There's a gold rush going on in the games industry. That's according to Iron Galaxy CEO Adam Boyes, who discussed the idea in his keynote address today at the Montreal International Games Summit. Boyes, best known for his four-year stint at Sony as VP of third-party relations for PlayStation, compared the current boom in gaming to the 1896 gold rush in Western Canada, and offered developers a few words of advice and encouragement on joining the rush.
Boyes began his talk by saying it's an incredible time to be alive (with the possible exception of what happened in the US last Tuesday). We have self-driving cars, robots that vacuum our rooms, and a wealth of different technologies and gadgets at our disposal. Apps let people call strangers for rides, rent their cars, or even find someone to handle specific handy work on-demand. People are pre-selling tickets to Mars. And perhaps most amazing, the Cubs won the World Series.
In the games industry, Boyes said work-life balance has been nearly figured out, certainly compared to the way it was earlier in his career. This year alone, the industry will surpass $100 billion in annual revenue, with growth in tons of new fields and markets, particularly China.
"Who would have thunk in our life that Minecraft and Candy Crush would get purchased more than Iron Man, Captain America, Darth Vader, and Luke Skywalker?" Boyes asked, noting that the acquisition costs for King and Minecraft topped the amount Disney paid for Marvel and Star Wars.
"As you're working on teams and making bigger games, what do you want to prospect for?"
And then there's augmented reality and virtual reality, which are transforming the way we think about gaming. The craziest thing about the proliferation of VR for Boyes has been hearing the pitches for VR projects. Traditional genres are still there, but there seem to be just as many unconventional ideas like Job Simulator or Eagle Flight. As for augmented reality, there are tremendous opportunities for serious training tools as well as entertainment purposes.
Even the old guard is doing well, as Boyes noted the current console generation is the most successful one yet. But at the same time, there are plenty of headlines about the indiepocalypse and how challenging it is to make it in today's industry. Boyes called it a strange juxtaposition to see so many struggling during a time when the industry as a whole is thriving.
For an explanation as to how that could be, Boyes turned to his family history and the 1840s, when news of a gold rush in California attracted the interest of his ancestors living in what is today the Greater Toronto Area. They dropped their lumberjack work and set out to California the fastest way possible, which at the time was an 8-month trip by boat around South America. They arrived six years after the rush began, made a poor investment in land which promptly flooded and washed away everything they had. They built a new life as ranchers, but soon heard about another gold rush in British Columbia. Undeterred by their first failure, they abandoned the land and moved up the coast, arriving in 1865. Unfortunately, all the stakes were claimed, and they lost half their cattle in the process. Their dreams thoroughly crushed, they became traders. Fortunately, they learned their lesson, so when the Klondike gold rush began years later, they gave up and stayed with their families.
Not everyone was immune to the siren song of the Klondike rush, as it drew 100,000 people through largely harrowing roots to Dawson City, Alaska. It wasn't an easy path, and it was fraught with plenty of opportunities for scam artists and unexpected expenses for unprepared prospectors. At its height, Dawson City's population had swelled to 40,000, with the rest of the 100,000 who pursued the rush either discouraged or dead. And even those who made it found a grim scene, with lead poisoning, scurvy, and typhoid common among the populace.
To make it worse, the rush was effectively over by the time the influx of people arrived. The first gold was found in 1896, but word didn't hit major newspapers in the US until the summer of 1897. The first people who read about it in the papers and underwent the arduous journey to Dawson City arrived in 1898, two years after the rush started and long after all the claims were gone. Boyes said only about 200 people got rich off that gold rush, and most of those were the ones selling pickaxes and other supplies. (At this point, Boyes suggested Epic Games execs would enjoy that story.)
"Every thing we're trying to do in this industry is prospecting, just for different types of things," Boyes said.
"Find out what your gold is and go up there and damn well get it"
Looking back at his family's story, Boyes said his family failed at the gold rush. But there was opportunity in the adversity they faced. And even though that one dream wasn't accomplished, they found a life they could accept and new skills as traders.
"So you've got to think to yourselves as you look at your career," Boyes said. "As you're working on teams and making bigger games, what do you want to prospect for?"
Boyes finished by admitting one key takeaway to the crowd.
"None of us really knows what we're doing," Boyes said.
He's continuously presented with new things he has no idea how to do. Most recently, it was picking a new health care plan for Iron Galaxy. He's never done that before and had no idea how to do it, so he did what he's always done; he figured it out. He routinely put himself in situations where he was over his head and figuring out how to tackle the problem later. (After getting his first job in the industry, Boyes joked that he felt like a con artist.)
And when it comes to career opportunities, there are no wrong decisions, Boyes said. Too many people are focused on the outcome. It's better to make decisions, own them, and lean into it. Don't look back on what should have been done, he said, because every thing you try and every job you take makes you better.
And while much of Boyes' talk was focused on the parallels between the real gold rush and the games industry gold rush, one key difference he pointed out is that while trends may come and go, the amount of gold in the games industry as a whole is nearly infinite.
"Find out what your gold is and go up there and damn well get it," Boyes said.
Disclosure: MIGS has a media partnership with GamesIndustry.biz, and is paying for our accommodation during the event.