Tell the readers a little bit about yourself for those that may have been living under a rock the past 25 years.
Thanks for reaching! I created and launched The Electric Playground online in 1995 as my team and I worked to put the pitch together for our television program. EP launched as a weekly TV show in the Fall of 1997 on a self-syndicated network of stations across Canada and the west coast of the US. The idea from the beginning was to bring video cameras into the mysterious world of game development and to get to know the creators of our favorite games so we could learn how they were made. We eventually brought EP to a variety of networks across North America and created a long term partnership with Rogers in Canada and Comcast in the US that eventually allowed us to turn the series into a daily program in 2008. EP Daily was syndicated on broadcast TV and cable networks across Canada, the US, and Australia. EP also spun off another TV series, Reviews on the Run, which also went daily in 2010. So my team and I made thousands and thousands of episodes that covered every aspect of videogames, entertainment, and consumer tech. “Everything cool, every single day,” became our motto. In 2016, we transitioned EP and ROTR into their current digital incarnation at EPN.tv and YouTube.com/EPNtv and in 2019 we moved EPN into the Vancouver Film School to create EP Live in front of a live audience.
This is a pretty massive interview for me because I attribute you and Electric Playground as the main things that made me begin to look at games in a different light and really pushed my love of video games to new heights Did you ever expect to make that type of impression on people when you started Electric Playground all those years ago?
Not at all. When I began this journey the goal was purely to honor the people that had already been entertaining me for years and to satiate my innate curiosity about games and also my ambition to create a production of my own. I had a feeling that there would be a lot of people that were similarly fascinated by the game industry and they would enjoy our show and I also felt that people in the game industry itself had to become fans of what we did. Fortunately, both turned out to be true and the television industry got behind us in a substantial way too. So I’m really proud of that. We made shows that general TV viewers enjoyed, game fans got a lot out of, sponsors appreciated being associated with, television executives were proud of and videogame makers respected. Honestly, I believe that the reason why we were able to accomplish these things and why we managed to resonate and survive for so long is that EP was born from a genuine love of the subject matter, it was not conceived as a way to ride the coattails of the burgeoning popularity of the video game world. It was important to us to organically integrate and we did do that and we continue to.
Vancouver Film School (VFS) has announced 2 full-tuition scholarships in your name that will be awarded this month in the Game Design and Programming for Games and Web + Mobile programs at VFS and you get to choose who will receive them. How did this opportunity with VFS come about?
The Vancouver Film School and I have been working in several different ways over the last few years and it has been terrific. That has culminated in EPN relocating to its new space in the VFS Cafe right on campus. Along the way I learned of the scholarship initiatives that the school runs from time to time—recently with filmmaker Kevin Smith—and through talking with Christopher Bennett, who heads up production at VFS, I suggested that maybe the school would like to partner with me and we’d give aspiring game makers the opportunity to apply for some truly wonderful scholarships. They were all for it and now here we are. I’m looking forward to looking through the applications and giving some creative and ambitious people a financial boost to chase their dreams.
There will also be $250K in partial scholarships to runner-up applicants as well. What are you looking for in potential applicants?
I’m looking for clear pictures of each applicant’s passion and imagination. I don’t know how they will be framing that but as I look through the material I’ll be looking to help people that could use the financial boost but I also want to see that people are serious about learning, have a drive to create and collaborate, have good skills already place with regards to expressing themselves and I think having a comprehensive understanding of the history, the long term value and limitless potential of the videogame medium are also key. Basically, I want to see in these applications a real desire to help create some world class new videogame entertainment.
How important is it for you to be involved in the selection process for such prestigious programs in Vancouver?
I think this is key for both the school and for myself. I’ve never selected applicants for a scholarship before so I won’t be working in total isolation but I can tell you something: I’ve reviewed a game or two in my time and I’ve also produced a lot of content and employed a lot of talented people so I think I have pretty good nose for how serious about this opportunity the applicants will be.
What’s the outlook for potential scholarship winners once they complete their programs in terms of finding employment in the gaming industry?
Incredible. The videogame industry is booming, it’s global, there are thousands of jobs across the medium and every other day I encounter someone working in games or other media that came through a VFS program. This school creates creative professionals. If you want to work in a creative field like games and you get in and work hard at this school, you will find a path to employment and so much more.
What would the Victor Lucas of 1997 be most surprised about the gaming industry as it is today?
I think what’s most surprising about games is how many different kinds of jobs there are now. I’ve talked with students at VFS who focused on in-game economies and monetization as a specialization with the express understanding that there are hundreds of Free To Play game publishers looking for this specific skill base. Similarly, I’ve talked with audio specialists that work with games under the auspices of mastering soundtracks for distribution into stores. There are thousands of people employed in so many aspects of videogame marketing, there are massive companies and boutique outfits that specialize in external development or middleware applications and new micro-industries or subsets of game making can become monstrously important to all forms of creative expression, like we’re witnessing with real-time 3D animation or AI content generation.
How difficult has it been to go from Electric Playground as an episodic TV series and then evolving into the Electric Playground Network?
Evolving and changing up the processes of how we create the content has felt natural honestly. Technologies are always changing and improving and so reinvention and maintaining a sense of nimbleness has been a key part of running our business. I think that’s pretty key for Canadian production in general but especially when it’s a labor of love like EP has always been. The move to EPN was in response to the growing collection of brands we were building under the EP umbrella. People would ask what I do and I’d start with EP Daily and then ROTR and then Vic’s Basement and we had EP Radio going for a bit and our documentaries and so we needed an encompassing brand that put it all together and so, EPN was born.
If you could choose to take the path you took (starting with the website, moving to TV, evolving into EPN), or to start out with all the platforms available to today’s content creators (podcasts, YouTube, Patreon, etc.)? What path would you choose and why?
I think information media should be everywhere. I would like to be making TV across all screens. People should have access to your info anywhere they want to watch. What I love about traditional TV however is that often a family will watch a show together and discuss what they’re watching. With EP and ROTR not on TV currently I think we connect with viewers on a more one to one basis and they become a part of our online community. That is great too. But I really do miss the fact that people would watch our programming in groups—just like how we made the programming. 🙂
What was your favourite era of video games and why?
Tough question! My favorite era is the PS2/Xbox/GameCube/Dreamcast timeframe. 3D game design and art reached true blockbuster status during this time and there were so many triple and double A studios out there working to advance the medium in magical ways. The groundwork for much of the best in gameplay to this day was laid in this era but of course, every generation of games has tremendous value artistically.
What game was the biggest chore to review?
I love sports games but their iterative nature makes them tricky to review from year to year.
What do you think is the biggest problem with gaming journalism today and how would you improve it?
The biggest problem with gaming journalism today is the same problem that all journalism faces—a lack of funding and reliance on controversy to create traffic to generate ad revenue to stay in business. I think if consumers could embrace the subscription model for the outlets and platforms they respect, and the heavy focus on clickbait and ad revenue could disappear, that would lead to better reporting and journalists staying with the profession for longer than they seem to be able to. This is an over-simplification of a very complicated issue but marketers investing in individual social media influencers instead of supporting media outlets with professional teams has also hurt traditional media and gaming journalism in general.
What advice do you have for aspiring journalists, game designers, and programmers?
Chase quality not clicks. Be proud of what you put into the world. We live in the selfie age but that doesn’t mean you need to create more of that.
Let the readers know where to find you and EPN online and where to submit their application and creative samples for the scholarships.
Thank you so much for your support and this opportunity!