Participants were told to develop products for multiple platforms - such as both consoles and mobile devices - so as not to get locked into one type. Furthermore, companies outside the gaming sector are looking for their talents.
More than 400 participants, who appeared to be mostly in their 20s, took part in the inaugural Ottawa Game Conference held at the Ottawa Convention Centre for nearly 12 hours on Tuesday.
Keynote speeches emphasized the need for these relatively young people to keep upgrading their skills and be as flexible as possible when coming into the workplace. In some cases, they were told, they would need to create their own positions.
One example where gaming skills will make a difference, said a keynote speaker, is in the field of gamification, or the use of gaming elements for non-traditional purposes such as loyalty programs or e-learning.
Gabe Zichermann, the New York-based author of two books on gamification and conference chair of the annual Gamification Summit, cited a Gartner Group study showing more than 50 per cent of surveyed organizations plan to include gamification elements in their innovation processes, such as performance evaluations.
He urged attendees to consider extending their gaming experience to other industry areas that will need it.
"(Gaming) allows us to find a new solution to a problem," he said.
Diversified thinking is also the best way to keep the local industry competitive against nearby Montreal, which has a long-established foothold in gaming, said Jason Della Rocca, the founder of game industry consultancy Perimeter Partners.
He warned Montreal is too much of a monoculture, with its established roster of large companies (most notably, Ubisoft) and emphasis on console games.
Ottawa's varied industry of smaller players, and willingness to embrace mobile, makes it a more viable competitor as players shift to hand-held gaming, he said.
"When I’m talking to government groups, I’m telling them we have to diversify," he said.
Challenges in the way of that, he said, include:
- The desire for a quick fix. Rhode Island tried to build a gaming industry overnight by buying Boston-based 38 Studios, but the firm died quickly outside of its native ecosystem. This means an industry must be patiently grown rather than imported, he said.
- Overcoming the usual hire/fire cycle as projects ramp up and complete. The solution, he said, is to have multiple projects going on at the same time so staff can shift to new projects as older ones end.
- Forming a healthy funding relationship between industry, government and academia, centred on building talent and intellectual property. Key questions that must be addressed, he said, include the number of people required, how to educate them, how to start projects and how to build IP.
Organizers for Tuesday's conference included bitHeads co-founder Scott Simpson, Magmic Games co-founder John Criswick, Fuel Industries CEO Mike Burns and Snowed In Studios co-founder Jean-Sylvain Sormany.
At the conference, Mr. Simpson told attendees there are already plans in the works to offer the conference again next year, that time for two days.