Every year, I put together a round-up of all the gaming-related programming at Fan Expo Canada.
When I did this last year, the list ended up being pretty empty outside of a few prominent voice actors — no demo-filled exhibitor booths in sight. At the time, I chalked this up to COVID; after all, it was a scaled-back show and there were a bunch of restrictions. I expected 2022 would be different.
Narrator: it was not.
Ubisoft’s 15th anniversary Assassin’s Creed booth at @FANEXPOCANADA is pretty sweet. Look at these statues! #AC15 #AC15FanExpo pic.twitter.com/KxYT20f8TR
— Brad Shankar (@bradshankar) August 27, 2022
Ubisoft had an admittedly nifty Assassin’s Creed booth with a few demo stations to showcase some of the series’ games on PS5 and Xbox Series X/S, but not a single publisher was present last week with a booth to let you try upcoming games. Moreover, PlayStation and Xbox completely skipped the show, while Nintendo was present only for a Splatoon 3 photo op wall and arts and crafts station. I’ll confess that I was quite disappointed.
Even before COVID, gaming events in Canada have been few and far between. Fan Expo Canada 2019, the last pre-COVID show, had a really solid lineup of game demos, including Final Fantasy VII Remake (PlayStation), Gears 5 (Xbox) and Luigi’s Mansion 3 (Nintendo). Also that year was the Enthusiast Gaming Live Expo (EGLX), which had a huge Nintendo booth. However, that pretty much covers it in terms of major events, and even then, EGLX also quietly went away the following year.
By comparison, the U.S. has historically had so many gaming events. The massive PAX West is happening this weekend in Seattle, and it’s just one of multiple PAX events across the country. E3 shifted to a public-media hybrid show before COVID, and it aims to do that once more in 2023. Geoff Keighley’s Summer Game Fest is also set to have a physical event next year, and that’s to say nothing of The Game Awards that he hosts in Los Angeles, or even Gamescom, Europe’s largest gaming show that he partners with. Before COVID, Xbox also held its own ‘XO’ events in countries like England and Mexico.
Now, if you’ve followed our gaming coverage here on MobileSyrup, you may know that Canada is a gaming industry powerhouse. We’re talking third-largest producer of games in the world. Assassin’s Creed, Mass Effect, FIFA, NHL, Rainbow Six Siege, Cuphead, Gotham Knights, Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy, Luigi’s Mansion 3, Dead by Daylight, PGA Tour 2K23… these are just some of the many games made in the Great White North. You would think, then, that publishers would do a better job promoting that here in Canada.
Sure, digital demos have been making a big return, and that’s certainly a wonderful way to bring games to people at home. But there’s something special about getting to try them out in person — that communal experience with friends and complete strangers alike. One of my fondest memories of previewing a game was playing Sea of Thieves with a bunch of people I hadn’t met before. Besides, other countries benefit from getting demos at home as well as in-person shows, so why can’t Canada?
And it’s not even just about demos. Take PAX West — you can attend panels with legends like ex-Nintendo boss Reggie Fils-Aime, Monkey Island creator Ron Gilbert and adventure game pioneer Roberta Williams or even meet The Last of Us‘ Neil Druckmann and Troy Baker, among other cool opportunities. Of course, I’m not expecting that such big names would routinely come to hypothetical Canadian events, but even if we’re looking at our homegrown gaming talent, there’s so much to choose from.
Had a great time moderating a panel today at #FanExpoCanada alongside my Activision colleagues
My first time in Canada and it most definitely won’t be my last! pic.twitter.com/cqx7kbbzic
— Sam Leichtamer 💙 (@Lighthammer_) August 27, 2022
To be clear, some publishers have done some really cool things in that regard. At this past Fan Expo, developers from Quebec City’s Beenox and Sledgehammer Toronto held a panel to talk about what it’s like to work on Call of Duty in Canada. At the last-ever (?) EGLX, Ubisoft Toronto hosted demos and meet and greets for Watch Dogs: Legion. And for this year’s Xbox & Bethesda Games Showcase, the Halo maker held a rad ‘FanFest’ event in Toronto, years after its awesome “Media Showcases” in the city. Game companies are notoriously secretive, so it’s always nice to let the public put a face to the people who make the games they love, and to give developers and others in the industry the chance to engage with their fans. Shoutout to the companies who have been doing this in Canada!
And hey, I’ve never put together a big event. I can’t imagine how difficult it must be to organize. A lot of time and money and planning goes into this sort of thing. It can’t be done overnight. I get all of that! But I keep looking at everything that happens in the U.S. and abroad and lament the fact that we don’t really have anything like that here. Moreover, it feels like a missed opportunity to not capitalize on Canada’s immense developer pool. Celebrate the fact that we have some of the best game makers in the world! Even if we don’t have dedicated events on the scale of PAX or E3, something smaller like EGLX or even one-offs like Xbox FanFest would be great! Ideally, these would be held across the country, too, and not just in Toronto.
I say all of this because I’m very fortunate to have been able to travel to international events for work. I’ve seen how exciting they can be, and I don’t take that for granted. If anything, it makes me want to share some of those experiences with others! Who knows what the future of gaming events will be in Canada, but hopefully, we start to see more of them in the coming years.