The Vortex Competition is a game design contest run by Bill Marshall, one of the minds behind the Toronto International Film Festival, his wife Sari Ruda, and assorted others. The website claims (spuriously) that this is the fifth anniversary of the competition. According to the site itself, the competition has only been run twice before, in 2007 and 2006; the other years focussed on game-related seminars, round tables and panel discussions. The 2007 competition, which i entered while still an employee of a Canadian broadcaster, unfortunately suffered from tremendous disorganization. i didn’t hold out much hope for this year, until He showed up.
That’s right, He – none other than Yannis Mallat, Chief Executive Officer of Ubi Soft Montreal. Yannis, with his lush beard and flowing mane of silky shoulder-length shampoo commercial hair, riding on a cloud against a blinding host of heavenly flood lights, to the blast of a thousand heralding trumpets. Yannis – with an olive branch in his left hand and a Wii controller in his right, a halo of light framing his face. Yannis Mallat, draped in the finest gowns, with sandals of bronze and a crown made of tickles. This is the very saviour who’s bringing his multi-bazillion dollar juggernaut game studio into Toronto some time soon, his way made smooth by a path paved with hundred dollar bills, courtesy of the Ontario Government. Yannis! Angels sing! Yannis! Elderly women lose all bowel control! Yannis! And every game developer in town swoons at the mere mention of his name.
This is actually a picture of Yanni, not Yannis, but it fits my description better.
Stop: Mallat Time
The Vortex Competition landed Yannis Mallat as one of their top-tier judges, and the excitement is palpable. And disturbing. Palpably disturbing.
Since the Vortex “grand” prize of $2500 is nothing to write home about (and indeed, a drop in the bucket of the many thousands of buckets it takes to fund game development these days), many of the people i’ve spoken with about the competition say the same thing “i don’t care about winning – i care about the networking. i get to present my game concept to Yannis Mallat. You know – the Ubi Soft CEO? And if he likes it, well … this could be my big break.”
For serious. Grown men are actually saying this to me. And not just idealistic, adorably naive students – i’m talking grown-up professionals who should know better. There seems to be this sense that Yannis Mallat, who heads a company packed with video game professionals, all of whom have at least ten game ideas that they’re dying to make – that this guy is going to show up to a low-rent competition like Vortex, watch a presentation, and say “This guy. This guy’s our next STAR.”
Seriously – when did the Ontario game industry turn into an episode of Fame?
i wish i could say that i hate to burst everyone’s bubble, because i actually really enjoy bursting bubbles – especially big, ridiculous and implausible bubbles like this one. Yannis Mallat is not judging the Vortex Competition so that he can fill a senior-level game developer position at Ubi Soft. The 2007 competition felt a lot like the first round of American Idol, except that it was filled with people who were too retarded to even make the first round of American Idol.
This desire to “get discovered” betrays sort of a disturbing hidden desire among the game developers in this town. As video games resemble Hollywood more and more, these folks seem to think they can hang out at Schwab’s Pharmacy (Vortex) and look pretty (have a good game idea), when in walks Cecil B. DeMille (Yannis Mallat) who sees that they have that spark – that je ne sais quoi – and he signs them to a multi-million dollar ($80k/year) contract at Paramount Pictures (Ubi Soft).
Of course, we all know how that Hollywood dream really ends up. Some pretty young thing hops a bus from Idaho to Los Angeles in the hopes of being discovered and making it big, and she ends up doing porn.
Here’s where my analogy breaks down. i’m not too sure what the video game industry equivalent of porn is. Gold farming? Interactive bar-top poker games? Something like that.
Does your Mom know the kinds of games you’re making in the big city?
i hate to say all this. i really do. But it just blows my mind that everyone i’ve spoken with who’s entering this competition thinks they’ll be hob-nobbing with Yannis, his buddies, and a couple of loose broads over martinis at the Boom Boom Room after the competition is over. It’s like getting tickets to a Rolling Stones concert and thinking you’re going to go backstage and meet Mick and Keef, and they’re gonna do a few lines with you and listen to your demo and set you up with a sweet record deal. It … holy crap. i can’t express this to you. It boggles my already mostly-boggled mind.
Back to Reality
Here’s what i think is a healthy outlook for the Vortex Competition, and one that a sane person can hinge his hopes on. You’re going to go there, and you’ll have ten minutes to speak. This is a golden opportunity to practice, practice, practice, distill your game idea in a VERY tight presentation, and have it evaluated by someone other than Mom. And keep in mind that you won’t be evaluated solely on the merits of your game concept. Your manner of speaking, your grooming, your preparedness, your graphic design (if you choose to use slides) – in short, your personality and work ethic and branding – will all be judged with far more scrutiny than your game idea.
No, actually. i DON’T want to hear your game idea.
i dare say, your game idea is not what will make you stand out. Your ability to present, your market research and budgeting legwork, your fact-based revenue projections – all of these are part and parcel of an excellent and prize-worthy presentation. Any schmuck can have a game idea – and that’s exactly what you’ll see at the competition: a parade of schmucks with game ideas. The extra preparation, practice and personality you infuse into your presentation will set the doers apart from the dreamers.
And if you put in that required amount of effort – that level of hard work, effort, intelligence and professionality – then maybe at that networking event after the competition, Yannis Mallat will come to you?
But seriously, don’t bet on it.