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Should GDC Move to Canada?

Is a nation under Trump, that makes it increasingly difficult for Muslims to enter, the right location to hold a game developer conference?

I am a Muslim. I am a game developer. I am not going to GDC this year.

That seems like defiant political posturing, but GDC simply wasn't in my travel plans for 2017. If it had been, I'd no doubt rethink my passage given the present climate in the United States. I'm not from one of the seven countries impacted by Trump's suspended travel ban. I live just moments from the U.S. border, cushioned by the multicultural comfort and acceptance of Canada where I was born and raised (on the playground is where I spent most of my days). But when I meet up with U.S. Customs officials? I'm a coffee-colored man with a suspect middle name and a generous amount of facial hair. For now, entering the U.S. is not worth the trouble.

These feelings are common. Distinguished Muslim game developers like Rami Ismail say they feel the U.S. is no longer open for business. Many travelers, both game industry personalities and digital civilians, are reluctant to enter the U.S.. Even non-Muslims are unwilling to enter the U.S., either out of solidarity with their fellow men and women, or a simple fear of what they may have to endure. There are threats of privacy violations for everyone, with Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly openly stating that visitors should have to give over their phone passwords and discuss the sites they visit. This is not a hypothetical. Already there are Muslim Canadians who have been turned back at the border after an interrogation and phone search.

"While the U.S. may be recoiling into an isolationist position, Canada is very much open for business. In fact, we're the third largest producer of video games in the world"

Thanks, no thanks.

For game developers, it doesn't have to be this way. While the U.S. may be recoiling into an isolationist position, Canada is very much open for business. In fact, we're the third largest producer of video games in the world. According to the Entertainment Software Association, there are more than 20,000 Canadians working in the games industry. Bleeps and bloops contribute more than $3 billion to our GDP. Canadian game developers see exceptional levels of support from both provincial and federal governments.  We're a country of gamers and game makers, by the people, for the people.

So why not move GDC to Canada?

Despite the facts and figures mentioned above, Canada has always suffered from a dearth of industry events. With the exception of the Montreal International Games Summit (MIGS), no attempts at major industry events in Canada have managed to stick. GDC Canada was tried in 2010, but never again. Pocket Gamer Connects came to Vancouver in 2016. This year they chose San Francisco instead. It's hard to keep the big-money-play-ahs interested in the Great White North.

The reasoning behind this is up for debate, but most Canadians I've spoken with agree -- attendance falls short of targets because budgets are limited. If a Canadian developer is only going to attend one event, it needs to offer maximum visibility to U.S. publishers and partners. And U.S. attendees are the cool kids in short supply because they have enough parties to go to already. In short, our lack of major industry events is a very real extension of something that every Canadian is familiar with: being stuck in the long shadow of America.

But with the current state of U.S. - World relations, there's a very real opportunity for Canada to skate out of said shadow and into the limelight. And I'm not the only one who thinks so. Speaking with Jillian Mood, head of partner and member relations for the IGDA and owner of the upcoming Capital Gaming Expo in Ottawa, it seems Canada is rife with potential to house guests from the U.S. and around the world.

"Industry events are a crucial part of building your business," Mood told me, "and Canada is a world class destination. With the level of talent we have in this country, it would be a shame to keep it to ourselves. While we've been able to showcase it through events like MIGS, CGX and the (now-defunct) Ottawa International Gaming Conference, seeing a major player like GDC move its main event to Canada would give the industry a fresh pool of talent to dip into, while simultaneously giving those outside of Canada the chance to showcase their very best to a whole new world of partners."

"Despite the best intentions of the industry, it's entirely possible that changes in U.S. policy will make it a difficult place for international game makers to do business"

If you're concerned that Canada may mirror policy decisions like those in the U.S. that would be hostile to travelers, think again. In fact, it's starting to look like Canada is bracing for more than just visitors. I recently spoke with Canadian immigration consultant Sean Polden to get his take.

"Canada is deliberately positioning itself to be the landing pad for those displaced by changing American immigration policies. The companies I'm working with are having no issue moving their skilled workers into Canada in preparation for stiffening regulations, and are adapting their employment strategies accordingly. The government's messaging in Canada is clear and consistent. Canadians are open to working with the industry's need for highly skilled labor, regardless of where in the world that labor is from."

