson Hilchie
Yeah, and I mean, it doesn't look like that's going to change much going forward. And I mean, I think Ubisoft has made an announcement that there's going to be some flexibility with the workforce moving forward; you know, you might not be going back to the office full time.

Francis Baillet
Yeah, we believe in both; we believe that the future of work is going to be hybrid, is going to be flexible, and thanks to the multitude of studios, you can work from any studio of Ubisoft in Canada. You can work from home, you can work in a collaboration fashion in the studio physically, so it's going to be really flexible and hybrid for sure.

Jayson Hilchie
Yeah, it seems to be, as our study showed, a common business strategy moving forward, so it’ll be interesting to see how that plays out. Now, Beep, I'm gonna pivot to you, and I'm going to jump to a different question, one that I know you're very passionate about. Our economic studies shows that only 23% of the industry is comprised of women, and even fewer than that are actually working in technical roles, where they're doing computer software engineering, programming, or digital artistry, that goes into building the games. We know though, that 50% of players in Canada are women, are females, girls and women. Now, we've talked for years about digital skills, and getting those into the school system at a young age, but knowing this is an important issue, and again, one that you're very passionate about, what do we need to do? You know, obviously, as the video game industry, we're gonna take responsibility for that ourselves, but this is a problem that's impacting the broader tech industry as well. But, you know, speaking from ourselves today, on a video game basis, you know, what do we need to do to get more women into the industry?

Deirdre Ayre
I really wish I knew, but I will try and answer the question. So, first off, I want to say, like, I really don't profess to be an expert in this at all. I mean, obviously, I happen to be in this sector, and I happened to do a technical degree in television, but you know, I really feel that this is not a problem that's going to be solved by people like Dierdre Ayre, or Michelle, I think this is something, you know, we are sort of the one-off’s in the industry, and I really feel that this is something that needs to be worked on by everybody. So, like with any problem with regard to inclusion, with marginalized groups, or—it's really a societal issue, and I don't think that, you know, I can fix it, or my company can fix it, or the companies can fix it, or the educators can fix it; I think, as a society, we really need to work together. I don't think it can be fixed by just putting code in classrooms in high school and encouraging more women to do engineering or something, this is something that we really need everyone to come together collaboratively. And it needs it needs to start very, very young, you know, from when we put the girls in pink, and the boys in blue, or we hand the boy the remote, because maybe he could change the batteries more quickly, or whatever—you know, like it needs to change at birth, and I think it needs to be a collaborative approach. Like I said, I don't think we can lean on people like me, or companies like mine, we all need to come together to do it. But really, Jayson, you know, to sit here and try and give you the answers to something like that, like, I just don't have it; this is a, you know, a serious issue. The data is there, though, like you say, right? I mean, we know that girls and women are wanting to play video games or do play video games, and so, one would imagine they would want to work in the industry. And I think that shows in itself that, you know, we can think we're doing enough, you know, we can bring certain programs in, but we're simply not doing enough, and we're not looking at this in the broad way that it needs to be. And this really should be everyone's problem, you know. If you look at, there's been so much data done on how having a diverse workforce creates better products, and so this isn’t, you know, just a sort of social issue, this is an economic issue that all the video game companies and all the tech companies should be working toward, with all the different stakeholders. And yeah, anyway, there you have it.

Jayson Hilchie
Oh, it's fair. I mean, that's a fair answer. I mean, you know, obviously, our industry has been doing what we can with respect to advocating for curriculum changes in the early grades. You know, our mutual friend Kate Arthur, who runs Kids Code Jeunesse, who’s a third-party—I don't want to use the term third-party, because we've already explained that video game term—but she's an outside organization that goes into schools and teaches coding to young kids. And, you know, she's told us very clearly that you really do need to get into the school system before grade four, to begin introducing these types of skills, to socialize them, and make them, you know, acceptable, and avoid those stereotypes, like you said, of tech being a boys thing. So, you know, there's things we definitely need to do there.

