Earlier this month a team of 18 people banded together with the help of their classmates, friends, and community to host a two-day conference to celebrate video game development in Alberta. The second annual GDX Edmonton (Game Discovery Exhibition) conference brought together both independent and professionals game developers alike from all over the province under one roof to showcase the amazing products that they’ve worked on for the past year, share their expertise, and celebrate with their peers.

A few words from Bioware

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The event kicked off with a keynote speech from Bioware’s General Manager of Canada, Aaryn Flynn. Expectedly, the topic of his keynote was, “How video games can help diversify Alberta’s economy”. Though he was mostly preaching to the choir, it was a voice of inspiration for many in the room that they were on the right path to helping foster Alberta into a viable region for video game based businesses. Aaryn’s talk was littered with industry statistics about Canada’s video game industry from the Entertainment Software Association (ESA). Unsurprisingly, we’ve seen many of these numbers before and in all cases, Alberta barely registers. However, there’s hope.

Although Bioware sold to Electronic Arts in 2007, the successful AAA video game developer remains in Edmonton as a wholly owned subsidiary, employing just over 500 developers throughout North America. Their titles, including Star Wars: The Old Republic, Mass Effect, and Dragon Age, continue to attract millions of customers around the world and live on to win a plethora of awards. Today, Bioware’s success endures to serve as a guiding light for future prospective video game developers in the Alberta.

Birds eye view from the exhibition Floor

This year’s show floor was a breath of life for one of Alberta’s most creative industries. The bustle was filled with game developers from Lethbridge, Calgary, Red Deer, and of course, Edmonton. More than 60 companies registered to present and exhibit representing both development studios and supporting organizations of the video games industry in our province. The Infinite Monkeys Entertainment team showed off their latest Playstation 4 title, Life Goes on; XGen Studios was alive and kicking with their beautiful adventure style game, The Low Road; and MADSOFT games represented a number of titles on the show floor this year including the upcoming title Me and my Dinosaur, a Boy and his Blob style puzzle platformer.

This year a few companies represented the exploding board game business, including Edmonton’s own Tabletop Cafe, Fongomongo Games with their newest title, Aftermath, and Roxley Games Laboratory with their kickstarter success, Santorini.

There were even some interesting virtual reality games using the Oculus Rift, Google Cardboard,and Serious Games VR platform technology from Scope AR. From adventurous indie developers to more ambitious studios, all signs are pointing that Alberta does, in fact, have a growing community of driven video game software and hardware development companies. This is just the tip of the iceberg.

eSports, video game tournaments, and boardgdx-jenga games.

Taking a break from business, what conference wouldn’t be complete without a Smash Bros eSports tournament? With high stakes and fierce competition, there could be only one. On the more casual side, Edmonton’s Extra Life community banded together to host
competitions between gamers with some local indie titles. Calgary Game Developer Association’s Justin Luk offered his game, AsterVoid 2000 for a clash of winner takes all. Also featured was Piecemeal Games’ Super Banzai, indie title Little Hellions by Jace Boechler.

This year also featured a Board Game lounge with a wide selection of boardgames to test and try including a gigantic game of Jenga teasing attendees to pluck and place a brick on their way to their next conference session. We attempted this a number of times strategically without making a mess.

Sharing a wealth of knowledge with speakers and panel sessions

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GDX this year wasn’t just about fun and games. Industry experts and entrepreneurs took to the microphones in industry oriented sessions all weekend long to share their experience and thought leadership on a variety of topics.

The Serious Games and Video Games in Education speaker panels provided insights that video games are not just created for entertainment. The value proposition that video games can bring, both in the classroom and at work, can prove to make significant impacts to creating new insights, bolstering engagement and an increasing overall Return on Investment (ROI).

Other more technical panels discussed specific aspects of developing the digital products. Veterans such as Bioware’s Neil Thompson, Beamdog’s Tom Rhodes, Bioware’s Mike Laidlaw, indie sound engineer Dave Chan, and Bioware’s Melanie Fleming shared their insight on how their expertise contributes to a successful game. From game design, video game art, audio production, story narrative, video game law, and product localization, these sessions played a significant part this year in helping encourage new perspectives in the future creation of this lucrative craft by our local rising stars.

What can we do next to cultivate the video games industry in Alberta?

So, what does this all culminate to? First, such an event would not have been possible a second year without the direction, dedication, and passion of the conferenece’s management team, specifically, Derek Kwan, Deanna Dombroski, Mickael Zerihoun, Dayna Lacoursiere, Elliot Colp, a swarm of fellow volunteers, support from industry, and support from our provinces government bodies. It must be noted that this industry event was planned and managed almost entirely by students. Their effort and passion represents one-third of Aaryn Flynn’s economic model for this province’s video game industry.

We must encourage more talent to remain in our province so that we can build upon the foundation that has been laid by the hard work of our province’s group of prospering video game companies. Bioware, Beamdog, X-Gen Studios, Roxley Game Laboratory, Trajectory IQ, Serious Labs, and many others would not have been possible without a diverse group of talented individuals. It’s their creative input that we can attribute to this industry’s current success in our province.

Finally, we as business leaders, entrepreneurs, investors, educational leaders, and policymakers must continue to work together so that we make this province an attractive environment for an industry that spans globally, and currently generates more than $3bn in GDP for Canada. A value that has increased by 31% since 2013. The Alberta Investor Tax Credit program launching January 2017, is a good start. These types of initiatives by our provincial administration will help level the playing field for Alberta in comparison to the rest of the provinces in Canada.

Join the mission and level up!

In case you missed GDX this year, there’s a chance to get caught up. The group behind the event, Walkthrough Entertainment,  will be uploading audio recordings from the speaker and panel sessions so that you can attend the conference at your leisure. We’ll be sure to update you as soon as they’re live.

Keep on the lookout for announcements for the next GDX event in 2017. You’ve got a year to spread the word, be involved, and get ready. Shapren your skills. Make a game. Join a local association like Game Camp Edmonton and the Calgary Game Developers Association. If there isn’t one in your community, start one! There’s room for talent from all walks of life in this industry. Video Games are happening in Alberta, and you too can be a part of the creativity.