We just returned from an interactive ontario double-billed conference, GameON:Finance and the Ontario Game Summit. i had low expectations for the event, having been somewhat disappointed by the organization’s earlier effort, ICE08. The problem i had with ICE is that it repeated a lot of the information i had heard at the Game Developers’ Conference in San Francisco a few months earlier, with some of the same speakers to boot.
As for GameON, “Only in his hometown, among his relatives and in his own house is a prophet without honor” – and by that, i mean how can anything local possibly be any good? i was also worried that much of the venture capitalist/angel investor/banky math moneytalk might sail over my head. Some of it did, to be sure, and i was a little dismayed that the attitude among nearly all of the speakers was that growing a company required significant investment from VCs, angel investors or the government.
It wasn’t until the last panel of the last day that Sheldon Stevens of Fuel Industries (my arch nemesis from my advergaming days, though they have no idea), extolled the virtues of hard work as a means of growing your company. Imagine! It was kind of like being at a health conference where everyone talked for days about the magic pill that would make you thin, and then Sheldon chimed in with his crazyface “diet and exercise” ideas!
Here are a few points that stuck out in my mind during the conference(s):
- Cerebral Vortex Games was held aloft as an example of a bootstrapped company, when they had actually been awarded $250 000 in government grant money to make their start. (!!) (In the company’s defense, they said they were just going with the flow when interactive ontario invited them to be the bootstrap example)
- i asked the same panel what to do if government funds ran dry or were too crowded, and you didn’t want to give control of your company (i meant equity) to investors. Panelist and Frozen North Productions CEO Julian Spillane said “at the end of the day, 100% of zero dollars is zero dollars. But 65-70% of 3 million dollars is a lot more interesting.” He was so pleased with himself that he said it during in two different panel discussions, but i won’t begrudge him that. It appears to be his catch-phrase. He’s like the Fonz.
- In Julian’s case, and in a lot of other discussions, the value of luck and being in the right place at the right time became readily apparent.
- marblemedia producer (and one of our preferred clients) Sasha Boersma told me after the Ontario Game Summit wrapped that she could have swapped out the video game people for the film people, and the conference would have been the same: lots of folks clamouring for more investment from government and easier access to funds and VC money. i would be really interested to compare the profitability of Canadian films with the profitability of Canadian video games. It seems to me like there’s a LOT of support and cash for the film people, but not much for the game people, and that consumers are far more likely to enjoy a Canadian-made video game than a Canadian-made film. (Oh no you di’n’t.)
- A lot of folks at the conference thought that Ontario needed an “anchor tenant” to really bring the province to the forefront in terms of video game production. Ubi Soft was mentioned a lot – at first, i thought, because they were Quebec’s anchor tenant, but then i realized that some people were offering them up as an example of someone who could move into Ontario. It didn’t make sense to me. i think the French language connection is a bond that ties them powerfully to Quebec.
- Pierre LeLann, CEO of Tribal Nova, was responsible for one of those exasperated “THAANK YOUUU” moments, when he said that government grants should be used by burgeoning companies as a means to an end, rather than the end themselves. Untold Entertainment has only been operating for a year, and i’ve already seen ample evidence of companies grabbing at government dollars with a mind to making a game or a show, paying back the loan, tucking away a small profit, and then grabbing for more goverment money. The proper idea, affirmed Pierre, is that you get the government money and leverage it to grow your company so that you won’t need the government money any longer. Thank you, Pierre. Now if you could just say that into this loudspeaker as i drive my campaign car around Toronto so that everyone else can hear you …
- i need a biz dev guy, because graphs and financials put me to sleep like Rusty the narcoleptic weiner dog.
- All it takes is for a panelist like Jane Pinckard to smile brightly to remind all the men in the room that they’re attending a total sausage conference.
- Here’s a hot tip: focus on your core business. i gleaned that one from industry friend Tony Walsh. The first few times he said it, i rolled my eyes and thought he was being self-important. But he said it again to me at the conference, and it clicked. i went back and took a look at some of the projects in our pipeline and saw them, for the first time, as distractions that would steer me from my goals. (Sorry ladies, but the Untold Entertainment personal cosmetic care line will NOT be debuting in the Spring.)
- My office rent is way too high. This thought now occupies my every waking moment.
- Jason Della Rocca, head of the IGDA, lives in Montreal, not San Francisco. Who knew?
Jason’ a Canuck. (And apparently, some sort of Catholic saint?)
- The OMDC Digital Media Tax Credit is not something you can just throw to your accountant and say “take care of this”. There’s some legwork and a long wait time involved. Who knew? (Well, apparently everyone who’s ever applied for it. Live and learn.)
- Also, while the tax credit can be granted to arm’s length contractors for fee-for-service projects, if the contracting company applies for the credit, the contractor can’t also apply for the credit. i find this stipulation a little frustrating. From my perspective, we are an elligible company who completed an elligible product. Whether that product is part of a larger product under which our clients also applied for the tax credit is immaterial to me. We’re two separate companies. i have no influence over their financial decisions. Gimme mah tax credit.
- Keynote speaker David Edery ran through a lot of the stuff he covers in his upcoming book. His most interesting presentation slides compared the much-touted video game industry billions to the money made in other related industries, where games profits were embarrassingly dwarfed. i was paticularly keen when he talked about building games to do corporate training. He showed a few examples that, although rough, changed my mind about the seriousness of Serious Games (which Edery called a “polluted” term).
This content will seem ancient exactly six months from now.
- Edery’s book makes for very light reading, and seems to be targeted more at the post-middle-age crowd who get their game and technology news from the Globe and Mail, rather than game industry insiders, for whom most of the material will be old hat. (This opinion is in stark contrast to the suspicious across-the-board 5-star scores the book garnered on Amazon.)
Thanks to the two days of reflection the conference afforded me, i realize i have already made errors as the prez of Untold Entertainment that i was unaware of! My greatest sin to this point has been my staunch independence – lone-gunning and truly bootstrapping my company, while remaining closed to collaboration and co-operation. It’s likely because i’m an only child, and a bit of a dick.
Lo, i have seen the error of my ways! Thanks to the friendly folks i met at the conference, Untold Entertainment will be represented at an advisory committee meeting at George Brown College tonight. i was also inspired to rescue a kitten from a tree and to call my mother every so often. i therefore applaud io’s humanitarian effort in running this conference, and i look forward to becoming a better person and a smarter entrepreneur at their urging and instruction.
In the spirit of playing nicely with other folks in the industry, i filled up my week with meetings with various studios and agencies who wanted to speak with me. It’s been an absolutely enormous waste of my time, and i kind of wish i hadn’t bothered. i think it’s because we have some very immediate needs here at Untold Entertainment, those being 1) to find either a biz dev person or a capable Actionscript programmer so that my time and brain are no longer divided, and 2) to figure out the rent and expansion strategy. If i did find the right person to hire, i wouldn’t know exactly where to put him. We’ve run out of room.
That’s why i’m officially announcing that as of today, Untold Entertainment is hiring a little person – either a dwarf, or someone who just has teeny little legs – to join our team as either a business development resource or an Actionscript programmer. Get those resumés in, folks – this is a hot ticket.
Good thing we support dress-down Fridays.