Four Lessons From Canada’s Largest Videogame Conference

The Montreal International Game Summit is the largest event for video game developers in Canada—and one the largest in North America—drawing around 3,000 people every year.

This year’s edition was no different, attracting representatives from big companies like Ubisoft, EA and Microsoft; as well as independent developers and people just trying to break into the industry.

Here are four lessons from inside the sessions at MIGS 2016.

1. YouTube, Twitch starting to impact game design

Game designers are paying attention to the popularity of play-through videos on sites like Twitch and YouTube, Richard Rouse III told the audience at a talk on dynamic narratives in games.

Rouse, a AAA-designer-turned-indie developer, says that these videos sometimes reveal what he calls a dirty little secret: players may thing some in-game events are a result of their choices, but are actually a result of the game pushing everyone to play the same way.

For streamers on Twitch, and other video sites, who want to show off the cool things they’re doing in a game, it can be pretty disappointing to find out that their play-throughs look the same as everyone else’s.

This is pushing developers to make the games they’re making more dynamic, Rouse says.

2. The indie movement is here to stay

Indie games were definitely on display at MIGS 2016, with over 40 local indie publishers showing-off their games at the event.

But it was in the sessions where the growing influence of indie gaming was really on display.

A significant percentage of the speakers, at least at the sessions I went to, were indie developers who spent years working in AAA.

That includes people like Patrice Désilets, the creator of the Assassin’s Creed series, who recently founded Panache Digital Games; Jeff Hattem, who founded Tuque Games after working at Ubisoft, Behaviour Interactive and THQ.

While it’s not clear yet just what impact this trend will have on the games industry, the fact that a growing number of highly-skilled professionals are now moving into an environment with more creative freedom, certainly raises some interesting possibilities.

3. Even in indie, it’s still about money

“If money is not a motivator, I think you’re lying to yourself,” Johan Eile, the COO of Cloudcade, a developer of free-to-play mobile games, said during a panel on why people make games.

While many indie developers may say they’re driven by passion, at the end of the day, they still need to pay the bills.

Désilets told the same panel that, for him, making profitable games is about having the money to keep paying his staff.

Still, new business models are emerging, well-known indie studios, like Double Fine Productions, are creating “micro publishers” that publish and promoting games from even smaller studios.

Some of those smaller studios, like Montreal’s KO_OP, are becoming micro publishers in their own right.

4. Games is still a hard industry to work in

“Crunch time” is still sending developers on medical leave, women are still being harassed out of the games industry and there are calls to keep politics out of games, “as if they don’t come out of our lives,” Jill Murray, an award-winning writer who worked on several Assassin’s Creed games before starting her own company, Discoglobe Interactive, told the audience.

Even in places where progress has been made, there’s still more work to do.

Anna Kipnis, a senior gameplay programmer at Double Fine, told an audience that even though there are more women working in the industry, they remain particularly under-represented when it comes to creating new titles.

Kipnis says companies need to do more to encourage their female employees to pitch ideas.

And, she points out, it’s been done before by women like Roberta Williams, the creator of King’s Quest and Jane Jensen, the creator of the Gabriel Knight series.

“Women are capable game creators, known for masterworks in the games medium,” Kipnis said.

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