With nearly 200 companies focused on creating entertainment software and more than 10,000 full-time employees in the industry, Quebec is an undeniable power player on the global game development stage. And over the past 14 years the province has been slowly building a business-to-business conference to match in the form of the Montreal International Game Summit (MIGS).
Expected to play host to nearly 3,000 professionals from around the world – slightly more from abroad than from within Canada – this year’s event, which is set to run December 11th through the 13th at the Palais des congrès de Montréal, has some 500 participating companies and will host more than 100 lectures from experts and luminaries. It is now second in size within North America only to the annual Game Developers Conference in San Francisco.
“Our theme – Your Access to Experts – says it all,” says Serge Landry, the conference’s event director, who runs his own mobile AR studio – Miralupa – and has been deeply involved with the show since 2013, when he joined Alliance numérique, the Quebec-based non-profit game association that runs the event. “We are the perfect event to meet and exchange [ideas] with fellow top developers around the world. Our event is big enough to attract them, but small enough that you can meet these people face-to-face.”
The conference has gradually grown and morphed over the years. It started as a means for local developers to learn from and share ideas with developers from around the world. But as the province’s – and especially Montreal’s – industry continued to expand and flourish MIGS started to become something else: A place where people from other places could go to learn from and do business with the best.
“With Montreal becoming the third largest hub of game development in the world, now a lot of international people are interested to attend to discover our ‘secret recipe’ for building such a huge industry in such a small province over the course of so little time!” says Landry.
Jayson Hilchie, president and CEO of the Entertainment Software Association of Canada, agrees that Quebec – and especially Montreal – has become a key landmark on the industry’s global map, and that this status on the world stage necessitates a world-class conference like MIGS.
“I [recently] spent a week in the UK meeting with my counterparts and members of the global video game industry,” says Hilchie, “and there is no question that Canada is the envy of the global industry. Canada has a few growing clusters, with Quebec and specifically Montreal being the largest. There is a clear understanding of this abroad, and when people in the global video game industry hear the words Montreal or Quebec they know it is synonymous with video games.”
With Quebec becoming a hotbed for game development activity, the reasons to attend MIGS have multiplied. The conference’s job fair connects workers with employers at Montreal-based studios both big and small. People already gainfully employed and looking to do their jobs even better get to glean new insights from top minds working on some of the biggest and most complicated games in existence. And developers both independent and more established can showcase their products, look for partners, and hobnob with important folks – what Landry calls “business makers” – including publishers, console manufacturers, brand representatives, and venture capitalists.
For others, it’s an opportunity to reconnect with people with whom they used to work. Rayna Anderson, a senior narrative designer at Eidos Montreal who’s one of eight speakers at this year’s MIGS Brain Dump segment, which is focused on coming up with creative solutions to problems that don’t have easy answers, is looking forward to the conference’s social aspects.
“Having been in the industry for more than a decade, over the years my former colleagues have all moved on to other companies and countries,” says Anderson. “It’s great that a lot of my old friends are back in town. And I get a chance to meet up with new friends who I may have only met online. I love being able to geek out about how much we enjoy making games.”
More than that, she’s hoping MIGS will help her find some balance in the way she and other game designers approaches their work. “Making games is a career that demands high levels of technical and creative output,” she says. “Doing this in a healthy way continues to be something we all struggle with. We want to pour everything we have into our creations, so it can be hard to turn that drive off. I’m looking forward to several of the talks that are dealing with different aspects of this issue.”
Hilchie, also one of this year’s presenters, sees MIGS as tremendous opportunity to perform his duties as head of ESAC. “For me, it really is an opportunity to be in front of the industry and ensure that developers understand just how important the video game industry is to the Canadian economy,” he explains. “Often developers are understandably focused on making their games, hitting deadlines, and monitoring their communities, but they are very much part of an important and growing industry that is creating jobs for young people in Canada.”
Indeed, MIGS feeds the industry, and Montreal’s industry especially, by drawing more talent and more studios to the area – lured, according to Landry, by the city’s multicultural atmosphere and “French taste;” a recent wave of veteran developers who’ve started their own companies; and the province’s lucrative tax credit incentives.
But, in the end, it may simply be the collegial spirit and ideas exchanged that continue to serve as the conference’s chief attraction.
“The video game industry is changing daily,” says Hilchie. “This creates challenges and opportunities for a variety of topics and opinions surrounding mobile game marketing, business models, VR, and issues such as inclusivity in the industry. These are all important topics, and I look forward to attending sessions at MIGS.”