Written by Cheryl Cottrell-Smith
With all the hype modern gamers experience for each new Triple-A release, it’s difficult to see the gaming industry in more depth than what is in front of us: big titles coming from big name studios. But multi-million dollar packaged games are just a small part of the story. GDX Edmonton, or Game Discovery Exhibition Edmonton, seeks to change the public understanding of the video game industry while also connecting local developers with the audience and peers they need most.
GDX Edmonton is a celebration of gaming. It brings together the people both behind and in front of the games in an effort to build stronger connections throughout the gaming industry. The first GDX was held in 2015 at the University of Alberta and this year’s event, which will be held at The Heart at MacEwan University, promises to be even bigger and better.
With panels and other programming, presentations from big name and indie studios, casual and tournament gaming, mixers, and more, GDX 2016 offers two full days of events for those who, quite simply, love video games.
The event will take place on May 7 and 8 of this year. Potential attendees can purchase early bird tickets on the event’s Indiegogo campaign page ($12 for one day and $20 for the whole weekend) until March 15, after which point tickets will be available at regular price ($15 for one day and $25 for the whole weekend). Those interested can also opt for a number of other perks while the Indiegogo campaign lasts, such as tickets to a developer-only networking event, a GDX 2016 t-shirt, and an Early Access/Greenlight Bundle featuring three games from local Albertan developers.
I met with several of the organizers for the event—Derek Kwan, Director; Deanna Dombroski, Co-project Manager; and Mickael Zerihoun, Co-project Manager—to discuss this year’s exhibition, what to expect, and what impact they’d like GDX to make on the video game industry in Alberta.
How would you describe GDX Edmonton to someone who’s never heard of the event?
DEANNA: I usually describe it as a conference/convention because we try to have panel programming as well as a developer fair, where people can show what they’re working on or their portfolios. We’re going to be having tournaments this year—we had one casual tournament last year and we’re doing a few more this year. There’s a lot going on.
MICKAEL: GDX is a celebration of games and game development in Alberta. That encompasses wanting to play games, the culture of games in Alberta, wanting to establish yourself as a developer within Alberta—we want to give people the chance to do that without having to leave the province.
“We want to broaden the audience for games, especially for games that are made in Alberta.” – Derek Kwan
DEREK: The intent is to connect players and people who love games to more locally developed things. We want to broaden the audience for games, especially for games that are made in Alberta. Through that, we want to grow the capacity for games and game development, which means that we will see more of an influx of developers—people who are making games and more opportunities for people who are creative or who are working in software development.
Who came up with the idea for the event and why?
DEREK: The Video Game Art and Design Club (VGAD) at the University of Alberta—that’s where this whole thing began. Originally our intent was to encourage the developer community and those who wanted to make games.
DEANNA: [It was originally for] students, though. Those at the university and other institutions. And then we met with one of our professors and he was like, “You should make this city-wide!” And that’s how it grew.
DEREK: So initially student-centered and then more city-wide, it grew to encompass more local developers, and that was our focus last year. We also found that Calgary has a really good [developer] community, as well, and they came up and brought a lot of awesome stuff. That’s why this year we’re working towards Alberta-wide and the idea is to encourage games as economic diversification. As something that’s more palatable to the public than just oil—our endgame is to encourage economic diversity through the development of the games industry here.
What is Walkthrough Entertainment?
DEANNA: The way we describe it is that Walkthrough is a thing that runs GDX. So GDX is one offering that Walkthrough has and we’re hoping to do other things through it as well. Walkthrough’s mission would be growing games in Alberta and trying to connect developers and players. We want to be able to connect other groups and maybe start other projects.
MICKAEL: Walkthrough kind of grew from VGAD and we’ve kind of attached ourselves to other groups that way. The intent is to provide a support network, where all the games-related events and other things are connected—just bringing the whole games community together. We can then work together to further the goal of games being a bigger thing in Alberta. It’s just so we can provide a united front for everything that we want to do.
Last year was the very first GDX event. How did that go and how did you manage to spread the word?
DEANNA: We had about 400 people more than we thought we were going to get, so it was really good! At first, it was a lot of word of mouth to our friends and our family. We also got some marketing help from Bioware—they boosted our attendance by a huge number. That was near the time of the event, so we were doing OK and then we sold out our tickets just before.
