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Getting Toronto's game back

In a city known for its great food, and diverse population, an important part of the global video gaming industry isn't usually one of Toronto's many titles. Yet, the Toronto area is home to some of gaming's biggest players, and wealth of past releases. So why, then, has Toronto not flourished as one of the industry's premier developing communities?

This is the time of year when companies and developers flock to San Francisco for the annual Game Developers Conference (GDC09), one of the largest conferences of its kind - and possibly the sweatiest.

But clichéd geek jokes aside, the lack of Canadian developers is a little disheartening. Digital Extremes, Rockstar Toronto and Transgaming are just a few of Toronto's larger industry players, who are all, strangely, absent from this year's festivities.

It's entirely possible that each developer simply had nothing new to show. And that's the problem.

Digital Extremes has been highly regarded in the past for its Unreal Tournament series of games. But with only two lukewarm releases from the developer since the last Unreal Tournament game in 2004, Digital Extremes has remained relatively quiet.

Rockstar Toronto, meanwhile, has dealt mainly with porting games from one platform to another. A simple task in theory, perhaps - but much harder in execution, as the developer learned very recently with Grand Theft Auto IV for the PC. Really, there's no use buying a game if it doesn't actually run.

This isn't to say that the gaming industry in Canada is as lackluster as it seems - in fact, the Montreal offices of gaming giant Ubisoft are nearly the largest in the entire gaming industry. Instead, it simply seems as if the Toronto area is in particular need of a serious infusion of gaming industry blood. Montreal, meanwhile, has invested millions in Ubisoft's success - is it perhaps Toronto's turn to do the same?

After all, the gaming industry is on track to make even more money than the film industry this year, and it's a fact that the Canadian government seems particularly aware of. Browsing through this year's GDC09 attendees, I was a little surprised that, of all things, the Canadian Government's Western Economic Diversification department has a booth set up at the conference.

What for, I can't quite tell - the description is vague, and the department's own website appears to have nothing listed. But one can assume that Canada recognizes there's money in gaming - money that could easily be made in some of the country's biggest cities.

Once the dust has settled, and GDC09 has wrapped up, will anything have really changed? Unless something is done to encourage and entice Toronto-based developers to get their game together, the city may already be at the mercy of a rapidly growing industry, and one that will have no qualms leaving Toronto in its wake.


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