It's the Thursday before the Easter long weekend, and King and Bay, usually home to a variety of suits, is host to a different crowd.
, a showcase of student-created videogames, is happening at the Design Exchange. Some 80 games are being showcased by students from 16 different universities and colleges. Almost every imaginable genre of game is on display.
But perhaps for the first time in its history, it's not the number of games that's impressive, but their quality. With a bit more content and polish, the majority of projects on display here could be sold on a digital distribution platform like Steam
"We had to develop a different set of expectations this year because we noticed a huge improvement in quality," says Scott Lee, the art director at Ubisoft Toronto, a local game developer, and one of the event's judges.
The event has grown, and so too have the number of schools attending it. Now in its fifth year, an exhibition that used to take up one floor of the Design Exchange now takes up several.
Game creation has become a serious business in Ontario, and nowhere is that more apparent than in its capital city. According to the Entertainment Software Association of Canada
, an industry lobby group, there are 329 video game development companies in Canada, and in 2013 they cumulatively contributed $2.3-billion to the nation's GDP.
Game development is also one of the few high tech industries keeping young people in province.
The company Lee works for is just one of the companies at the event on the lookout for local talent. Ubisoft Toronto is set to grow to 800 strong by 2020. To accomplish that target, the company has focused its efforts on recruiting young people coming out of Ontario's game development programs.
"We need to hire young people and we need to train them," says Lee. "It’s the only way we can match the numbers we've set for ourselves."
According to Lee, several of the students he's hired in the past have gone to become integral to his team.
Not bad for something that started out as a hobby most of the students here had to justify to their parents.
Photo: Steve Engels