Major cities like Toronto, Montreal, and Vancouver are only an hour from the U.S. border. The weak Canadian dollar (at least at the time of this writing) provides a fiscally beneficial alternative for event planners and travelers. And, for real, aren't you getting a wee bit tired of spending time in The 'Frisco? Don't you like maple syrup, Canadian bacon (no, we don't call it that), and people who say "sorry" when you bump into them?

I understand that most of the games industry is located in San Francisco, but the fact remains: the industry is pushing back. Companies are keenly observing U.S. policy and doing everything they can to mitigate the impact. Devolver Digital in particular deserves some applause. They're making sure everyone who can't attend GDC in San Francisco this year in light of travel restrictions will get their games seen. Despite the best intentions of the industry, it's entirely possible that changes in U.S. policy will make it a difficult place for international game makers to do business.

Let's shake things up in 2018, GDC. Canada welcomes you with open arms.

Faisal Sethi is the founder of The Frosty Pop Corps, a boutique mobile games studio in British Columbia. His latest games include the arcade hockey experience Slap Shots!, and Puff. - an action game of bullets, jumping, and recoil.

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Latest comments (15)

Andrew Spearin Professor, Mohawk College2 years ago
Good idea (of course, I'm a biased Canadian). Montreal or Toronto would be great, but the weather can be unpredictable around this time of year. Vancouver would probably be the top pick for a host city, with its density of local game devs, proximity to the Seattle area, and relatively closer for the rest of the west coast devs. And the weather would be the least worrisome (rain coat in the swag bag?).

Also, unrelated topic, but the United Nations headquarters should move to Vancouver too.
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James Berg Games User Researcher, EA Canada2 years ago
One challenge would be weather - not many folks are going to want to go to Montreal or Toronto in February / early March :) Vancouver stays nice year-round, and the Vancouver Convention Centre can handle 12k of our fellow nerds.
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Tim Spencer Level Director, TT Games2 years ago
Yes, absolutely it should move to Canada. That is all.
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Show all comments (15)
Rupert Loman Founder & CEO, Gamer Network2 years ago
Out of interest, are there any gaming events or industry meetups in Vancouver currently?
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This is an interesting perspective and would be solid, were it not for the Trump angle. It weakens your argument. I love Canada and we should all support its amazing game industry ( or the fact your Prime Minister is cooler). However, this support is completely independent of, and not mutually exclusive to, GDC in San Francisco or who happens to be President or Prime Minister.

I don't know whether my skin is coffee colored, but it, together with my beard make me subject to "random checks" at the airport, despite TSA precheck. They started with the Obama administration and have not changed. The password request policy also started under the Obama administration http://www.politico.com/story/2016/12/foreign-travelers-social-media-232930 While there was testimony before Congress, no one is demanding your social media password. Probably because they do not need it. Your government and mine are already monitoring everything we say, including this post. You can try it by typing a threat on Facebook or Twitter and seeing how long it takes for authorities to get to your door. If you are still concerned about search and seizure of your phone or laptop, you should cross the UK, Australia and most of the EU off your travel list as well because they do have the right to seize your hardware and you have much fewer protections than you would bringing them into the US.

At the risk of getting too political here, the United States is not Trump and GDC is not a political event - unless people start to use this event and other forums as an opportunity to make it one. We have seen the reaction to Trump's most extreme statements and actions and it proves to be an exercise in the effectiveness of the checks and balances we learned about in civics class. We also see a more active populace than at any time I can remember who take advantage of social media tools to voice displeasure and organize protests. There are growing concerns over normalization of racism and antisemitism, but this is exactly the reason you should be here. Real world interaction and examples of good people will prevail over press accounts every day.

I can understand this reasoning if GDC took or supported a racist position, but it has not. There are a lot of targets for you to highlight in a never-ending battle against racism and all other other bad "ism's" on earth and in this country. The game business and its collections of parties is not one of them.
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Drew Crecente Executive Director and Founder, Jennifer Ann's Group2 years ago
Thank you for writing this; it's an important issue - and (sadly) likely the most effective rebuttal to the current trend of xenophobia.