Deirdre Ayre
I mean, I will say, you know, as a company, we're not particularly successful at it. We have gotten better, we do have lots of women in leadership roles, but as you mentioned, those positions are not necessarily in the production process of the games—although we have gotten better with that, too. But, you know, I personally always try and make sure that I have women at the table, that I'm, you know, raising up our juniors and mid-level women, making sure that they have a say, speaking to the directors in our company—who, on the production level, all are men—you know, regularly making sure that they're engaging the women within the company, and also, like I was saying earlier, you're always great at bringing me to the table, I try to do the same. If get asked to speak at something, and I believe that there's a woman in my company who could easily do it, or do it better, you know, I try and make sure that other people get those opportunities too, I say yes to pretty much everything that I get asked to speak at, to show that we're here, that they're in here. So, you know, those are some of the things that I do, and our company does, but really, you know, if we're really going to fix this problem—and we've all talked about the talent issues in the country, we've got an awful lot of women in this country who are not engaged in tech or video games when it comes to it as a career. So, there's some answers to our problems there, if we could figure it out.

Jayson Hilchie
Yeah, and I mean, that's fantastic. And I mean, Michelle, just to pivot to you—and this will be our last question before we go to the floor and get some questions for our panelists—we were just talked about diversity, obviously, a very important topic that all of us are speaking about, as Beep is saying, we really need to ensure that our industry as diverse as possible. One, for it's the right thing, but also, because we need access to as much talent as we possibly can find, we need to be as thorough with that as possible. Now, some of the things though, that Xbox is doing—now, we're moving away with different types of diversity—I want to talk a little bit about accessibility with you. Can you talk to me about what Microsoft and Xbox is doing to reach a broader, more diverse audience, both with your games and with your hardware?

Michelle Liem
Yeah, absolutely. Well, first, I just want to thank Dierdre for bringing up, you know, the issue of women in gaming, and bringing more talent, you know, right at an early age, it's certainly something that we look at Microsoft as well. So, I appreciate that, you know, as an industry, everyone's really working towards that goal. And certainly, as you mentioned, Jayson, inclusivity, is, we think of it quite broadly. You know, our mantra is really for gamers to be able to play on the devices they want, you know, with the friends they want, anytime they want. And so, when we have that mission statement, we think incredibly broad, and we even think about, you know, the disabilities of different gamers out there, and their ability or inability to even hold a controller—not everybody can hold a controller. So, Microsoft has come up with, three years ago, launched an adaptive controller. And this is just an incredible device; it's been designed for gamers who have limited mobility, it has a number of different customizations, for example, you could have a button with a wheelchair headrest, for controls, you could have controls triggered with a knee or foot pressure, it really can be customized, depending on the person that's playing, and what their abilities, you know, may be, and how to set it up so that they can game. And, I mean, I can tell you from personal experience, talking to some of those people that have been able to start playing games again, with that adaptive controller, it's just opened up their world again, because, as you know, gaming really, really connects gamers together through this online community. And I mean, its beautiful what technology has done, and, you know, has allowed people to play across the globe. So, as big as Canada is as an industry, we're also impacting the global industry, right? We're impacting gamers across the globe, with the games that we develop. And so, this adaptive controller has just been so powerful to show an example of thinking beyond sort of what we picture as that, you know, traditional gamer, to think about, you know, who can actually play, and making it available for people to play. So, we're very proud of it, and, you know, even though it's not been a massive commercial success, it's, you know, perhaps not something that's readily, you know, in demand for a lot of people, it's still the right thing to do to make sure that we're reaching everyone who wants to game, not, you know, not just those that can hold a controller.

Jayson Hilchie
Yeah, and it's—and just to finish up—it's really interesting, too, because it's not just about the controller, it’s about the way that Microsoft and Xbox are developing their games, right? I mean, I've spoken with a number of people, and we profiled one of them last year, and you know, these people are part of a group called AbleGamers, they advocate for games to be made with controls that allow them to be able to use them properly. And, you know, Microsoft actually also builds games in collaboration with some of these groups, that ensure that the actual controls, and the movements, and the way the coding is done, is done in a way that makes this easier for them.

