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What do a nomadic high school girl, a mystical creature called a ponycorn, and a documentary film exploring the trials and tribulations of the lives of indie game developers all have in common?
Drawing a blank? Shake off that stumped expression, put your game on pause, and look north.
There’s a maverick movement making its way through Canada’s game development industry and it’s poised to push the world’s third-largest employer of game-building gurus even further onto the playing field.
Already a long-time high scorer in the international arena (with 16,000 employees in close to 350 companies and a projected growth rate of 17 percent over the next two years), now Canada is racking up bonus points in a rebellious new fashion: through a widening pool of independent creative minds who aren’t afraid to take some big risks in the name of doing things their own way.
Meet the Silicon Sisters: A team of gutsy women who turned their decades of hands-on industry experience into the first female-owned and -run video game studio in Canada. The company builds for-girls games like School 26, a situational role playing game for girls aged 12 to 16 that’s currently sold in more than 80 countries worldwide. “Games aimed at girls?” you ask. With women now making up close to 40 percent of the gaming market, these savvy Sisters are surely on the right track.
Still from Silicon Sisters’ School 26
Or Cassie Henson Creighton, the talented tot who, at the age of five, created the viral smash-hit game Sissy’s Magical Ponycorn Adventure along with her dad Ryan at a three-day independent game jam in Toronto (incidentally, she’s also the youngest person ever to be invited to the GDC). Ryan Henson Creighton, founder of Untold Entertainment Inc., will be conducting a lecture at the Independent Games Summit during the GDC, where he’ll share his experience and insights on how to turn your own game into a lightning rod for Ponycorn-like success.
Sissy's Magical Ponycorn Adventure
You’ll also be hearing the names Lisanne Pajot and James Swirsky a lot: They’re the Winnipeg, Canada-based duo who spent more than a year putting their heart and soul into the creation of Indie Game: The Movie. The award-winning documentary film, screening at the GDC on Monday, March 5th, captures the emotional journey of four independent game developers who refuse to work for major corporations and instead devote their lives to creating their own personal interactive art. Montreal, Canada-based Phil Fish, co-creator of the much-lauded-and-awarded game Fez, shares his story in the film. Fez, in development at Montreal studio Polytron since 2007 and set for release on Xbox Live Arcade in early 2012, is a finalist in two categories at the 2012 IGF awards competition, including the Grand Prize category.
And these rule-bending rebels are just the tip of the iceberg. From Zombie Tycoon to Resident Evil: Operation Raccoon City; Tattoo Artist to Cows vs Aliens -- Canada is planting a flag in the landscape of game development and flexing its muscle as a full-service Mecca teeming with highly skilled talent.
Not that Canada has ever been off the radar in terms of gangbusters game development. Perhaps you’ve heard of Assassin’s Creed? Or maybe The Amazing Spider-Man Returns to New York City? What about Deus Ex: Human Revolution? Some of the North America’s best-known video games are grown on Canadian soil. Powerhouse publishers like Electronic Arts and Ubisoft discovered the goldmine that is Canada’s robust talent pool early on, capitalizing on competitive tax credit programs to set up shop there and get their own game happening. The proliferation of independent studios intent on doing things their own way only serves to enrich the overall landscape of this red-hot market.
The country’s desirable combination of diverse, creative and well-trained talent, government support at both the federal and provincial levels, and the appeal of its major cities all contribute to its positioning as a world-class destination for studios of all shapes and sizes, from huge multinationals to home-grown indie developers alike. The combo of these charismatic Canadian crews forms a 360-degree game development market that results in a $1.7 billion industry where the only foreseeable direction is up.
Some 20 cutting-edge Canadian independent developers, amongst the 100+ Canadians in attendance, will be putting their creative prowess in the spotlight at the 2012 Game Developers Conference, with support from Telefilm Canada and the Canada Media Fund. Get to know them online here.
Oh, Canada... not only have you got game, but you’ve got guts, too. We bet this is the real reason your national anthem refers to you as “The true north strong and free”!
Indie Game: The Movie directors Lisanne Pajot & James Swirsky photo credit: Ian MacCausland