Thursday, November 27, 2014

The Large and Small of the Canadian Video Game Industry

Matthew Jackson has been working in video games ever since he graduated from Montreal’s National Animation and Design Centre (Centre NAD), but he admits that it’s his passion for video games that has made him successful in the business – a quality he believes is an absolute requirement for anybody working in a collaborative and creative environment like video games.

Like a lot of people working in the video game industry, Matthew got his start working on various projects for some of the larger video game producers with offices in Quebec such as EA and Behaviour Interactive – companies which boast hundreds, even thousands of employees – and has built an impressive resume along the way. Lately, Matthew has been working on his smallest project to date as the lead game designer for a small developer called Tuque Games who are currently working toward the launch of their flagship project, World War Machine – a post-human action RPG revolving around the perpetual war between surviving machines.

Although he admits that it’s the smallest game he’s ever worked on, his ambitions for what the project is capable of achieving are lofty. Tuque Games, which is made up of a core staff of about 20 people and a small handful of freelancers, doesn’t have the same resources or budget strength that larger video game producers might, but Matthew admits that those factors don’t necessarily yield a better experience for their audience – the gamer.

“I heard a famous filmmaker once say about films,” Matthew ponders,  “that when making a big budget film there’s a tendency for it to settle toward mediocrity to the point where it’s just as hard to make a really bad movie as it is to make a really good one – there’s always enough good ideas balancing out the bad ones. With a smaller project like World War Machine there exists the possibility of breaking free of that mediocrity and achieving something really great.”

Since starting work on World War Machine Matthew has noticed other differences between working for a smaller company versus one of the big studios: “Well, I imagine it’s the same with any small business,” he says “and it’s one of things I enjoy most about working on a smaller project, that I’m not locked into just one aspect of the game design process and have to actually view the whole project now from many different angles and contribute in many other areas. I also now have the ability, and with that I also have the responsibility, to make what I think is the most fun game possible.”

Working on a game like World War Machine has also brought with it its own set of challenges. One such challenge has been funding. In the early stages of development, World War Machine was part of the Square Enix Collective’s curated crowd sourcing campaign. By offering would-be gamers a quick insight into what the game would be all about and allowing them to vote on whether or not the idea seemed worth funding, World War Machine received a 90% ‘yes’ meaning that of the people that voted for the game, 90% claimed that they would fund it. Unfortunately, through Indiegogo, Tuque Games was unable to raise the $50,000 they were seeking.

He further points out: “Square Enix Collective itself has evolved and now has agreements with other crowdfunding websites, so other games have now gone through the same process as we did and have achieved their crowd funding goals through KickStarter which just happens to be the more popular crowd funding site.  The main goal of the crowd funding campaign was more about marketing and getting the name out there, so us not achieving that funding goal wasn’t the end of the world.”

Some of these challenges, however, have been offset by certain other factors that Tuque Games is able to benefit from. One such benefit was a funding program achieved through the Canadian Media Fund which “fosters, develops, finances and promotes the production of Canadian content and applications for all audiovisual  media platforms”. Matthew also points out the benefits that operating in Quebec has had whereby companies can get a provincial tax credit to pay part of employees’ salaries for video game related enterprises.

Although there is no fixed release date for World War Machine, Tuque Games is in the final phases of production and hopes to launch sometime in 2015.

For more information about World War Machine visit:

For more information about the Square Enix Collective and crowd sourcing please visit:

And, finally, to learn more about the Canadian Media Fund go to:

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

The Benefits of Giving Back

There are few satisfactions in life that can match the feeling of helping to make the world a better place. And while there are many ways to accomplish this, ranging from modest to ambitious, supporting a cause you believe in can bring a tremendous sense of fulfillment, in addition to improving the lives of others. But that’s not all—involvement with charitable work can be a boon for your business too.

Read on to find out why.

1.  Goodwill. Which business would you rather patronize and support: one that participates in community-building projects, sponsors events and fundraisers, and sends volunteers to help out—or one that does none of those things? All else being equal, most people would choose the former. By showing an enthusiasm for helping and giving back, you demonstrate that you are invested in the success and welfare of the community. This will not go unnoticed or unappreciated by local residents, and may help to secure and expand a loyal customer base.

