Why young Albertans say this is the place to grow their video game careers

Why young Albertans say this is the place to grow their video game careers

It’s a reality he only dreamed of before starting his certification.

About two years ago, Cole Paskuski explored an education in virtual reality. He found few options for schools, but ultimately the decision came down to studying either in Vancouver or Lethbridge.

The 21-year-old decided to stay close to his home in Calgary, and it paid off.

“I had no idea what I was doing when I started my program, and … now I have a game studio with my other colleagues.”

With support from his professors and a grant from the Canadian Media Fund, Paskuski and some of his friends in the Virtual and Augmented Reality Certificate program at Lethbridge College have already begun making progress in their chosen careers just months after leaving school has.

Cole Paskuski stands in a loose, non-black jacket and unbuttoned white button-down shirt.  He smiled for the camera, with his ear-length brown hair swept to the side of his face.
Cole Paskuski chose to stay close to family instead of moving to a bigger city, but his career in virtual reality was hardly limited. He is already working on a VR mobile game as co-founder of his game studio, Zoltech Studios. (Jo Horwood/CBC)

He is just one of the young Albertans who are ignoring the call of bigger Canadian cities, instead hoping to contribute to the digital media industry here in the province.

An exciting, and affordable, future

At the inaugural Alberta Games Series, a two-day conference dedicated to video games and digital media held in downtown Calgary last week, there were plenty of young people looking to make their mark on an industry that left an early impression on them has.

“I played Super Smash Bros. on the Nintendo 64 when I was six years old, and I said, ‘I want to make this,'” said Loïc Cremer, a 26-year-old studying at the University of Calgary.

26-year-old Loïc Cremer stands in front of a blue-purple vertical banner advertising the Alberta Games series.  His curly blond hair sits messy as he smiles broadly for the photo.
Loïc Cremer says the people he met at the Alberta Games series opened his eyes to the number of studios taking on new projects in Calgary. While he says he’s flexible about where his career may take him, he sees plenty of opportunity in Alberta’s big cities. (Jo Horwood/CBC)

Cremer, like Paskuski, chose to stay close to family to begin his education. He’s open to where future opportunities may take him, but in the meantime, he’s discovering more about Calgary’s video game community through events like the Alberta Games Series.

“I thought Calgary was kind of dead for game studios, so I learned a lot about, like, no, there’s tons of people doing really interesting stuff,” says Cremer, who sees the appeal of joining a small production start studio

“It will be a really good opportunity to be there when it starts, to have your finger on the pulse, to really be involved in those early decisions, rather than trying to break into a big established studio.”

Opportunities in the province’s burgeoning industry have also helped lure Albertans back from other parts of the country.

In a white blouse, Christine Trong stands in front of a poster advertising the sponsors for the Alberta Games series.  Her long dark hair tumbled over her shoulders as the corners of her mouth turned up in a slight smile.
Christine Trong says that when she wanted to switch her career from oil and gas to video games, friends and acquaintances were skeptical. She began teaching herself with courses she found online, eventually landing a job in the industry. (Jo Horwood/CBC)

Christine Trong, 30, spent three years in Montreal working in oil and gas.

Along with a viable future in the career she wants, the affordability of life in her home province helped convince her to come back and establish permanent roots.

“At first I really thought I should be somewhere else, like Montreal or even Toronto or BC But now that I’ve kind of looked around, Calgary is so affordable to live,” said Trong, who has worked in the industry. for two years.

“And because of COVID and all, remote jobs are so popular. It’s possible to have a playing career in Calgary, so I see myself staying.”

Educating the next generation of talent

While Trong was able to start her career without going back to school, many are looking for the program that will take them one step closer to a job.

Fortunately, post-secondary institutions in Alberta have gradually broadened their options for digital media certification.

The most recent addition to the educational landscape is Bow Valley College’s Center for Entertainment Arts, which offers diplomas in virtual production and game development.

“There’s just a lot more opportunities and a lot more chances for students to actually pursue a program in something they want to do, specifically in video games,” said Jeff Clemens, an instructor at the college.

Jeff Clemens laughs as the picture is taken.  He wears a checkered T-shirt with cufflinks.  His glasses are thicker and darker rimmed.  His beard and mustache are kept short.
Jeff Clemens, an instructor at Bow Valley College, says there are far more opportunities to get into the video game industry than when he was in school. (Jo Horwood/CBC)

Clemens says they found immediate success with the new programs, which shows that it is something that was “obviously needed”.

“This was the first program where we almost filled our first offering with very little marketing. We have almost full classrooms,” Clemens said.

“The ages vary quite a bit. It’s younger than our typical student because we get quite a few students out of high school who can start building successfully.”

A future past video games

Clemens says they often field questions from parents asking how many job opportunities there will be for graduating students.

But according to Scott Nye, the COO of Inflexion Games in Edmonton and chair of Digital Alberta, the skills learned in programs like this are transferable to a variety of growing workforce needs.

Scott Nye's gray hair is swept back as he watches two men use small controllers to play a video game on a tablet.  Nye holds a Canada Dry Ginger Ale as he watches the two play.
Scott Nye, center, watches as two people play a mobile game on a tablet set up at the Alberta Game Series. Nye says there is a future of great opportunity for those who get an education in video games, even if it ends up outside the industry. (Jo Horwood/CBC)

“The same programmers and designers we need at Inflexion Games to make player-centric content consumed around the world are the exact same talent that companies are looking for to develop AR/VR (augmented/virtual reality) solutions for healthcare,” said Nye. said.

He says there are a number of companies in non-gaming industries that support the development of interactive digital media technologies and education in the province because of the value it brings to different sectors, such as health care and resource development.

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