Holding conferences in countries which complicate (or impede) the travel process is counterproductive. And given the focus on inclusion in this industry over the past few years it makes sense that GDC (and other large conferences) be moved to those countries which are most accepting of visitors.

Not only is this a pragmatic approach, it's also an approach which has been shown to be effective against not-fully-baked policies. We know that a very effective approach to engaging cities and tech companies is through their bottom-line. We also know that when these (large tax-paying and donation-making) entities speak out about their displeasure that their voice is more difficult to ignore in DC.

Although the affected cities and sponsors might strongly disagree it would be great to see 2018 as the year that major conferences moved to Canada. I'd love to see the award shows move as well; it would send a strong message if the Oscars et al were all in Canada next year.

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Drew Crecente on 21st February 2017 6:09pm

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Ross Erickson Sr. Product Manager, Aristocrat Technologies2 years ago
I don't think we're making enough of a strong point! Despite logistical challenges, I think it would make a bold statement to the world and to the current administration if we go big and move GDC to any other these places (by priority!):

Sana'a
Mogadishu
Damascus
Tehran (might be more of a problem given their visa policy)
Tripoli or Benghazi
Bagdhad

Let's make a statement! Let's be brave and help embrace our fellow game devs in Yemen, etc.

Who's with me!!?
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Ruben Monteiro Engineer 2 years ago
@Gareth Jones: It took you a banned post to figure out GamesIndustry.biz's anti-Trump agenda? You need to be more attentive mate.
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Ruben Monteiro Engineer 2 years ago
@Ross Erickson: Not bad suggestions, but I've a better one: We've been using (and abusing) Martians in the creative industries for decades, it's time we do right by them. The GDC should move to Mars, it's the logical choice.
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Sybil Collas Narrative designer, Writer, Teacher 2 years ago
@Ross Erickson @Keith Boesky This is not about making a political statement, but about adapting to changing times. It's getting harder for Muslim devs to go to the US, it's almost vital for any dev to go to the GDC, let's move the GDC elsewhere (but not too far) where video games are an active industry.
French here btw, so not concerned with the politics of either country, but indeed concerned with the status and viability of Muslim colleagues and their productions. Devolver Digital is great but not enough.
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Brendan Sinclair North American Editor, GamesIndustry.biz2 years ago
@Gareth Not sure how I'm a nameless coward when I left a signed note at the end of your edited post.

As for why I edited it, you spent three paragraphs more or less on the topic of the article (so I left those intact), then spent seven more expressing unrelated and inflammatory views on Muslims. Those, I cut.

I would refer you to our House Rules, which forbid derailing and trolling, and suggest that you should have taken the initial editing of your comment as a pretty clear warning.
http://www.gamesindustry.biz/articles/2014-10-20-our-house-rules
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Hi Sybil,

Thank you for the response. I understand what you are saying, but what the gentlemen wrote is simply not fact. I am not a Trump defender, only pointing out the truth of the situation.

First, the gentlemen who wrote the article was NOT attending GDC any way. His choice to not attend has nothing to do with the policy, travel or otherwise. .

Second, the travel policy has not changed - with the exception of the travel ban which was withdrawn - since 9/11. Even if the travel ban was in place, he would not be affected as either a Muslim or a Canadian. As I explained, that password policy which he mentioned as a concern is voluntary and instituted by the Obama administration. The "random" searches happen to all of us who chose to have dark hair and a beard. I have TSA precheck and Global Entry and I am still stopped every single time "randomly" and I am not Muslim.

He is not personally impacted and pointed to a position out of solidarity in response to policy from the new president. To me, this is a political statement and sadly misses the greatest opportunity to be effective.

We are at risk of growing normalization of racists and antisemitic behavior. The only way to address is this threat is presence. Presence of good people to prove the false beliefs are in fact false.
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James Brightman Editor, North America, GamesIndustry.biz2 years ago
Bye, bye Gareth...

Edited 1 times. Last edit by James Brightman on 22nd February 2017 3:11pm

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Sandy Lobban Founder, Noise Me Up2 years ago
Personally, I'd choose Scotland, but Canada will do. East coast please. :D
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Sam Carlisle Sr. Program Manager External Partners, Microsoft Studios2 years ago
@Rupert Loman: Nowhere near the size, but there's XDS (http://xdsummit.com/) focused on external development held in September.
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