Monday, July 29th, 2013

Have Ontario and Quebec Eclipsed Vancouver in the Video Game Industry?

Playing Video Games

Once considered the hub of the Canadian video game industry, Vancouver now lags behind Toronto and Montreal.

According to a recent survey by the Entertainment Software Association of Canada (ESAC), Canada just surpassed the United Kingdom to become the third largest video game industry in the world, with Canada playing host to 16,000 employees and 348 companies. Economic input from the video game industry in Canada has reached the $2 billion mark.

The love affair between Canadians and gaming is pretty obvious. According to ESAC’s survey, 59% of Canucks play video games, roughly 61% of households have a video game console, 80% own a mobile device and about 95% own a computer. In terms of gender, 54% of males play video games with females lagging not too far behind at 46%. Not surprisingly, top-sellers like Assassin’s Creed, Mass Effect, Splinter Cell and Prince of Persia were all developed and made in Canada. The next instalment of Assassin’s Creed – Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag – is in fact one of the most anticipated games of 2013, with gamers eagerly awaiting its October release.

Ontario and Quebec Surpass Vancouver in Video Game Jobs

Vancouver was long considered the hub of the gaming industry. It was in Vancouver, in the early 1990s, that some of the first successful video games were produced, including Evolution and Quest For Tires. However, in recent years, both Ontario and Quebec have overtaken the gaming industry, thanks to tax breaks both provinces offer to video game companies.

Rockstar Games, producers of such franchises as Grand Theft Auto, Midnight Club and the Max Payne series, moved its offices from Vancouver to Toronto, further putting a dent into Vancouver’s claim to gaming fame. Radical Entertainment, the oldest gaming studio in B.C., laid off 89 Vancouver employees in June of last year and stopped developing its own games as well.

Gaming giants Ubisoft – producers of the Assassin’s Creed series – were reportedly given an estimated $263 million in incentives over 10 years to settle in Ontario. Ubisoft also benefited from the 37% labour tax credit that’s available to all video game developers in Ontario. They closed up shop in Vancouver once their offices in Toronto were set up.

Montreal A Strong Player in the Video Game Industry

Montreal has also surpassed B.C. in total number of gaming companies and gaming-related jobs. Quebec’s publicly funded tax credit program pays a third of employees’ salaries – even more if a French-language version of the company’s products are made.

Ubisoft co-founder Alain Tascan, who now runs his own gaming company, Sava Transmedia, says that while Quebec’s generous tax credits do a lot to attract multimedia companies to the province, it’s the ability to invest the money saved that’s key, not the province’s partial payment of employee salaries.

“The idea is not to make your profit on the 37.5%,” says Tascan, “but use the money to produce something that’s of higher quality. And that’s what developers have been doing. Products from Quebec have a reputation of being world-class.”

Quebec is now home to 86 gaming companies. Ontario is home to another 96. Vancouver is now in third place with 83 companies calling the city home.

Don’t Count Vancouver Out Just Yet

There’s been a recent downward trend in the sale of console devices like the Xbox, Playstation and Wii. Gamers are shifting towards mobile apps and free games that are available on mobile devices, iPads and Facebook. Hard-copy console games have seen a decline in sales, after peaking in 2008. However, sales of mobile games worldwide are projected to increase from $5.6 billion in 2010 to a staggering $11.4 billion by 2014.

If mobile games are the wave of the future, it may mean a break for game designers in Vancouver. The city’s proximity to Asia and Silicon Valley, Vancouver may be unbearable as companies compete for the next generation of gaming firms. Japanese mobile developer Gree just started hiring staff for a Vancouver studio, and start-ups are popping up across the city.

Jason Bailey, CEO of East Side Games, a local startup, says, “The best thing to ever happen to the Vancouver indie scene is that those big, fat, bloated old bitches left town,” a clear dig at the console giants who moved their headquarters East.

While other Vancouverites may echo Bailey’s sentiments, the city has to do more than offer sweeping ocean views and stunning mountainsides to attract new firms. More and more, industry leaders are calling for tax breaks to lure gaming companies back to the city, especially to help defray the punishing cost of renting or owning space in Vancouver. In short, the city is just too expensive.

Video Gaming Still a Thriving Industry in Canada

While Vancouver, Toronto and Montreal may battle it out for the title of Canada’s Gaming Industry Hub, one thing is clear: there is an ever-growing need for innovative, creative and talented people to work in these studios. More and more colleges are offering programs in video game design and development, 3D modeling, animation and computer graphics in order to fill the demand for qualified professionals. This means that there’s no better time than now to get the education needed to work in the industry.

Here are some of the schools that offer programs in Video Game Design and Development, 3D Modeling Animation and Design and Computer Graphics Design:

Linda Galeazzi
Author: Linda Galeazzi
Linda Galeazzi has been an online writer and proof reader for several years.
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