Canada takes its $3 billion video game industry seriously as it pushes sector to new levels

Submitted on Mon, 03/13/2017 - 13:13

SAN FRANCISCO — In the hustle and bustle of downtown San Francisco, the Game Developers Conference (GDC) takes place each March at the Moscone Center and surrounding city blocks. Sessions by industry members teach new tricks to those who make video games, business meetings take place behind closed doors and two large expo floors are filled with booths from companies small and large.

In one corner, for the second year in a row, a Canadian takeover took place with rows of independent game studios all showing off their new titles — and taking a shot at stardom. Being there is only half the battle, however. A key element of their success is a makeshift Canadian pavilion, staffed by members of the Trade Commissioner Service (TCS) who work with the studios to identify their objectives and arrange meetings with publishers from other countries through its large trade network in hopes of generating exports. For many studios, these connections, together with financing through the Canada Media Fund, can help their games go international.

“The world owes a little bit of a debt to the Canadian government for what the Canada Media Fund has done in helping jump-start a lot of really amazing games,” said Seattle-based Chris Charla, director of Microsoft Corp.’s independent developer program for Xbox. “The government support for video games in Canada has been tremendous and the net result is that Canadian games are by far some of the best in the world.”

The TCS, which works with other sectors, has been involved with GDC but in a smaller capacity, since 2008. At the GDC, decision-makers from around the world gather in one place. In the past two years, a Canadian booth and separate rooms have been set aside for meetings that the TCS helps set up in advance or right on the show floor.

Canada ranks third in the world for developing video games, behind the U.S. and Japan, according to the Entertainment Software Association of Canada. Last year, the industry employed 20,400 people in more than 470 studios and contributed $3 billion to the country’s GDP. Canada — a country known for its tech savviness and high mobile adoption rates — now has the leading countries in its sights in terms of becoming a gaming powerhouse.

On a federal level, the Canada Media Fund acts like a loan and helps develop, promote and finance projects. Tax credits can also help cut labour costs by 17.5 to 50 per cent. All told, there is a 30.6-per-cent cost advantage when compared to the U.S., according to a recent KPMG study.

There are additional provincial tax incentives in places such as Quebec, B.C. and Atlantic Canada — all of which were present at GDC — and funding to help give recent graduates work out of school.