Looking Ahead: MIGS 2009
Director Alain Lachapelle discusses this year's event and the growth of the Canadian games industry
No in it's sixth year, the Montreal International Games Summit has become the annual event for the Canadian industry, showing off local talent and attracting global attention to a rapidly growing region.
Ahead of next month's event, director Alain Lachapelle talks to GamesIndustry.biz about his expectations for the show, how it has grown in-line with the regional industry, and why Quebec should be known for much more than its generous tax incentives.
Q: Can you give us a brief run down of MIGs for those that aren't familiar with the event?
Alain Lachapelle: The Montreal International Games Summit was created in 2004 when the industry in Quebec had only 1000 employees. Now MIGs has been running for six years and the Quebec industry now has more than 7000 employees. The event is a two-for-one event. You have the conference with more than 75 sessions, panels and round tables. And we also have the business lounge, which is a business to business matchmaking session similar to Game Connection. It's a service for publishers and developers to meet in order to do business privately.
Q: How has the event grown over the six years and how have you seen it develop along with the local industry?
Alain Lachapelle: At the beginning it was more of a local event based on the industry's needs. But as the industry grew in a fast way what we discovered was there was a need to get expertise from around the world to come to Montreal. After six years we're proud to have around 75 per cent of our speakers from abroad. That's important for the local industry but also for MIGs as an international event to gather international and local speakers in one place.
Q: How have you gone about attracting speakers from overseas, and how do you keep a Canadian flavour to proceedings?
Alain Lachapelle: We see it more as a Canadian-based event but with international speakers to come to Montreal. When we promote our event overseas, we have the chance to point to a very strong and powerful industry here in Canada. It's a fair exchange where we look at overseas speakers such as Media Molecule, and then the local talent and a focus on how we do things over here.
Q: So how important is MIGs to the overall Canadian games industry?
Alain Lachapelle: There's only two gaming events in Canada, and the Montreal International Games Summit is one of the most important events on the east coast. You have the Games Developers Conference in San Francisco and Austin, and then you have MIGs. It's quite a big event for the east coast as well as for Canada, and it's an important get together where people can network, share information and expertise and knowledge. We had more than 1500 attendees last year and we're expecting the same amount this year.
Q: Is there a theme to the event this year, or any particular subjects you expect will dominate many of the sessions?
Alain Lachapelle: When the advisory board and I first met we didn't want to get a theme for this year's event as it's based on each discipline of the business. There's no specific theme per se, but last year and this year when we selected the speakers, we could see there's a topic developing naturally even though we didn't want to have a main one. One of those is games as a culture and mass market media, and also the meaning of games. In terms of cultural diversity, we have Yoichi Wada from Square Enix, and we have also Heather Chaplin (professor of journalism and author of Smartbomb) who will ask the question if games are a guy culture, and are games being taken seriously?
Q: Where would you put Canada on the world map of videogames compared to other regions such as Europe and Japan?
Alain Lachapelle: Canada is not a big consumer market, but it's a very big developer market. We did a benchmark study last year and what we saw was that Canada ranked fourth in the development cluster behind Japan, the US and the UK. It's important, there's more than 400 studios here in Canada, and 90 are in Quebec, with 7000 jobs, and 80 per cent of those in Montreal.
Q: Is the majority of that growth due to the incentives from the local governments, such as generous tax breaks?
Alain Lachapelle: Tax incentives were very attractive at the early stages of development, and we'll not hide the fact that the government is really involved and committed to the games industry. And now you see more and more countries such as France and other regions in Canada such as Ontario having tax and credit incentives. So Quebec is not the most attractive in the area of tax incentives any more.
Q: Is there a danger that the region is only known for tax incentives, and that they will overshadow the talent in the region?
Alain Lachapelle: I believe that what we've done with incentives at the very beginning was these attracted very important companies such as Ubisoft, which has a very big studio with 2000 employees in Montreal, and others came such as EA and Eidos. Now this has caught the attention of companies who see Montreal and Quebec not as somewhere to come for tax incentives, but as a place where the pool of talent is very creative and very important. I believe this has more influence now on companies establishing a studio in Montreal. That's exactly what the CEO of Funcom said recently when he decided to open a studio in Montreal. Tax incentives are one thing, but the pool of talent attracted to the region is quite another thing entirely, it's a key asset of Montreal.
Q: How do you expect the Canadian industry to mature in the next 2-5 years?
Alain Lachapelle: Well over the past couple of years we've seen the switch from consoles like the PS3 or the Xbox 360 to Xbox Live Arcade or to the Wii. EA Montreal and independent developers have shifted to the Wii. The thing that's interesting in Quebec is our industry has always been very good and productive on other platforms such as mobile and online gaming and I believe the Canadian and the Quebec industry is ready for the upcoming challenge of new formats and business models.
Alain Lachapelle is director of the Montreal International Games Summit. Interview by Matt Martin.