“Having names like Bioware and Microsoft definitely attract people to the event and, importantly, they have really good experience that is valuable…” – Deanna Dombroski
Having that connection with Bioware, and also having people from Microsoft at last year’s event, must have been helpful. How did those come about?
DEANNA: Having names like Bioware and Microsoft definitely attract people to the event and, importantly, they have really good experience that is valuable, so I think it’s more than just having their name there. They have important experience to share with people. Mike and I both worked at Bioware as QA Testers, so last year we requested some people from Bioware to come sit on our panels and they also offered to do a blog post about us.
DEREK: Last year, Microsoft brought a developer evangelist, Mickey MacDonald—he talked about what Microsoft can do for developers and that’s the type of things that appeals to the folks that are coming to GDX, especially on the developer side. It gives a connection to [both] established industry and the indie side. The indie side is really who we’re trying to court—those are the kinds of guys we want coming to GDX. We want them to show their work.
How will this year’s GDX event be different from last year’s?
DEANNA: It’s in a different location—we’re having it at The Heart at MacEwan, which is basically building 9.
DEREK: We’re holding it on the main floor. It’s like a big atrium and they’re going to clear it. We’re going to have the developer booths there and we’ve got some classrooms and other stuff on the upper floor. There’ll be a board games lounge, tournaments, our panels and speakers, and the developer showcase in the various classrooms around.
DEANNA: It’s two days—last year it was just one day. We have about double the panels and more tournaments.
DEREK: One of the things we really want to highlight this year, on the tournament side, is that we have some indie tournaments. Usually when you hear about tournaments, it’s mostly Super Smash Bros. (which we’re also having), but we want to show off some indie work. One of the developers we’re talking to is really interested in showing off his game in a tournament setting—we haven’t announced those yet, but we really want to have those guys showing their work off and getting more attention.
Do you normally have guests at GDX events?
“One of the things we really want to highlight this year is that we have some indie tournaments.” – Derek Kwan
DEREK: Our guests would usually be Triple-A or Triple-I developers. We’re not really big into the fan culture side of things.
DEANNA: One of our goals is to not be exactly the same as Edmonton Expo.
DEREK: I think there’s room for it [i.e. Edmonton Expo] to be attached but, at its core, GDX is about the developers as much as it’s about bringing out new people. The developers at our event—their stuff is really fun. But the problem is that they don’t have a multi-million dollar marketing team to show off their stuff, so it’s a matter of bringing that out [to the forefront].
Are you geared more towards drawing an audience that’s primarily consisting of developers, or would you like a broader demographic at your event?
DEREK: It’s blended. That’s ultimately who we are serving, but we want everybody who is interested in games to come, because that’s how our developers know what their audience is looking for, too. It’s more about connecting the players with the developers.
MICKAEL: Especially aspiring developers. Some of the panels may give them guidance on how to proceed with what they want to do. Maybe they can meet someone on the show floor and get involved in a project with them—those are the kinds of people we’re looking for.
DEREK: There are probably over half a dozen developers that are bringing a product [they showed] at the original GDX and this year they’re like “We’re on Greenlight!” Steam Greenlight is Steam’s PC digital distribution store—it basically means, “Hey, we’re making a game that we can actually sell.”
You’re running an Indiegogo campaign to help fund this year’s event. Was this something that you did last year?
DEANNA: No, our event was actually free to attend last year. We were gauging interest, but you can’t really run a long-term event for free. So we are charging this year and we’re hoping to do advance ticket sales through Indiegogo. It’s crowdfunding kind of, but really it’s more about advanced ticket sales. We’d like to have the money ahead of time so we can spend it and make sure that we plan the event properly.
Will the event still take place even if you don’t reach your $12,000 Indiegogo goal?
DEANNA: Yes. We can scale the event. We’ve got the venue no matter what, but we could be missing out on small things, like [whether] we have lanyards versus paper wristbands. Lanyards are nicer but they’re also super expensive, so things like that are what the budget goes towards.
DEREK: Yeah, just like the extras. We have enough funding to run the event but it’s more about increasing the quality. It’s just a matter of what the interest level is right now—we want people to contribute right now so we can make the event even better.
