The IGDA (International Game Developers Association) is a global group with local chapters in various cities, including Toronto. The IGDA Toronto chapter has been running largely on life support for the past few years, by the admission of outgoing president Josh Druckman. It happens. Other commitments get in the way, and your passion dies down. I feel the same way about that matchstick Taj Mahal model i’ve been trying to build for the past twenty-three years.
Ryan Creighton from the future sent me this picture of himself to show me that i’d finish the bloody thing some time around my 65th birthday.
The Toronto IGDA committee, hand-picked by Josh in recent years to help keep the ball rolling, recently elected a new president at the wild-eyed urging and general rabble-rousing of TOJam founder Jim McGinley. The new prez is Lesley Phord-Toy, an Ubi Soft employee and Montreal ex-pat who officially takes over in 2011. Lesley will be speaking at GamerCamp Lvl 2, discussing her plans for the IGDA Toronto chapter, and eliciting feedback from the attendees on what they’d like to see from what is arguably the most well-known video games association in the city.
Clockwise from top-left: Lesley Phord-Toy, her terrifying Russian bodyguards, Ubi Toronto studio head Jade Raymond, and the woman in every pharmaceutical commercial before she’s taken the prescription that’s being advertised.
Lesley’s been taking the time to meet with each member of the IGDA Toronto chapter steering committee one-on-one. We had a cup of coffee at Toronto’s new board game cafe Snakes and Lattes, and I took the chance to ask Lesley a few questions to help introduce her to Toronto.
[distraction: check out my review of Snakes & Lattes]
Q: What’s your role at Ubi Soft?
I am a Producer at the Ubisoft Toronto studio for an unannounced project. As a Producer, my primary responsibility is to ensure the successful delivery of a high quality game, and to build and foster a team of people who have the skills, experience, and talent to execute on that objective. In the special case of the new studio in Toronto, I am also involved in areas associated with studio-building such helping to define policies and processes, and establishing and promoting our values as a studio.
[read all about the Ubi Soft Toronto grand opening shindig]
Q: Have you always worked at Ubi?
I’m actually pretty new to Ubisoft. I joined in February as (I believe) the first official production employee! Prior to Ubi, I worked at Artificial Mind & Movement (A2M) in Montreal for 6 and a half years. And before that, I was a software engineer at Sony Electronics in the special effects industry in Los Angeles.
[Did U Know? According to the characters in Clerks II, you never do A2M.]
Q: Why did you run for IGDA president? Was it a directive from Ubi, or was it your own initiative?
I’ve been a member of the advisory board of the Montreal chapter for the past two years, and I’ve always felt that a vibrant community of peers is a valuable part of being a game developer. I really enjoyed sharing with, and learning from others in the Montreal community, and I was hoping to find something like that in Toronto.
After attending a few IGDA Toronto meetings, I was left both pleasantly surprised, and disappointed at the same time. On the positive side, I met some really interesting people, and it was clear that there was a contagious enthusiasm for making games. On the negative side, it seemed that many of the local game developers don’t actually go to the IGDA, thereby creating a huge gap in the local community.
(Lesley has keyed in to a palpable anti-IGDA sentiment from Hand Eye Society die-hards. Can’t we all just get along? – ed.)
Knowing that the committee was looking for a new president, I felt it was a great opportunity to try to mend that gap. Together with the committee, I hope that we can strengthen Toronto’s IGDA so that it can become a valuable resource for the community, and be inclusive to all who are interested or involved in game development.
Q: There has been a lot of uncertainty in the Toronto game community – especially the indie community – about the ramifications of Ubi Soft moving into Ontario. What do you think the move means? How do you think Ubi’s presence will affect the Ontario games industry?
A healthy industry is one that is diverse, sort of like a natural ecosystem. Speaking with people at Ubisoft, it’s clear that there is a motivation to learn about what is already in place so that they can add to the diversity, and continue to help strengthen the local industry. I’m really excited about that idea because I feel that when there is a stronger industry, it can lead to a stronger community. With a growing population of game developers, there is an increased potential for our community to be more supportive of each other, learn from each other, and collaborate together. It’s really more a question of whether the community will be able to embrace this idea, capitalize on their diversity, and apply it to their craft of game development.
Q: If everything works out perfectly, what will a typical IGDA Toronto chapter meeting look like?
(this is what it it looks like currently – ed.)
In the most ideal case, you would show up at a meeting and feel a sense of awe that you belong to this great community of peers, all sharing in the same passions that you do. You would also have a sense of relief that you are not the only one struggling to make your project work, and that everyone has similar challenges as you. You would spend an hour or so learning about something that could help you in your own project, and maybe be able to share a little of your own wisdom with others. You might make some new friends, but you would definitely catch up with some familiar faces. And at the end of the evening, you will come away feeling lucky for being a member of an incredibly diverse game development community.
(Ryan says: i have a slightly different vision of a successful chapter meeting…)
Q: You’ve lived in every major city in Canada, and you’ve seen this industry from different angles. What are some of the differences between the Montreal, Vancouver and Toronto game scenes?
I can’t really comment too much on Vancouver. When I was working there in the late 90s, there was really only EA and Radical and maybe a few other small companies.
(Stuntmaster saw a 2000 release. Did Radical secretly hire Lesley to perform their kung fu mocap for the game? It’s pure conjecture at this point.)
For Montreal, one of the unique things is that many of the studios are actually within walking distance to each other. In the case of Eidos and A2M, they practically share a wall! With that kind of close proximity, it makes it easy for individuals to get to know each other. You always get this feeling that everyone knows everyone even though there are in fact thousands of developers in Montreal! There is competition between companies to attract the best talent, however, there is also a collective sense of grief if you hear that a company or project is not doing well.
Considering Toronto, the geography is vast in comparison, and everyone here faces some amount of commuting. Despite this, there seems to be a shared passion for games here that I had always thought reserved for only a few select hard-cores. I think it’s really a defining characteristic of the Toronto game industry and it really is contagious! On the down side, it simultaneously feels like the community is very divided between some indie hard-cores, and others who are also trying to make a living while pursuing their passion.
Q: What’s your favourite game of all time?
Of all time? It would have to be Super Mario Bros. on the NES. In terms of modern games, however, the games that have captured my imagination the most are Bioshock, Portal, Braid, and Limbo.
Super Mario Bros., a moderately successful game based on the smash hit 1993 blockbuster film of the same name.
Q: What are you playing right now?
<sheepishly> About 150+ hours of Bejeweled Blitz. </sheepishly>
Do you have a dream game that you’ve always wanted to make? Can you tell us anything about it?
There are two diametrically opposed games that I would love to make. One would be something silly and funny (kind of like the humour from those old LucasArts adventure games). The other would be some sort of intense psychological “game” that would make you question whether you were actually sane or not in real life. Ultimately however, my dream project would have a strong focus on creativity and be something unique and different from the status quo.
Q: What non-game-related things do you do for fun?
If I had the time, I would be traveling the world. Short of that, I like visiting modern art galleries and installations and getting lost in their surreal environments. If I could, I would spend a whole afternoon squishing my feet into those millions of sunflower seeds at that new exhibit at the Tate Modern.
Have Your Say!
Catch Lesley Phord-Toy, 2011 president of the IGDA Toronto chapter, at GamerCamp Lvl 2 in November. Don’t forget to check out the IGDA in its new and improved format, and thank Josh at the next social for all the hard work and effort he’s put into the group for the past ten years!