It’s true that Uncharted 2: Among Thieves is wicked. Yes, God of War III will rock. And, most likely, Heavy Rain is a strong GOTY contender. But if you’re the type who knows enough about games to know what the hell the previous three sentences mean, you also know that you can find all this out (and more) on the myriad Toronto-based gaming sites out there as they release their coverage of the Sony Playstation Preview Event over the next few days. Indeed, as much as some of us here love playing with our joysticks (quiet, you), it really all comes down to what Tuesday’s shindig had to do with Toronto. After all, this is Torontoist, not Today in Gameplay.
We must have been rare birds at the press event taking place on the third floor of the hip and warehousey Burroughes Building on Queen West, waiting patiently for our turn to speak to Matt Levitan, director of marketing and public relations for Sony Computer Entertainment Canada—not as a couple of fanboys (or fanboy + girl, in this case) looking to score a peek of this holiday’s latest digital distractions, but as citizen journalists genuinely concerned with the state of game development and how it relates to the growing industry here in the city. At least, for the purpose of this post, that is…
“We’ve had an office in Canada since we launched the PSone (which was in 1995), but it’s always been sales, marketing, operations, distribution, public relations… we actually have a few companies that make some games for us, but, unfortunately, they’re based in Vancouver,” Matt explains in a quiet moment between media assaults. “But what we’re starting to see now is that there’s more of an opportunity for people to start developing games here in Toronto.”
Of course, this prompts the inevitable question of Ubisoft’s planned exodus to Hogtown and how it will change the landscape of game development in the city. (You know it came up. And you know you want an answer.)
“Certainly, Ubisoft wasn’t the first to jump on board; a little-known fact is that there’s also Rockstar Toronto (they made some games here as well)—and Silicon Knights, which is not too far away in St. Catharines,” Matt replies. “I think we’re going to start to see a few more pop up because there’s a really big gaming community in Toronto.” (In other words, he did an excellent job of maintaining that coy, elusive air of mystery that has surrounded Ubisoft’s plans to set up shop in our fair city since it was announced earlier this year. Very well—you win this round, Levitan.)
When the discussion becomes more general, however, Matt’s reticence begins to fall away, and his passion for gaming becomes evident. “There are a lot of developers, and a lot of them have to go to Montreal or to Vancouver (or other areas) to find work. We’d love to keep that talent here in Toronto where we really feel it serves the Ontario government best and where we can start creating some great games here on our own.” He’s referring, of course, to the recent tax incentives put in place to bring more studio interest to the province. “But also, I remember why I got into this business; a lot of it had to do with the fact that I love games (and the development of games) and, though I’m a marketing/PR guy, part of me has always loved the creation of games and always wanted to be more involved in that… I love the development cycle and, being a Sony ‘lifer,’ so to speak, I’d love to see it take place.”
Of course, the promise of a burgeoning games industry in Toronto doesn’t just affect would-be designers and developers (and excite directors of marketing and public relations, apparently); in fact, many well-known bloggers were out in full force at the event, including Paul Hunter from NextGen Player, Shaun Hatton from Toronto Thumbs (dressed as Cobra Commander, no less), Steve Tilley from Load This, and even Zack Cooper and Bryan Calhoun from Got Game. Other interesting press sightings included a tall drink of water from Naked News making the rounds with her microphone (clothed, unfortunately), but the hands-down highlight was watching Bill Hutchinson from CTV News wailing on a plastic drum set.
Jeff McAllister, senior editor and community manager of GameShark and a most gracious guide to Torontoist, is a regular fixture at these events. “Sony has certainly shown it has some heavy hitters in their lineup for the near future,” he says of Tuesday’s showcase. “There were some brilliant games being shown, and I can’t wait to get my hands on these titles.” And what of the free Playstation-branded scarf we received upon our entry? “They know how to treat Canadians. It is, indeed, a pretty sweet scarf,” he chuckles, rubbing his hooded eyes blearily. Though there was much fun to be had, it has been a long day, and we are being shooed out to make way for the public portion of the evening.
All told, the Sony Playstation Preview Event was a most interesting glimpse into an industry poised on the brink of making a definite impression on Toronto’s tech landscape. With more events on the horizon hoping to capitalize on this underdeveloped hotbed of creative designers and developers, only time will tell if Toronto will, indeed, become the next Vancouver of gaming. To make a long story short (too late): if you’re looking to launch a career in the field of interactive entertainment, you might want to get on this train before it sets off for AwesomeTown.
All photos by Christopher Drost/Torontoist.