Canada world’s third largest video game producer
March 2, 2011
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EDMONTON, AB, Mar. 2, 2011/ Troy Media/ – Canada’s got game. And not just any game. Canadian companies have a firm grip on the bleeding edge of the video and computer game technology tsunami – a market boasting consistent growth.
This is creating exciting new opportunities for the people pushing the technology envelope.
Don Mattrick is one of them. He and a friend dreamed up Evolution in a Burnaby living room in 1982.
Mattrick’s company eventually became Electronic Arts Canada, employing hundreds in Edmonton, Vancouver and Montreal and creating huge hits like the Need for Speed series and Sims 3. It’s one of the companies that have given Canada a firm grip on the leading edge of the video and computer game juggernaut.
Edmonton’s Bioware cutting edge
According to Danielle Parr, executive director of the Entertainment Software Association of Canada, Canada is the third-largest producer of video games globally (after the United States. and Japan), with some of the best-selling games in the world.
“When you think about it in terms of size of our population,” she says, “That’s really impressive.”
Parr points to Montreal and Vancouver as the largest hubs of activity in the Canadian industry, but notes that Edmonton’s Bioware Studio (owned by Electronic Arts since 2008) has also produced “some really fantastic titles,” including Baldur’s Gate and the upcoming LucasArts title Star Wars: the Old Republic.
The reason for this success? Talent, first and foremost, Parr says. “Like any other industry that’s based on intellectual property, talent is the most important ingredient and Canada has some of the best.”
The industry has evolved far beyond merely creating diversions for the masses, however, and now encompasses e-learning and simulation solutions that can train workers at less expense and risk than could be accomplished in the real world.
Edmonton’s 3D Interactive, for example, pairs gaming-inspired software with off-the-rack computer hardware to create affordable simulations for clients as far away as Japan. The goal, according to technical director Andrew Czarnietzki, isn’t to replace hands-on training but to augment it, especially in areas where such training is impractical.
“Some equipment costs $100,000 an hour to operate,” he said, “And you don’t want to take a machine like that off-line in order to teach someone, nor do you want a trainee working at lower efficiency on the real thing for too long.”
3DI’s products include portable simulators that can be set up either onsite or in the classroom. Whenever possible, the company uses the actual controls of the equipment on which a student is being trained, offering a learning experience comparable to a full-scale simulator but at far less cost.
E-learning also offers a spoonful of technological sugar to help the training medicine go down. One player with a stake in Alberta is Colorado-based CodeBaby, whose Edmonton office houses a product engineering team that helps craft the CodeBaby Studio, which clients use to create and integrate 3D characters into their e-learning courseware.
CodeBaby’s clients have ranged from Grant Thornton and Fountain Tire to the University of Arizona and the U.S. air force. CEO Patrick Bultema says customers design their e-learning courses as they always have but “include the CodeBaby character as a digital teaching instructor.” Clients import their audio files into CodeBaby Studio, which animates the character and lip syncs it to any language.
The 363-kilogram gorilla in the industry is Electronic Arts, whose Burnaby, B.C., Canadian headquarters ranks among the world’s most successful video game studios.
EA’s Burnaby campus traces its roots to the original Evolution game, which spawned a vibrant and diverse video-game cluster in Vancouver.
Yet the company has also had its difficult years, especially the last few in B.C. when several hundred employees were laid off. The positive flip side is that there has been employment growth in eastern Canada.
Parr attributes gaming’s Eastern Canadian growth to the fact that Ontario and Quebec have had the largest tax credits.
“The industry in Vancouver has flourished without tax credits,” she says. “But when you’re trying to choose between two similar jurisdictions and one has really lucrative tax credits, chances are that’s the one you’re going to select.”
Getting such tax incentives enacted has been an uphill battle, though.
“It’s an area that governments haven’t really thought about,” Parr says. “And one of the things we’ve tried to do is educate policymakers that this is big business.”
How big? The ESAC estimates that the video gaming industry included more than 14,000 people in 250 companies across Canada.
EA decision makers say that the B.C. government seems to have gotten the message: a digital media tax credit was introduced in September.
Then there’s Alberta. Neither Parr nor Czarnietzki think Wild Rose Country has been particularly conducive to offering gaming companies tax incentives, though, as Parr notes, “the overall tax environment is favourable.”
And it isn’t as if Alberta companies have had no access to government aid. Czarnietzki credits the Alberta Ingenuity Fund and the National Research Council’s Industrial Research Assistance and Scientific Research and Experimental Development programs with helping 3DI get up and running.
Trend toward social gaming
As for gaming itself, the trend is toward social gaming. “Seventy-six per cent of Canadian gamers play online in some way,” Parr said, noting that some like World of Warcraft-type role-playing games but that “others are playing games on Facebook. Women and teen girls are especially attracted to the social nature of gaming, but it’s a real variety.”
Paralleling the success of the traditional packaged goods market, EA has made significant strides in creating opportunities in online and in downloadable content, specifically mobile and social connected games.
On the hardware side, there’s a movement toward controller-less interfaces that use sensors to capture a player’s movements and translate them into actions in the virtual world.
All in all, the industry is showing no sign of slowing down. That bodes well for Canadian-based innovators. “It’s the fastest-growing entertainment industry in the world,” Parr said, “and if you look at our continued growth and our excellence in this sector, we’re in a good position to run with it.”