Michelle Liem
Oh, absolutely. And I mean, we think about all of our products across Microsoft, you know, just different ways to really enable all types of different people, with different abilities, to be able to utilize the products, and really help everyone communicate together. It's extremely inspiring, and I think that—I love that the video game industry, with its creativity, has really thought that through. And I know we're not the only ones thinking that, but it is great to be able to connect with those communities, and really get some deep insights, through engineers, through our developers, of what else needs to be thought about when developing these games to make them completely accessible and completely inclusive.

QUESTION & ANSWER

Jayson Hilchie
Yeah, it's amazing, and I suspect that the future only has more to offer when it comes to ensuring that, you know, accessibility within video games; I know it's a massive topic in our industry. Okay, well, I want to thank you, Michelle, I want to thank Francis and Deirdre, Beep, that concludes our panel. Now, I'm going to go to the Q&A, and I've got a number of questions here, so we'll do our best, and I've got someone on in my ear letting me know when we have to shut this down. But I'm just going to put these out to the panel, and whoever wants to kind of chime in, we can do it that way. So, Monica asks, I keep hearing about growth of jobs being offered to the gaming industry, but what about people that want to transition from their existing job? What experience comes from a different industry, that might be valuable for the video game industry?

Francis Baillet
Maybe I can pick up this one? Hello, Monica, thanks for the question. I think there's two things to answer your question. The first one, is that the video game industry will not hire only artists and programmers, so we need finance people, we need HR, we need marketing, we need community managers, we need technical expertise. So, there's a range of different jobs, and as Jayson alluded earlier, there's 2000 jobs open, just in Québec, right now—I would certainly encourage you to scroll through that. And just at Ubisoft, we have, I believe, 345 jobs opening right now, so there's interesting opportunities. But the other thing I want to mention, is that we have worked with different partners, and I'm thinking out of Québec City, an organization called Québec 42, who’s actually helping people to retrain in the programming side of things. So, you can be coming from all sorts of background with not necessarily, with no past experience in programming, and you join Québec 42, you are offered a three-year training in programming, alternating with internship. So, this allow you to learn a new skill, and to get immediately hands-on experience with companies, member of Québec 42. So, it's based on the similar school in France, and I know they're opening other 42 schools across the world, so, interesting for retraining.

Jayson Hilchie
Yeah, and I think it's important that you note—and I may have over-simplified it in my questions, but I'm trying to keep things as outside baseball as possible—you know, and artists and programmers are obviously the biggest portion of the industry, but I mean, Ubisoft, you've got economists, you've got historians to make some of your games as historically accurate as possible; I know a lot of our companies are hiring data analytics people, you know, to ensure that games are as fun as they possibly be, maximizing the experience, artificial intelligence programmers, community managers, as all these games go online, they form—like Fortnite and others—they form their own communities, and we need people to manage those. And you know, it's just every year there's new, and new jobs that I have to hear. So, you know, for Monica, just know that you don't have to be an artist or a programmer to get into the video game industry. And I mean, production jobs, producer jobs, there are the project manager jobs—so, if you have project management skills, they will likely transfer over to the video game area. I want to jump to the next one; Rod asks, and this is this is a good one, because it's been in the media a lot lately, especially with the change of name at Facebook. I don't know who's gonna answer this one, but okay, because this is really new stuff; at a 50,000-foot level, could you explain how the video game industry will be a pillar of the future metaverse? And we've heard so much about this recently. How should Canada prepare for the metaverse?

Francis Baillet
We're already there. So, I will keep it short, because I'm sure Michelle and Dierdre with the add on that. But you know, to be clear, I think that creating the metaverse is creating an opportunity for people to improve their digital life, like, to have the possibility to wander around in the UK, in the years 1100—and that's already happening through Valhalla through Assassin's Creed Valhalla. And it's also an opportunity to improve the way we offer our gamers, or customers, the capacity to improve the way they do things in their current life. So, whether you're, you know, a repair mechanic, and you are able to access the engine of your car on a virtual setting, and you may have experts outside of your garage that give you indication how to fix the engine, that's also part of the metaverse. So, I think, both by improving the virtual life, and by improving the actual life, thanks to the virtual world, you already have in Canada, the expertise to do both

Jayson Hilchie
Michelle, Beep, any thoughts on the metaverse?