2.  Networking. Advertising and marketing have certainly evolved over the decades, but few offer better results than does the oldest medium around: word-of-mouth. Volunteerism is a great way to spend time with like-minded people, many of whom may be able to offer referrals, or become prospective clients themselves. There is also some overlap with item 1. (above): the more you show enthusiasm for assisting and empowering others, the more likely they will be to do the same for you.

While devoting your time to a worthy cause, keep your eyes open for talented and proficient volunteers. Charity events are a great way to meet skilled, ambitious professionals who care deeply about the health of their communities, and are comfortable with both individual tasks and teamwork. These are qualities that typify excellent colleagues and employees too.

3.  Association with reputable causes. Again, this point partially ties into items 1. and 2., respectively. A business that associates itself with well-regarded causes is likely to attract clients and customers with shared values. Furthermore, organizations will often show appreciation for the support of their donors by mentioning the names of those benefactors at their events.

4.  Employee morale. Some companies earmark a few hours of each week for employee volunteerism, and (in the case of a team-oriented project) allow employees to vote on which charity or non-profit organization they would prefer to serve. Not only will this enhance the perception of your workers toward their employer, it also has the potential to attract new, community-oriented prospective employees to your business.

5.  Tax deductions. In many jurisdictions (including Canadian provinces), funds donated to charity by individuals and businesses may be eligible for tax breaks. If you host a fundraising event, and cover the cost of meals or other expenses for that event, those costs can also be written off in some cases. Make sure to obtain and hold onto all receipts!

6.  Personal growth. Charity work can be an enriching experience for you as an individual as well. You’ll have the opportunity to hone a wide range of skills, and undertake duties that would not normally be part of your day job. By helping those less fortunate than yourself, you’ll be reminded that your own challenges, important though they may be, pale in comparison to the problems other people face—and we could all use a bit of perspective sometimes. You may even be inspired by individuals who have dealt with tragedy, confronted significant obstacles, and succeeded at overcoming long odds in life.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Handling Conflict in The Workplace

In all long-term relationships, including professional ones, interpersonal friction is bound to arise. For many people, the natural (and comfortable) response to confrontation is to avoid it entirely, but this is not always the most sensible option. If you believe that a dispute may have an adverse impact on your workplace, it is generally wiser to intervene early and decisively, before the issue has time to fester.
That said, conflict is not necessarily a bad thing. The same qualities that contribute to individual professional success—like drive, ambition, creativity, and self-confidence—can cause members of a team to butt heads on occasion. Knowing how to manage this discord, and even channel it in a constructive direction, is an indispensable leadership skill.
Keep the following tips in mind:
Hear out all sides before drawing any conclusions. If a conversation is particularly heated, it may be useful to separate the parties involved, allow each to articulate her own position and objectives, and make a note of the key points each individual raises. Listen attentively, ask open-ended questions, and avoid taking sides during this process. Once all parties have had a chance to make their case, try to identify points of potential compromise, as well as areas that appear irreconcilable. This will allow you to map out workable solutions (and alternatives) that you can then discuss with each of the adversaries.

Identify the low-hanging fruit. Many conflicts are the product of trivial disagreements, inadvertent miscommunications, or misunderstandings. By listening carefully, you will be able to identify concerns that you can easily address.

Keep your eye on the ball. In emotionally potent situations, it’s easy to point fingers. During an impassioned argument, there is a common tendency to bring up the faults of one’s opponent, regardless of relevance to the matter at hand, purely in order to score points or inflict damage. But senseless bickering will only beget more of the same. In order to resolve a dispute favourably, maintain an assiduous focus on the source of the disagreement, avoiding distractions and ad hominem recriminations. If you find two or more members of your team engaged in an acrimonious exchange, you may find it useful to call a temporary ceasefire, and allow the contenders to cool off, before gently directing them back to the heart of the matter.

