Neil Randall: We have five academic partners. These are: Concordia University, University of Ontario Institute of Technology, McMaster University, Carleton University and the University of California at Davis. We also have six industry partners, [including]: Microsoft Studios in Redmond, Washington, Electronic Arts in California—their head office in California. We have Communitech—who’s an aggregator and accelerator group in the Kitchener‑Waterloo region.
From my standpoint, the biggest benefit we can bring to the partners is a stronger understanding of how and why people play games. What we’re going to bring to them is a stronger understanding of what that process is and how the kinds of engagements that do happen do, in fact, happen. But there’s another side of this. Games companies tend to focus on engineering, computer science initiatives.
Where the arts come in typically is in graphics, animation and those sorts of fine‑arts kinds of activities. What we want to bring to them is the understanding that games are about stories and about storytelling. And if you want the best storytellers you have to turn to the people who understand stories. And that’s where the humanities and the social sciences come into play in a really strong way. My goal is to help game companies truly understand that.
Our research, in effect, would not be possible without the involvement of partners outside the academy. We need the games industries in order to drive our research, not so that we’re providing research for them—although, that’s certainly part of our goal—but so that we know what the questions are. And people I’ve talked to at Electronic Arts and Microsoft are very interested in this. Microsoft just told us specifically this is sort of a project area they want to move forward on.
Without the buy‑in from industry into what we’re trying to accomplish, this simply wouldn’t be anywhere near as effective.
In our case, because we were dealing with the games industry, which is a large industry—we have to remember it’s larger than the movie industry—one of the things we wanted to do was take advantage of existing partnerships that we might have and then expand it into other companies that we really knew we wanted to work with.
What we decided to was to focus on a group of about 10 companies and then narrow it down to five or six—whoever was going to jump in at the time—and the trick there is really a matter of just continuing to ask them what they’d like to get out of [the partnership] in the context of what we know we can deliver.