Canada is known for oil, lumber and maple syrup, but – unbeknownst to many Canadians – it’s also a global player in the video game industry, with the expertise and talent to punch well above its weight.
“If you’re in the industry and want to work on the biggest games in the world, they’re being made in Canada,” says Jayson Hilchie, chief executive officer of the Entertainment Software Association of Canada (ESAC).
If you want to work on FIFA, for example, you want to work for EA Vancouver. If you want to work on Assassin’s Creed, you want to work for Ubisoft in one of its studios across Canada. For games related to DC Comics or Marvel, that’s happening here in Canada. Nintendo also has a rare studio located outside of Japan, thanks to its acquisition of Vancouver-based Next Level Games.
But it’s not just the big studios. A survival game called Project Winter developed by Other Ocean Interactive in Newfoundland is “huge” in Japan. “If you’ve got a good idea and can bring it to life, you have a chance to be successful,” Hilchie says.
Canada is one of the biggest sources of game development in the world, in large part because of a growing digital talent pool and favourable government policies that allow the industry to flourish and compete internationally.
As the world focuses on how to “build back better” from the pandemic, the gaming industry in Canada has a key role to play. Gaming has 2.5 billion gamers in the world, generating $180-billion in revenues globally, which is larger than the sporting and film industries combined. Esports is also growing exponentially, with hundreds of millions of esports enthusiasts playing or watching each year.
Video game studios, stretching from coast to coast, generate an estimated $3.6-billion in revenue and directly employ 28,000 people full-time at an average salary of just over $75,000.
“There are thousands of job openings right now in the midst of the worst economic conditions we’ve seen since the Second World War,” Hilchie says, “and we’re poised for more growth from both an employment and a production standpoint.”
Canada had 692 active game development studios in 2019 – up 16 per cent from 2017 – so the industry was already growing prior to the pandemic.
“We’ve proven that we can thrive in good times, but we can also be resilient in tough times,” Hilchie says. “When I think about building back better, if Canada is going to focus on those industries that have a competitive global advantage, the video game industry is a perfect example because we’ve proven that we’re pandemic-resistant.”
Employees are able to work from home, produce games remotely and sell them through digital channels, which was already happening prior to COVID-19. Online game play has, for the most part, replaced physical cartridges and discs.
“We’re not tripping all over ourselves trying to figure out how we can all of a sudden sell our products digitally,” Hilchie says. “The industry in general is positioned to take advantage of this accelerated wholesale digital transformation that is already in process [because of the pandemic].”
That’s because Canada’s provinces have made a concerted effort to focus on the gaming industry with targeted tax incentives. ESAC also worked with the federal government on the Global Talent Stream, part of the Temporary Foreign Worker Program, which allows video game studios in Canada to attract the specialized global talent they need.
“This allows us to bring in the best talent from all over the world within weeks instead of what used to take months,” Hilchie says. “That’s really compounded the advantage we already have.”
But a strong economic footprint isn’t the only benefit of gaming.
COVID-19 has laid bare our need to connect with one another. Stereotypes of a lone teen gaming in a basement are belied by ESAC data, which show that the 23 million Canadians playing video games during the pandemic come from all age groups – from students to retirees – and backgrounds.
As families spend more time at home, gaming has become a key nexus for social interaction and mental health. According to ESAC data, the majority of Canadians playing video games during the pandemic believes that gaming has helped them emotionally and mentally. And parents are spending more time gaming with their children, even their teenagers.
“It really comes down to one thing: human behaviour,” Hilchie says. “People want to connect. Since they can’t connect physically, they’re finding ways to do that digitally. And video games just happen to be an amazing way to do that.”
ESAC has also partnered with the federal government on initiatives such as #CrushCOVID, which reminds young Canadians of important public health practices.
Video game studios already have a substantial footprint in Canada and are built for the future. As Canada looks to build a strong and resilient economic future, particularly post-COVID, the gaming industry has a key role to play in both the economic and social fabric of Canada.
Advertising feature produced by Globe Content Studio with Entertainment Software Association of Canada (ESAC). The Globe’s editorial department was not involved.