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Canada’s video game development scene is booming

Deux Ex: Human Revolution

Fall is the video game equivalent to the summer movie season, when the biggest blockbusters battle it out for the consumer’s dollars.

This year, the release of Deus Ex: Human Revolution from Eidos Montreal Studio on Aug. 23 marked the beginning of this perennial season of wallet emptying. Met with unanimous critical praise, the game, Eidos Montreal’s 4-year project, is being touted as a worthwhile adventure to purchase. The overall success of this game is indicative of how far big budget video game development has come in Canada.

Game development has exploded in Canada in the last decade, with recent examples of Warner Brother’s, THQ, and the Ubisoft studio openings in Ontario and Quebec.

As a gamer and a Canadian I was interested in exploring exactly why this phenomenon was occurring.

It seems that the proliferation of Canadian game development is largely due to proactive government incentives. By emphasizing video games as a conduit to scientific and technological advancement, companies are given tax breaks and grants. Examples of this include the National Research Council’s Industrial Research Assistance Program (NRC-IRAP), Scientific Research and Experimental Development Program (SR&ED) as well as many province-specific incentives.

The distribution of tax dollars for scientific and technological innovation appears to be exciting development studios. This is not to say that government incentives for games are fool-proof in terms of producing quality content, but with the pedigree of games coming out of Canada, it’s clear that Canadian developers are doing something right.

Montréal is envied as a leader in the multimedia field. There are few cities that make that boast. An exceptional talent pool and a level of creativity and innovation that, supported by excellent schools and by the government, make Montréal a business location like no other in the world. Its record over the last ten years is convincing proof.”— Stéphane D’Astous, Managing Director, Ediod-Montreal, 2009

In a report from “A talk for the ‘Digital Poetics and Politics’ Summer Institute”, Nick Dyer-Witheford, Associate Dean of the Faculty of Information and Media Studies at the University of Western Ontario, outlines the pros and cons of game development in Canada.

A particularly interesting prerk for attracting development in Canada is a conducive legislative landscape. Promoting creativity by having less problematic policies and regulations regarding intellectual properties is good news for developers. Property management in a landscape of David v. Goliath, independent v. corporate game development is crucial for there to exist a balance in profiteering from games.

The Government of Canada also provides government-funded infrastructure for growth in the sector. Other pros include a very strong, already-existing infrastructure, a highly talented workforce and an overall learned population.

The most significant cons are centered around the lack of Canadian publishers — who ultimately control the dollar-sales — and the relatively small size of the industry compared to that in the United States. However, regardless of these hindrances, the Entertainment Software Association of Canada reports, “despite the economic recession, the industry grew by 11% annually and is projected to grow more rapidly over the next two years at 17% per year.” (ESA 2011)

If Deus Ex: Human Revolution is any indication of the quality coming out of the Canadian talent, there is a bright future ahead.

To me, this level of public and corporate interest on the creative side of game development is on its way to finally meeting the sentiments of the consumer base itself. The fervour is largely concentrated on the message of selling creative potential, rather than any product from any one company.

Parlaying this creative potential, along with the emphasis on scientific and technological innovation, perfectly represents both the objective and subjective aspects of what makes games enjoyable. But excitement is what it takes to push a neat idea into becoming a novel product — and eventually, a gold standard.

And in the end, that’s all that really matters.

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