Canada kicks ass at making videogames.
From major console game producers in Vancouver and Montreal to the independent mobile startups popping up in Toronto and Waterloo, this country has found a recipe that will allow the industry’s success to continue for years to come.
Over the last few years, as gaming grew increasingly mainstream, mobile, and social, the Canadian government set the stage for the country to maintain its position as the world’s biggest videogame producer on a per capita basis, and third in the world behind only the United States and Japan.
“Canada has had, I think what many would consider a global competitive advantage in videogame development for quite a while,” says Ross Dixon, executive producer of Toronto based XMG Studios, a mobile game development company. “That is in part due to very solid government support, both at the federal and provincial levels from a tax incentive perspective, but it nonetheless is an area that Canada has been able to compete globally against the best companies around the world.”
For example, Dixon points to the fact that one of the most popular games in the international gaming community, Fifa Soccer (or Football), is developed in Burnaby, BC.
But Dixon points out another important factor in the growth of the industry, adding that the rise of mobile gaming and the disintegration of a stigma formerly attached to gamers has opened the industry to a much broader audience.
“People used to very much think of the industry as being a bit on the fringe,” he says, “That stereotype has been completely eradicated by the rise of mobile gaming. Eight out of ten Americans are now considered gamers by their own definition.”
While major triple-A console game studios in BC and Quebec, like Electronic Arts and Activision, previously championed Canada’s videogame industry, a new generation of independent mobile game makers opening up shop in Toronto, such as XMG Studios, have emerged as key players.
“There’s a good tech scene in general in Toronto courtesy of Waterloo and York and Ryerson and U of T, and that all kind of helps with the infrastructure that an industry needs to be self-sustaining,” says Dixon, “There’s a lot of talent here, and since the industry is heading in a mobile direction, that’s where a lot of people want to work.”
Dixon himself previously worked for Electronic Arts, Ubisoft, and other triple-A studios before switching his career to focus on mobile game development. Dixon says part of his motivation for the switch was the supportive independent game community growing in Toronto, even between local competitors.
“You might describe it as a bit of sibling rivalry,” says Dixon. “As a community of developers in Toronto we are stronger when we kind of hang together and support each other’s initiatives, because there is so much global competition in this space that it would just be short sighted for us to look at our next door neighbors and see them as competitors.”
Though there is limited competition between developers within the country, Canada still fights for top rankings internationally, and with measurable success. According to the National Research Council, incentive programs like SR&ED give Canada a competitive advantage over its competitors.
“All levels of government do kind of have the message that game development and mobile application development is important to the economy, and we have great opportunities here to build great apps, build great teams, and staff them up with highly knowledgeable, talented people,” says Dixon.
In a show of support for Canada’s videogame industry, the Honourable Tony Clement, President of the Treasury Board, announced the government of Canada’s Open Data Portal on XMG’s rooftop patio this past June.
According to Dixon, it is this kind of support Canadians need from its government to keep its place atop the world when it comes to videogame production.
“If any of that (support) waivers, we could be in trouble very fast,” he says. “That’s a reflection of how fast the mobile industry moves, but as long as we as developers keep pushing ahead to innovate the way we have, and governments remain informed about what we’re doing and what the industry needs to compete globally, I would say we have a bright future.”