Michelle Liem
Well, I mean, I agree with Francis, I think we're already there. I think the technology is already, you know, being built, being executed, being utilized. And I think the exciting thing about it, is it's just going to continue to grow from there. So, we're already on that trajectory, and I think the sky's the limit. But it's very exciting to think about, and I love the question. Thank you.

Jayson Hilchie
Yeah, I figured we get something about the metaverse. I'm still waiting for the NFT question, that we haven't gotten any on non-fungible tokens, which I wouldn't know how to answer even if we did, so. Here's a question for—and Beep, I'm going to kick this to you, what's the greatest opportunity for Canada's video game industry? It seems to be doing very well, but how do we take it to the next level, given the size of the global market—which by the way, is massive, there's about two-and-a-half billion video game players on Earth, and the size of the capitalization of the video game industry is approaching $2 billion, so it's absolutely insane, the amount of growth that has happened—but you know, how do we get more of that in Canada?

Deirdre Ayre
I think I'll take the opportunity here to throw a bouquet to the Canada Media Fund, because it really is a fund that is—I mean, countries all over the world are jealous of this fund, right? So, the Canada Media Fund/Telefilm, you might be more familiar with, from the film and television side, is a fund that allows for the development of Canadian content. And there is an interactive component to that, so separate from film and television, and it gives an opportunity for start-ups and small independent companies, or family-owned companies like ours, like Other Ocean, to develop their own intellectual property without necessarily having to go for you know, VC funding of some sort, or taking all the risk on themselves, which may be quite difficult. So, I really think that that is the competitive advantage that certainly the smaller companies in the country have when competing against other small indies in other countries, because it is an opportunity for these companies to develop their own original IP, so that they're not always working on somebody else's property. It also, if that intellectual property continues to be owned in Canada—and I say that because sometimes these things are bought—but if it's continued to be owned in Canada, it also means that the full revenues from those games can go back to Canada. So, I mean, there's probably lots of different ways to answer that question, Jayson, but I did want to throw that out there, because that fund has been so tremendous to so many different companies, and allowed so much growth for the smaller companies, which in turn is helpful to the larger companies who end up sometimes buying these smaller companies or providing talent for these companies. And so, yeah, I think that's one area that the continued investment by the government, and the other funders of the Canada Media Fund, is paramount.

Jayson Hilchie
I agree. I'm sure that Francis has his own ideas, and Michelle. I've got one question before I want to wrap it up, and I want to get it in, so I'm going to put this out. I mean, we've been talking a lot about talent. We have a question from a computer game development graduate from George Brown, who's finding it hard to land a job in the industry. Companies want 3D art modellers with experience—now, this is a thing that’s not unique to the video game industry, I remember going through this when I started working in banking—you know, everybody wants experience, but you can't get experience until you get a job. So, what advice can you offer, especially on new graduates and juniors, getting into the industry and landing that first job,

Deirdre Ayre
I'm happy to start that if you want.

Jayson Hilchie
Okay.

Deirdre Ayre
I mean, I don't know where this where this person is applying, but I would say that you might have better luck with a smaller indie, because, you know, they are more than likely in a situation where they can take on a junior, and would appreciate the sort of, I guess the skills of an artist who has, who can be flexible in what they're producing. And you know, a lot of these smaller companies, they really are not able to offer the salaries that really experienced people would demand, and expect, and deserve. So, if you're just coming out of school, you might be in a better position to be trying some of these smaller companies. And some of these smaller companies may not be where you're located, you know, you might have to consider going to a region that has less availability to experienced talent. One thing for sure, make sure you have a good portfolio. When you don't have a lot of experience, it's really important to have something to show the people who are interviewing you, and you know, whether that's just something that you, you know, made in your basement, or what have you, it doesn't have to be a whole lot, but some kind of a portfolio for us to be able to review is really important. And I think you'll find that even if you don't land the job, you'll get a lot of good feedback, too.

