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Electric Playground host and award show co-founder Victor Lucas on the fourth annual Canadian Videogame Awards (Ubisoft/Canadian Videogame Awards)
Electric Playground host and award show co-founder Victor Lucas on the fourth annual Canadian Videogame Awards (Ubisoft/Canadian Videogame Awards)

Interview

From awards to layoffs, high-low times for Canadian gaming Add to ...

The fourth annual Canadian Videogame Awards took place in Vancouver last weekend, but if you weren’t able to make the actual event, fear not – they’re going to be all over TV this weekend.

Electric Playground host and award show co-founder Victor Lucas chatted with us about the awards, why people should watch them, and the big shift going on in Canadian video games right now.

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A lot of independent games were nominated. Do you purposely put a spotlight on them?

It’s a wonderful reality in Canadian gaming right now. There’s more indie awareness and impressions in the awards this year. What’s happening is it’s almost a cycle repeating. The video game industry in Canada has indie roots – a lot of these huge companies started as tiny, little companies. We’ve matured as an industry to the point where we can weather some storms and we can splinter some of these bigger companies into smaller ones, and even some of those smaller ones into much smaller ones, and co-exist.

It speaks to the nature of how people are getting all of this content. It’s not so much a three-way street where you almost have these TV-like gates that you had to work through, the Sony machine and the Nintendo machine. There’s lots of ways to play games and that’s beautiful. There are great games of every size, fit and form. The Canadian Videogame Awards represent that. What’s really true is that Canadians are awesome at making video games and they can make them in any flavour you want.

With the business fragmenting and the big guys feeling the pinch, we’re seeing a lot of studio closings and layoffs. Is the indie movement Canada’s future?

Yeah, absolutely. It is part of the future and it’s a part of the present. It benefits game hardware manufacturers at every size and scale too. Sony and Nintendo and Microsoft are all going to have partnerships with these people. Mark of the Ninja won 11 nominations and it’s one of the top games on the Xbox from 2012 – it got support from Microsoft. It wasn’t a tiny, little release. It got some support, some publicity and promotion, its bills were paid by a major publisher. That’s fantastic.

Not only are there jobs for these people to build these things and distribute them, but consumers want different ways to play games, too. They want to have the choice and don’t necessarily want all of their game content to be 40-hour role-playing games or sports games or driving games. They want to be able to do some bite-sized gaming, whether it be on a console or tablet or whatever. This is where digital distribution and peoples’ busy schedules [are] pushing the industry. The direction is a good one.

It doesn’t sound like you’re too concerned with the closings and layoffs. Is it because the people involved are generally able to find jobs or things to do?

It’s always tragic when a family has to uproot. A good friend of mine who has worked in Vancouver for a long time just posted on Facebook the other day that he’s accepted a job at Ubisoft Montreal and he’s moving his family out there. That’s not always great news to hear, you want to keep the opportunity for people to stay in the city they want to stay in and work on the kinds of things they want to work on. But this is really about deciding to be a part of something that’s projected out into the world. People have to make a really conscious choice on that.

It’s not so much that you sign on and you’re part of a big team and you have a job and desk. With all of this emphasis on what these things actually cost and all of the different ways that these things can come out at different price points, at the individual level people have to make a conscious choice about whether they want to commit to this or not. People should be making the games they want to make.

There was probably a five- or 10-year span in the video game industry where people could just be on a team and do art for a specific project and just have a good job and a nice paycheck. But everybody is tightening their belts and looking at the structures of all these jobs, so people should make some hard choices about that. Do what you’re supposed to do or what you want to do. If you’re a part of art at any level and you’re sending that out into the world and you believe in it, first of all you’re going to have a good time even if you’re not making tons of dough, but the art you’re sending out has a better chance of being accepted by more people.

That sort of applies to all walks of life and all jobs.

Yeah. The Internet is affecting all of that. It’s definitely affecting the TV industry. We’ve got major Hollywood stars going on Kickstarter and asking people to support their dreams. This is the future now. It’s going to be very much looking at every nickel that gets spent on art and deciding, is that the right way to spend the money and is that the right direction to go? There’s a democratization happening for artists and it’s because of digital technology.

So back to the awards – what’s your favourite Canadian game of 2012?

I think it has to be Far Cry 3. One of the cool things with that game is that it came out in December, so it was ineligible for some of the awards considerations, like the Spike Video Game Awards. It’s great that we aren’t skipping over that fantastic game because it was one of the best games that came out in 2012, period. Hot damn, that was an incredible year for Canadian game makers. Just the fact that Assassin’s Creed 3, Mass Effect 3 and Far Cry 3 came out in the same year is ridiculous.

The awards took place last Saturday so if anyone wants to, they can find the winners online. What’s the appeal to watching on TV over the weekend?

Obviously, the winners are the big deal and the big appeal. We want to see these teams celebrated and get their awards and their speeches in, and their acceptance from their peers and all that. But it’s also important to take a look at the nominee packs that all these winning games were nominated against.

We’ve also added a great deal of entertainment value throughout the show. We shot a lot of videos, some of them included a lot of team members from game companies all across Canada, which I think I’m most proud of. We did a good job in including development studios from all over our country. It really felt like Canada was in Vancouver with us. It really felt like we honoured the country and the people who work so hard in this country.

We also had some fantastic actors as part of the proceedings as well. A lot of them are voice character actors from video games. [The Killing star] Billy Campbell returned again, Aaron Douglas and Michael Hogan from Battlestar Galactica returned. We also have a number of humorous video clips and some on-stage humour as well. It was definitely a very fun night and even if you know the winners, it’s still going to be a really entertaining two hours.

(Editor’s Note: The Canadian Videogame Awards air on CityTV stations across the country on Saturday at 9 p.m. ET, with several repeats on G4 Canada on Sunday. Check local listings.)

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