Ryerson launching digital media program with business focus

With growing competition in the gaming industry, Interactive Ontario (IO) and Ryerson University have partnered to give start-up developers an edge.

The G. Raymond Chang School of Continuing Education at Ryerson, along with IO and funding from the provincial government, recently announced the launch of EDGE: Education for Digital and Games Entrepreneurs. This part-time academic program aims to deliver targeted business-skills training to video game and digital media entrepreneurs.

“One of the biggest gaps on the development side is business savvy,” says Jason Della Rocca, a former director of the International Gaming Developers Association. As part of his position with the IGDA, Della Rocca helps developers understand the business side of their work.

Along with about a dozen other industry professionals, Della Rocca has provided IO and Ryerson with advice about how the new program should work. The EDGE program, he says, will provide another resource for his clients.

IO has a membership base of about 300 organizations, says Max Berdowski, the group’s vice president of business development and communications.

“Our focus was on what would help them take their companies to the next level,” he says. Ryerson’s focus on entrepreneurs and digital media, he says, made it a natural academic partner.

Many entrepreneurs in the industry come from creative and technical backgrounds but lack business training, says Della Rocca, which can lead to stumbling blocks as their businesses develop.
Especially because a great idea may not be enough, he says. “Unlike the usual saying of ‘build it and they will come,’ that’s not really the case in the digital marketplace.”

Barriers to entry into the gaming industry today are low, he says. It can take as little as a couple hundred dollars and a couple of weeks, for example, to create an iPhone app. Unfortunately for developers, this means thousands of apps are hitting the store every day.

“So even though our idea may be super cool and our graphics may be super sexy, how do we get above the other 999 apps that were released that day?” Della Rocca says.

But there is demand for these games. The Entertainment Software Association of Canada (ESAC) suggests that Canadian video game developers and publishers contribute $1.7 billion in annual revenue to the Canadian economy. According to the same group’s 2010 statistics, 75 per cent of Canadians play computer or video games either every day or a few days per week.

The program will tackle several important subjects for successful businesses, including courses on intellectual property, marketing, hiring and retaining staff, project management and raising funds.
A pilot program will begin in late April of this year, and if successful, the full academic program will be available by fall 2011. The pilot will focus on how to deliver the course material to students. It will test, for example, whether face-to-face workshops or online courses are more useful. 

“What we’re looking to do here is to build a collection of courses, programs, workshops that will help the Interactive Ontario client group,” says Peter Monkhouse, acting director of strategic development and operations for the Chang School.

The part-time, flexible nature of the program will also be useful to entrepreneurs who want these new skills, but may not want to leave their businesses to pursue a full-time academic program, says Della Rocca.
“If we can make the firms successful here in Ontario, then they’ll stay here,” rather than leaving for the United States or other areas with more support, says Monkhouse.  

So far, IO has received tremendously positive feedback from industry professionals, says Derdowski, and he doesn’t foresee recruiting students to be a problem.

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