From VR to less violence: 5 gaming trends as seen by Toronto developers

CBC News took your questions about the video game industry live on Facebook and YouTube.

Nathan Vella, co-founder of Capy Games (Super Time Force, Below) and Joel Burgess, world director of Ubisoft Toronto (Splinter Cell, Assassin's Creed) recently returned from last week's Game Developers Conference in San Francisco, where creators gathered to talk about the latest trends in the industry.

Here are some key points we discussed.

It's easier than ever to make games

When Vella and Burgess started out in the games industry, there was little to no formal education focused on how to make interactive entertainment. Now, however, colleges like George Brown, Seneca and Sheridan in Ontario alone all have programs for aspiring game makers.

"I think it's pretty amazing that you can … get a degree in video games. It would have blown my mind if I was 18 again," said Vella.

He cautions that structured classes will only get you so far in the industry. "To me, the path to games now is starting your own path, starting to develop your own stuff," he said.

"Twine makes it very simple to make your own simple, text-adventure based type of games," said Burgess, adding that it and other tools can be downloaded for free for anyone who wants to try making games without necessarily wanting to sell a commercial product.

Is VR still the future?

Commenters expressed skepticism about virtual reality, and whether it would fade away like 3D televisions. But with more than 50 sessions focused on VR and augmented reality this year at GDC, Burgess and Vella remain optimistic about its future.

"I didn't think it was possible [for VR] to be more present this year than at E3s and GDCs of past, but boy. The floor was full of middleware [software], vendors, and hardware," said Burgess.

Vella cautioned that it will be a while before the market widens beyond early adopters to a mainstream crowd. "They see the idea of getting rid of the cords, the idea of putting the computers in the headsets, they see the idea of minimizing the headset weight and increasing tracking," he said.

"They're big engineering problems, but there's enough money and interest and challenge there that they will get solved."

Cautious optimism on Nintendo Switch

Burgess was only moderately interested in Nintendo's new console, the Switch, at first. Then he saw the near-universal praise for its launch game, The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. After witnessing hundreds of people waiting in line at games stores on launch day, he spent all of last Saturday driving around Etobicoke in west Toronto futilely searching for one of his own.

​"It was an interesting launch for them. I think they had a few hardware issues right off the bat," said Vella. Reports emerged that many experienced problems with the console's left JoyCon controller, which could disconnect from the system without warning.

Vella called the home-and-handheld system "weird," but was optimistic about its future. 

"It's a very strange play, and every time Nintendo does strange stuff, everybody's like, 'Aww, what's Nintendo doing?' And then a whole bunch of people buy it, and it creates their own little niche," he said.

It's not all about violence

Several commenters expressed concerns about the seeming prevalence of games with mature or violent content like first-person shooters or Grand Theft Auto 5 and similar titles.

Burgess notes that games for different ages and audiences are abundant, but it might be hard for casual players to know what to look for.

"If you're plugged into games, you know about Flower and Journey. You know about games like Gone Home. This is part of the conversation. And what I feel is kind of embedded in that question, is those types of games making the leap to bigger budgets," he said.

Vella noted that while retail stores like EB Games might promote action games or shooters most of the time, a greater variety can be found on publishers' digital stores, like Steam and PlayStation Network.

Are games art?

One viewer asked, "Do you guys foresee games being accepted as pieces of art?" citing games praised for their narrative or cinematic ambitions, like The Witcher 3 and the Metal Gear series.

"That conversation's over, man … I feel like we crossed that threshold. Like, we're done," said Burgess. "I've stood in the Smithsonian and looked at my work."

The Fallout series, which Burgess worked on during his time at Bethesda Studios, was part of the Smithsonian American Art Museum's History of Video Games exhibition.

"I've had the privilege to work with people who work on games that have affected people, and to have people come up to the studio … and hearing people tell us how the work that we've done helped get them through a dark time [in their lives] and helped them look at the world differently, or helped them learn lessons," said Burgess.

"That's all the acknowledgement that I've ever needed to know that games are, in fact, art."