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Denis Dyack Part One

The Silicon Knights founder discusses his vision for the future of Ontario and the Institute of the Eighth Art

Outspoken developer Denis Dyack absolutely believes in his company, his games and his country. A big advocate and campaigner for the Canadian games business, he recently invited GamesIndustry.biz into the Silicon Knights office to talk about recent developments in the Ontario region (his company is based in St Catherines), following the move by Ubisoft to build a new 900-person studio in the area.

Here he discusses recent lay-offs and upheaval in the games business, how that affects the companies that have survived the last 18 months, and reveals Silicon Knights' ambitious plans to build an institute which could become a world leader in videogames education, training and production.

GamesIndustry.biz How has the past 18 months been for Silicon Knights?
Denis Dyack

Like the rest of the industry it's been good and bad. It's been really a rough year and a half for the industry as a whole. There were more announced lay-offs yesterday [at EA's Pandemic studio]. The number of lay-offs in the industry has been staggering. It's been very significant. And at the same time we've had all these great things occur within Ontario which is awesome. With the industry and the way it's been at, as an external developer it's been tough. And anyone who's an independent developer – we incorporated in 1992 but we actually published our first game in 1991 – I actually don't know anyone who's older than us any more. There used to be four or five people I knew of but I feel right now that we're one of the last of the V8s. I've talked to a lot of people and I know a lot of people who have gone out of business. But looking at things that are coming up, the industry has to turn, the economy has to turn.

What that means for us is we're really excited because we're going to be able to come out, and the industry is going to rebound and grow, and we'll be one of probably five companies in the world that has any serious business beyond ten years. We're almost 20 years old now. If you're at Silicon Knights for more than ten years we knight you and give you a sword. We've given out around 21 swords here at Silicon Knights and that really speaks to our depth. We're really lucky that way. Before, Ontario was a little isolated, there wasn't a lot of videogame companies here. But that's going to change. With all the positive steps that the government's done – which we were huge proponents off – Ubisoft coming in, that's going to change everything for the better. I'm really lucking forward to that, we're super-excited.

GamesIndustry.biz That didn't worry you when you see a company like Ubisoft move into Ontario or EA in Montreal? You didn't think that it's time to lock down your experienced staff?
Denis Dyack

No, not at all. First of all, I'm a patriot. I'm a big believer in Canada, I'm a big believer in Ontario and I want the industry to grow here. When speaking to the government it may have been self-serving that they should look at our industry, but I'm a huge fan of Peter Drucker, and if you look at traditional industry, service-based industry, they are going to remain okay. Manufacturing is in decline. But knowledge based industries where we fit in are going to grow.

I'm a big believer in education and out universities are subsidised quite a bit by Ontario. What the problem is in Ontario is we educate all these people and they leave because there's no employment here. It's really depressing going to [University of] Waterloo to recruit and we see that Microsoft was there before us and took all the best people. The tax payer paid for that education. So we look at it as how can we help the economy? It's a win-win for developers here with companies like Ubisoft, to see Silicon Knights grow and Digital Extremes grow. We'll only make a more fertile ground for us to grow. You don't lose people because big companies come in, you lose people because you're not doing a good job managing those people that come in. If you look at places like the West Coast of California, when you have more companies popping up, everyone wins. And we knew this when we started talking about this seven or eight years ago. We formed committees with Interactive Ontario and we've been in very serious discussions with ministers of the government for a very long time. It's been very successful. Quite honestly Ubisoft is only the first. I expect to see Silicon Knights grow, I expect to see Ontario to be a really good place to be over the next five years and you're going to see a massive change. Wouldn't you love to see the games industry explode in the UK?

GamesIndustry.biz It's bitter sweet for someone like me from the UK. It's really inspirational and exciting to be in Canada and experience this growth and rebirth almost, but back in the UK it's still a struggle, and we write something every week about companies going under...
Denis Dyack

I feel lucky that we have some very forward thinking political people in Ontario that listened to us very early on and took us very seriously. They took proactive and aggressive steps to building industry in Ontario. Is it over? No. We've got to balance the playing field and make sure when Ubisoft comes over that everyone is on a level playing field and gets the same care. But you're going to see tremendous economic growth, you're going to see people who are educated in Ontario staying in Ontario, which means more tax money to support what I think is a great health care system and great educational system. These are things that as Canadians we don't want to lose. We're a very socialist country compared to the US and you tend to underestimate the value of those. I travel a lot and go to the US a lot, but knowing that if one of my family members gets sick I won't go bankrupt is something that I don't undervalue. You don't appreciate that when you're 21, but you start to appreciate it when you get to your 40s and you have a family and your parents are getting older. These are the things that are worth protecting. Long term it's going to make serious changes.

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Matt Martin

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Matt Martin joined GamesIndustry in 2006 and was made editor of the site in 2008. With over ten years experience in journalism, he has written for multiple trade, consumer, contract and business-to-business publications in the games, retail and technology sectors.

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