A visit to the westerly Canadian development hub

CANADA RISING: British Columbia

The westernmost of the Canadian provinces, British Columbia is a region renowned for its stunning natural beauty. Home to one of the largest individual studios on the planet in EA Canada’s sprawling Vancouver campus, BC also has a strong development community that has undergone an impressive ongoing growth spurt that has rolled on for the past few years.

“There are lots of benefits of working in British Columbia,” says Jonathan Dowdeswell, general manager of THQ’s Relic Entertainment Studio.

“The fact that we have a big development industry means that there’s a really strong talent pool, and that the local schools are getting more sophisticated in their graduation of the stars of the future.

“Additionally, Vancouver is just a beautiful place, with an incredible lifestyle potential that runs the gamut from metropolitan living to outdoor recreation, in all seasons, so it’s relatively easy to attract people from far away if we need to.”

The region is also fortunate enough to have the British Columbia Interactive Task Force (BCITF), a trade body-like organisation for developers in the region, which under the guidance of its chair Howard Donaldson represents the combined interests of the sector to the regional government.

“The BC Interactive Task Force is a great example of the community we have here in British Columbia”, Donaldson, who is also VP of studio operations for the local Disney Interactive Studios, states.

“The Task Force was formed in 2009 by local leaders of the video game industry to work with the BC government on a long-term plan to support video game development in this province, and today more than 30 BC companies, ranging from large international publishers to small entrepreneurial developers, are represented by it.”

That unified engagement with the political scene in the region lead to the introduction of an Interactive Digital Media Tax Credit, a 17.5 per cent break on production costs, which came into working effect on September 1st of this year.

This highly-anticipated tax break was met with a wave of positive responses from BC developers, all of whom have high hopes for its future effect on the region.

“It was pleasing to note the government’s courageous decision to introduce a tax incentive during a time of grave economic restraint but the industry needed it, to stay competitive and to be able to offer projects that will use our talent before they start looking outside the region,” says managing director of Ubisoft Vancouver Bertrand Helias.

“Tax incentives should help our industry to plant the firm roots of a stronger digital infastructure which the industry along with academia must formulate and facilitate in order to maintain momentum in the region.”

SVP and chief operating officer of EA Sports Pauline Moller agrees with that vision of the region’s future.

“The Interactive Digital Media Tax Credit is a really positive development for the local games community,” she enthuses.

“British Columbia has really stepped up to the plate.”

As encouraged as the community in the region seems by recent development, British Columbia has long been working in the wake of Québec, which has enjoyed the kind of financial benefits that are only now coming into effect in BC. Now that the playing field has been levelled in that regard however, developers in the latter region are excited about future competition.

“Québec has long recognised the value of investing in the sector, and it has led to the development of a local industry that’s extremely healthy,” agrees BCITF’s Donaldson.

“We have a strong industry that will only improve in the future. Some of the world’s biggest franchises live here, and there’s an amazing level of local pool. Local studios will continue to produce hits, do new things in online and digital and continue to strengthen Canada’s reputation as an industry leader.”

That optimism seems to span the entire sector in British Columbia. However, it is also fused with a level-headed sensibility that stems from a culture built on hard work in what was traditionally a wild and difficult environment to live in.

Relic’s GM Dowdeswell knows what he wants for the future of his studio, and it is a hope that would seem outlandish in some of the more furious centres of sector growth that have grown up and vanished almost overnight around the world.

“It’s easy to grow a studio, but I think it’s actually harder to keep it smaller and more intimate,” he says.

“Now we are able to make a few games at once, and we have a great studio vibe. It is important to protect that, executing the highest quality in game design rather than growing to meet projects we could sign.”

And that sums-up the development industry in British Columbia. Powerful, forward-thinking and yet dedicated to preserving the important work it is already performing. The future in the far Canadian West looks bright indeed.

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