Jayson Hilchie
Thanks. Now, Francis, I'm gonna jump to you, because obviously, you've got a lot of programs like this at Ubisoft, that aim to create highways between academia and the studios. So, what are you doing? What are you—what's your advice,

Francis Baillet
I think the most important thing is to be visible. You know, if you have a great portfolio, show it around, as Dierdre was saying, you know, make sure that professionals in this industry see your portfolio. Participate to contest, you know, there's a Level Up Contest in Ontario, there's the Ubisoft University Contest in Québec, make sure you join those channels, make sure you show your portfolio and what you can do. You know, go to Game Jam, make yourself known, make yourself available for those events; go there, be there be at the MEGAMIGS in Montreal, you know, be at those events that are created for the industry, by the industry, and make yourself visible. You know, at the end of the day, you know, it's all going to be who you are, and what you can do, so don't forget to show up who you are.

Jayson Hilchie
Michelle, any last thought before we end? Because I'm being told we're at the end, we’re getting the....

Michelle Liem
I would just say, from a LinkedIn perspective, you know, just again, make sure that you're connecting, looking for those studios that you're interested in working for, and connecting with them. Again, just elevating your portfolio, your profile on social media, particularly from a professional standpoint, that will really get you ahead of the game as well.

Jayson Hilchie
Awesome.

Michelle Liem
And I wish you the best of luck for those out there looking.

Jayson Hilchie
Yes. Well, listen, I just want to thank you all, and I think this concludes our Q&A.

Francis Baillet
Thank you.

Kelly Jackson
Thank you, Jayson, Deirdre, Francis and Michelle. I’d now like to introduce Tara Koski, Dean of Students at Durham College, our other lead event sponsored, to deliver today's appreciation remarks. Tara, welcome.

Note of Appreciation by Tara Koski, Dean of Students, Durham College
Thank you, Kelly, and good afternoon, everyone. On behalf of Durham College, and all those tuning in, I would like to thank our panelists Dierdre Ayre, Francis Baillet, Michelle Liam, and our moderator Jayson Hilchie, for the engaging discussion about the growing influence and impact of eSports in the gaming sector. As we just heard, the gaming industry is multifaceted, complex, and driven by innovation and growth, which the Canadian Video Game Industry Report confirms, with its compelling stats. With more employers and employees now in the sector, who are enjoying higher salaries along with huge gains in its GDP contributions, as well as the rise of more Canadian-owned video game companies, it's an ideal time to pursue related careers. When Durham College made the decision to invest in eSports, we did so, knowing that there was a strong potential for incredible opportunities as an institution, for our students, and within the broader community. The investment has taken the form of our 3000 sq. foot eSports gaming arena, our Durham Lords EA Sports Varsity Team—whose Rocket League Squad captured the New England Collegiate Conference Championship in their inaugural season—and academic programs focused on the gaming industry. Now, with several years under operation, and despite the global pandemic, we continue to lead the way in this dynamic space. In September 2022, the college will welcome its first cohort of students studying in our new eSport Management graduate certificate program. With its focus on online marketing, copyright law, licencing, sponsorship, event management, content creation, and more, students will be able to learn the tactical skills needed to support and generate revenue within the eSports ecosystem, which includes the gaming culture. And just like other industries, achieving success within the gaming sector requires a strong set of both technical and soft skills, which is why colleges, with their focus on transformative, experiential learning, are perfectly equipped to arm the next generation of eSports professionals with the skills that they need to succeed. So, thank you once again to our panelists, as well as the Entertainment Software Association of Canada, for your commitment to driving the industry forward through advocacy, research and passion. DC is pleased to assist gaming companies, and organizations, getting to the next level, and by preparing its graduates to significantly contribute and drive innovations in the eSports industry. So, thank you. Kelly, back to you.

Concluding Remarks by Kelly Jackson
Thanks, Tara, and thanks again to our panelists, and everyone joining us today, or tuning in at a later date. Our next event is this Thursday, November 25th, at noon Eastern Time. Join me for an in-depth discussion with the Honourable Steve Clark, Ontario's Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing. We'll be talking about the challenges of housing supply and affordability, and how the provincial government is responding. More details, and complimentary registration, are available at empireclubofcanada.com. This meeting is now adjourned. I wish you a great afternoon. Stay safe and take care

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Canada’s Video Game Industry - A National Champion Making a Global Impact


23 November, 2021 Canada’s Video Game Industry - A National Champion Making a Global Impact