DEANNA: And on the campaign we also have other extras that cost more money but that won’t be available after the campaign is done. We’ve got t-shirts, a developer mixer that you can attend, and a game pack for three of the developers that are greenlit.
MICKAEL: They will be releasing in spring.
DEREK: By the time GDX rolls around, they should be ready. There’s Astervoid 2000 by Justin Luk of Mad Capacity, there’s DAWT by Aaron Clifford of EgoAnt, and RunGunJumpGun by ThirtyThree Games. Aaron Clifford and ThirtyThree Games are here in Edmonton.
MICKAEL: Most of the funds we collect will go to the developers.
DEREK: Practically everything from the ticket price that doesn’t go to administration.
A side note: what are your thoughts on TCEG Con? [To clarify, TCEG Con was a video game convention held in Edmonton in October 2015. The event faced a lot of controversy after the fact, including claims that prize money wasn’t being awarded and discontent that several tournaments and contests were cancelled with no notice, amongst other things.]
“…if someone wants to do a huge project, we all have a meeting about it to make sure that whatever we do serves the community in the best way possible.” Mickael Zerihoun
DEREK: I’m glad that somebody was trying to bring out more games in Alberta. I know there’s been a lot of controversy with TCEG Con. I guess I hope that controversy doesn’t affect the appetite for games in Alberta. I think it’s really good that they tried. It’s about time somebody tries to get on this and make things happen. From a community perspective, we want to work together with all the other groups. Animethon is getting big into games now, in addition to Extra Life—they’ve been around for years now and for a long time were one of the few big games events. Fragapalooza, as well. There’s lots of game stuff, it’s just a matter of how we best organize amongst ourselves to bring the best games service or programs to the public.
MICKAEL: It was a noble idea.
DEANNA: Too big, too fast.
MICKAEL: At some point we want to help with that kind of thing. Right now, if someone wants to do a huge project, we all have a meeting about it to make sure that whatever we do serves the community in the best way possible. And that there’s no fallout from anything.
DEREK: If there’s any one thing we can say about Walkthrough, it’s that it’s very community oriented. We’re 100% community-driven. The way that we see GDX is that this is not something that we can run forever. We want the community to take it on eventually. We hope that GDX and whatever Walkthrough does helps the games industry and helps the community thrive and get bigger. What that means for the future is that hopefully it gives us a platform for us all to work together. There’s no better way to make the events better than to grow local industry, because that industry will feed the events and make them better.
“I think it’s good to see a part of the industry that is not often seen by most gamers.” – Deanna Dombroski
Why should everyday gamers come to this event?
DEANNA: When I was growing up, I was big into Nintendo. So you see all the Triple-A Nintendo games (or for other kids it’s like PS2), but you don’t ever see the teeny tiny games that are far more common but never get publicized. So I think it’s a good opportunity for people who know of the industry to actually see what the majority of the industry is comprised of. There are tons and tons of Triple-A games, but they’re actually not that huge a part of the whole ecosystem, although they do have the biggest studios and grant the most jobs. I think it’s good to see a part of the industry that is not often seen by most gamers.
DEREK: I think the big thing for the public, is that we like to say that we connect gamers to the games that they love. And I think a lot of that in the local scene is supporting your local game devs and really connecting people who love games to new and exciting games that are locally developed. I guess, at the end of the day, we want to accomplish two things. The first thing is that we want to connect people with amazing games that they might not have seen before, and the second is that we want to grow the number of studios that are in Alberta.
MICKAEL: Growing up, I’ve always wanted to make video games but never really knew what it entails. That’s a big step for a lot of people. When I got [to the University of Alberta], I learned the processes and stuff but it still seemed like a pretty distant idea. Through helping GDX and actually connecting with some of these developers, you get to talk to them about their trials and stuff. You realize that everyone can get to that point, you just have to put in the work. Being able to talk to these people and seeing how much GDX has helped them, it really makes the whole experience way more attainable.
Buy tickets on the GDX 2016 Indiegogo page.
Visit the GDX Edmonton website.
View the GDX 2016 Facebook event.
GDX Edmonton Facebook page.
GDX Edmonton Twitter account.