How Toronto stepped up and became a place to make games
This is a digital version of a story that appeared in the print publication of Gamercamp Magazine. Dork Shelf is Gamercamp’s official media sponsor. Gamercamp takes place in Toronto from Nov. 3-4. For more details, click here.
“There’s obviously something magical being sprinkled in Toronto’s water,” wrote then-contributor Brandon Boyer on popular online culture blog BoingBoing, singling out Capy Games when Critter Crunch made its console debut on the PlayStation 3.
Boyer, who is now chairman of the Independent Games Festival, was an early champion of the city’s still-burgeoning game developer scene. Three years later, it’s more obvious than ever that something stronger than magic has taken hold.
Toronto was a blip on the global map of game development hubs. Without the presence of a triple-A studio, an indie community formed, resolved to pull itself up by the bootstraps, and flourished.
Events like the massive Toronto Independent Game Jam, entering its eighth year in 2013, which saw more than 400 professional and hobbyist developers create games over a single weekend this May, helped the community hone its skills and the city’s reputation for making great games steadily grew.
Now, the city has come into its own and become a vibrant scene, a fertile breeding grounds for some of the most notable games in recent years. Capy’s follow-up to Critter Crunch, Superbrothers: Sword & Sworcery EP snapped up a Game Developers Choice Award at GDC 2012, rising above the likes of Super Mario 3D Land and Apple’s iPhone Game of the Year Tiny Tower. Get Set Games’ Mega Jump and successor Mega Run for iOS and Android have racked up over 40 million players around the world. And to date, DrinkBox Studios’ Tales from Space: Mutant Blobs Attack! is the most critically acclaimed title for the PlayStation Vita.
It’s not just the games that make Toronto’s scene great. It’s the site of the previously mentioned Toronto Independent Game Jam and also the home base of the Hand Eye Society, a not-for-profit coalition designed to bring the city’s video game communities together.
That’s a testament to the dedication and passion of Toronto’s tightly knit game developer community. Such a reputation has helped lead to gaining the generous support of government funding agencies such as the Ontario Media Development Corporation. The OMDC supports the province’s cultural media cluster including interactive digital media, as well as book publishing, film and television, magazine publishing, and music industries.
Its Interactive Digital Media Fund and the Ontario Interactive Digital Media Tax Credit (OIDMTC) have been instrumental in supporting the province’s video game industry: many of Toronto’s most successful games were partly funded by the OMDC.
Gamercamp’s growth as a festival, too, comes in part thanks to support from the OMDC.
Ontario is forward-thinking in this manner, as government funding for games makes this province’s developers the envy of the games world. At the same time, the success of the games should prove something’s being done right.
After years of high-profile indie activity, a rapidly evolving talent pool, and increasing government support, it was no surprise that blockbuster studios were starting to notice. Toronto soon attracted the likes of game giant Ubisoft, the first publisher to finally bring triple-A development to the city. Now Sam Fisher, protagonist of the company’s popular Splinter Cell franchise and forthcoming installment Splinter Cell Blacklist, is calling Toronto home, too.
The city has evolved quickly to become a hotbed for game development. While Boyer may be right — there may be something in the water — magic doesn’t last forever; instead Toronto’s video game community has proven in just a few short years that it possesses something far more special and tangible.
(Editor’s note: The author of this piece also serves as managing editor of Gamercamp Magazine and is directly involved in organizing Gamercamp, of which DorkShelf.com is an official sponsor.)