Eric Johnson

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Canada Media Fund Gives Developers a Boost, With an Eye Toward International Competition

cmf gamesIt’s the best of times and the worst of times for game developers, especially the little ones. On the one hand, it’s easier than ever to get your game in front of a mass audience. On the other hand, it’s easier than ever to get your game in front of a mass audience.

Especially as new platforms lower the barriers to entry for smaller, independent studios to publish or get published, the competition is getting tougher. Two recently released indie games, Outlast and Tiny Brains, got a leg up from the Canada Media Fund, a government organization aimed at helping Canadian companies compete internationally.

The CMF covers a lot more than just games. Out of its overall $360 million budget for 2013-2014, $36 million will be set aside for the “experimental stream,” which includes games, apps and other interactive content. The larger “convergent stream” covers Canadian-produced TV programs with digital media components.

The CMF’s director of industry and market trends, Catalina Briceno, said this year about half of the $36 million allotted for “experimental” projects will go to games. To qualify for a chunk of that $18 million, games must have innovative content, business models or technology behind them, with two rounds each throughout the year for what the CMF considers to be the three stages of a project: Development, production and marketing.

“Innovation is not white or black,” Briceno said. “There’s a lot of gray zones, a lot of nuances.”

The degree of innovation is judged by an international jury of digital media experts, first over phone meetings and then in two days of face-to-face deliberation. Projects come out of those deliberations with a score, and the money for each round is distributed to top scorers until the budget is depleted.

Spearhead Games, the studio behind the console title Tiny Brains, said it received $500,000 from the CMF in the development round and just shy of that amount for its production (the maximum funding any project can receive is $1 million, and the amount can’t exceed 75 percent of a game’s total budget). Red Barrels, the developer of survival-horror PC game Outlast, didn’t disclose exactly how much it raised, but said the CMF provided an alternative to mobile-focused venture capitalists and angels.

The games that vie for funding aren’t all indies, though.

“We finance companies that are startups as much as companies that have been around for 25 years,” Briceno said. The most important rule is that the companies must be Canadian-controlled, meaning they might collaborate internationally, but they can’t be foreign based with an office in Canada, a la Electronic Arts or Ubisoft.

Some of the other games the organization has funded include My Singing Monsters, Contrast and Guacamelee.

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The problem with the Billionaire Savior phase of the newspaper collapse has always been that billionaires don’t tend to like the kind of authority-questioning journalism that upsets the status quo.

— Ryan Chittum, writing in the Columbia Journalism Review about the promise of Pierre Omidyar’s new media venture with Glenn Greenwald