The first of three interviews with leading figures in Edmonton’s thriving video games industry
Interview by Vickey Ziegler
I’ve always been into video games, ever since I was about five and understood how the computer controls worked on Tomb Raider III. I have a lot of fond memories of playing with my dad, since he was better at the actual gameplay than I was. Since then, I’ve been hooked.
That said, I remained fairly unaware of the industry’s presence in my own home turf (until recently). I interviewed a few people for this three part series on what they think of the gaming scene in Edmonton, and about their personal experience in the industry. The following is my interview with Tyler Copeland of PolyHobby.
Getting Started, and Where Polyhobby Is Now
Tyler began as a student at NAIT, working toward completing his game design program. “I just started [PolyHobby] on a whim, because at the time recently there was something called GD X [the game discovery exhibition] which was hosted at the U of A in 2015.”
Going to the 2015 GDX conference was key in giving Tyler that push. “It was a really nice conference to show off the local indie scene.” As far as forming the team, “I had to find some classmates to help me out, and then eventually I found two of them and they’re two of my best friends to this day. […] Then when I got the other two, two other teammates then that’s when things really kicked off. And then we just kind of grew from there, started working on games.”
His main inspiration for getting started was the experiences he’s had participating in game jams and attending cons/expos. For those that don’t know, a game jam is when a bunch of people meet and work on a game together. A jam can last anywhere from about a weekend to just under a month, depending on the theme and organizers.
“I just noticed a bunch of these indie studios, and like, how many of them there are. So then, from there that inspired me to create my own.”
At the 2016 GDX, the team had a booth to show a demo.
“It showed off the local industry even more so, it was a really good experience.”
It was in a similar burst of collaboration and drive to just work for what he wanted that initiated PolyHobby to start work on their game Powerplay. “I was just thinking like, well, what’s next for us. And I just came up with it somehow, I just figured like, how about a hockey game.”
The team was on board, and each came forward with their own contributions (for example, to make the game 3d instead of 2d).
“That’s kind of the track that we’re on right now with it, it’s due to a lot of this creative input.” He finished proudly “It was a really good collaborative effort. It was just me in the beginning saying hey, let’s just do a hockey game, and then the three of us flesh it out from there.”
Tyler is one of many that misses such cons and events, as he excitedly retold his experience at the Calgary expo in 2018. “I think we’ve been to around 11 expos at this point. And one of the big ones was showing a PowerPoint for the first time to the public at Calgary Expo in 2018. And we got a lot of amazing feedback and it just really, really drove us to work on it [Powerplay] more. So, it’s not only getting the [constructive] kind of feedback (which is great), it’s… it’s like motivation to to do more, I guess it’s just a really nice feeling.”
I asked Tyler if he’d be interested in participating in any upcoming jams, but with finals coming up fast, he said he was hesitant to do so right at this moment, as he doesn’t have a lot of spare time between work and continuing to go to school at NAIT.
“You know, because most game jams are just you work [on the games], Friday, Saturday, Sunday. […] So, it’s just hard to commit that time away, just to work on a game.”
The Covid Effect
I assumed that since making video games is largely a digital endeavor, the transition to working remotely would not hit game companies as hard.
Tyler and Polyhobby as a whole didn’t see too drastic of a change since they don’t have a physical office yet. However, it did affect the team on the individual level. In his words, the team either had to deal with “getting laid off or having to work more, depending on the person.”
As of right now, a lot of the time they put into making games is what’s left from work or school. They used to hold in person meetings every Saturday, but those have become rare. “We just trust each other to be safe.”
Where would you like to be in next 5 years?
Polyhobby has mainly been a passion project. Tyler confessed that they applied for funding in previous years but it was unfortunately denied. So the main goal for Polyhobby in the next five years is to make what is currently a passion project into something that pays, and potentially establish a physical office.
“Ideally, we release power play and I’m not expecting it to be like, massive. But selling enough copies where it’ll fund the next project.” He continued, “Maybe have an office. Because by that time, ideally, the pandemic would be over. So having an office space wouldn’t be bad.”
In short, the main goal is “Releasing a few other titles and just being able to sustain ourselves with the sales of those games.”
Edmonton a hotspot for gaming?
Now for my main question, is Edmonton a hotspot for the gaming industry? The NDP offered a tax credit meant to aid in diversifying the economy with the Interactive Digital Media Tax Credit. Unfortunately, this was phased out in October of last year by the UCP. Did the UCP cut in October last year put the growth to a halt?
Tyler noted “It[the gaming community] has grown a lot. … Either I’ve just noticed more, or I think it has actually just grown, ‘cause there’s programs at NAIT, which is what I took, there’s a certificate program at the U of A, there’s MacEwan, there’s also the computer science program. There’s a game development focus, and there’s other schools offering video game development related courses.”
He went on to talk about the NDP’s support and how it was able to encourage video games as an industry to flourish.
“It created a lot of jobs and it was all in Alberta, too, so there’s a few studios that popped up in Calgary, created jobs in Edmonton, but mostly what we see here is just indie developers.”
Despite how much Edmonton has grown and Tyler’s desire to see Edmonton become a hotspot for gaming, “we’re not a hotspot yet but that’s something that we’ve been trying to do, and is especially hard when the government doesn’t want to help like they formerly did with the NDP.”
What’s a game you would like to make (robot staff happy to do the work for you, limitless money)?
When I first asked Tyler this question, he was rather taken aback and it took him a moment to reach an answer.
“Right now, Power Play is, you know, a game that we’re still really excited about so ideally I’d want the robot stuff now to finish that one up.”
But post-powerplay, he would like to make a larger game than what’s typically in the indie scene. “I want to be recognized for like, those higher quality, high stature games, a type of game, like… I really love Legend of Zelda. So I think, you know, a game kinda like an action adventure game that maybe takes elements of that and elements of other games. […] Ideally we [the PolyHobby team] plan out a really large game, and then my robot staff can, as you said, work on it.”
Advice for others?
Polyhobby is still growing, but at times the trickiest part can be to simply get started. So I asked Tyler what kind of advice he would offer people who want to get into making video games.
“My advice would be to get a good, solid dedicated team, and have your vision be shared amongst all of you.” He added it doesn’t necessarily need to be a large team, but that “you can’t do everything yourself.”
Another piece of advice he offered was, “People say don’t, you know, don’t work with your friends or don’t start a business with your friends. It’s been fine for me so far.”
Then, amending, “maybe once money comes into it, then it will be more of an issue, not sure. But just having a good team with you, that’ll help you out and grow the company altogether.”
Check out PolyHobby’s site and social media to stay tuned for updates on Powerplay!
Twitter and instagram handle: @polyhobby