Maintain a sense of self-awareness if you become engaged in a conflict. This is another area in which emotional intelligence comes in handy, particularly an understanding of how your feelings affect you physically and psychically. Self-awareness is a precondition for keeping one’s passions in check at a stressful moment, which in turn is crucial for evaluating the facts and claims in a dispute, reasoning, problem-solving, and negotiation.

Conflicts can create opportunities, not just headaches. If approached calmly and rationally, disputes can yield novel perspectives, ideas, and solutions that may not have arisen in the absence of confrontation. When most people hear the saying, “Two heads are better than one,” they imagine a relationship that is largely collaborative and amicable. But real life tends to be messier than what we envision in our minds’ eye!

The key is to channel potentially antagonistic sentiments toward constructive goals. This can best be achieved by listening, keeping the conversation as respectful as possible, and focusing on concrete sources of disagreement and objectives, rather than personal failings.
This point is worthy of re-emphasis: if you believe an interpersonal issue is serious enough to generate animosity or discomfort in the workplace, it is almost always better to address it quickly and comprehensively, than to allow it to progress and harden.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Dealing With Disruptive Innovation

 Harvard business professor Clayton Christensen is renowned for formulating the theory of disruptive innovation—which describes novel products or services with the potential to revolutionize an industry, and displace incumbents from their market position. In his 1996 book The Innovator’s Dilemma: When New Technologies Cause Great Firms to Fail, Christensen reflects on corporate decisions that, though ostensibly rational, failed to anticipate and profitably respond to make-or-break technological advances. He draws a distinction between sustaining innovations, which enhance the quality or effectiveness of an existing product, and disruptive innovations: technological developments which can displace a popular product altogether, especially by offering a more affordable, more accessible, or more versatile alternative.

For example, when personal computers (a potentially disruptive technology) first appeared on the consumer market, it was not entirely clear that they would supplant typewriters as the principal word-processing tool in our society. Thus, typewriter manufacturers faced a pivotal choice: to stick to their area of expertise and strive to create better and more reliable typewriters, or to shift their business model dramatically. Some firms—notably the American conglomerate Smith Corona—opted for the former, and found themselves manufacturing machines of excellent quality, the demand for which rapidly dried up.

While there are no sure things in business (after all, the penchant for innovation and dynamism is one of the key selling points of a market capitalist economy), there are some pragmatic steps companies can take to avoid being “disrupted”:

Know—and expand—your market. Maintaining relationships with customers/clients while striving to attract new (and especially less affluent) ones is key. Engage with your clientele, welcome their feedback, keep tabs on their wants and values, and consider ways to serve them better. Customer loyalty—the result of a reputation for professionalism, ethical practices, and high-quality products—can help keep your enterprise afloat as you integrate new technologies into your business model.

What are your competitors doing? Although spying on rivals is an obvious faux pas, you can derive plenty of information by building an amicable rapport with competitors in your industry. Is there a technique or technology they might introduce that would keep you up at night?

Apprise yourself of trends and innovations. The upside of innovation is that it helps us solve problems, spares us effort, and tends to build on itself. Stay abreast of the latest trends, both within your industry and in society at large. Are there any new ideas or technologies you can make use of? What aspects of your operation would you like to run more smoothly? (Don’t overlook the possibility that you could devise your own innovative solution!)

Harness the innovativeness of a start-up while running an established firm. In The Innovator’s Dilemma, Christenson refers to discovery-driven planning, which involves real-time strategic adjustments, learning-by-doing, and a bit of trial-and-error. Accordingly, firms and their managers should be willing to take calculated risks, adopting innovations that may not work out perfectly on the first attempt.

Bear in mind that there is no such thing as a monopoly on good ideas. Start-up firms tend to be nimble and creative not only because their founders may feel they have nothing to lose, but also because there is little hierarchy between workers and managers, or entrenched operational protocols, to obstruct the free flow of ideas. Don’t be afraid to ask employees what they think, and encourage equal-opportunity communication in the workplace.

Intimidating though it may seem, disruptive innovation needn’t be a threat to your business. With the right approach and attitude, you will be equipped to not only respond to potentially disruptive innovations, but to place yourself at the leading edge.