The federal government says video games will stay out of the broadcasting regulator’s reach when it is given new powers over digital content later this year.
The Liberal government is expected to table new legislation in the next few months that would give the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission more authority over digital content providers such as Netflix Inc. and Google. The new laws are an answer to a call from many in Canada’s cultural sector to provide more government support to counter foreign-owned tech giants that have entered the market.
The new legislation follows the report of an expert panel, released last month, that called for new oversight of creative industries. Members of the Broadcasting and Telecommunications Legislative Review spoke to gaming representatives and commissioned research into how other countries had funded video-game development. In the end, the panel’s report did not make specific recommendations on gaming, but left the door open for regulation to enter the industry.
Lobbyists for the video-game industry spoke with government officials in recent months, including a Feb. 4 meeting with Canadian Heritage Minister Steven Guilbeault.
Camille Gagné-Raynauld, press secretary for the minister, said gaming will be left out of the coming legislation.
Jayson Hilchie, president of Entertainment Software Association of Canada (ESAC), said the industry is a “success story” that has thrived without government oversight, which could have included Canadian-content requirements.
“The way we think about it from a Canadian-content perspective is that we are Canadians making games that we’re selling to the world,” Mr. Hilchie said.
He said the industry successfully lobbied to have video games considered a technology product and not a cultural product under the North American free-trade agreement and its successor, the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement. The trade deals include a provision that allows Canada to protect its cultural sector through government funding, in a way that other commercial products cannot be.
“We’re a global industry," Mr. Hilchie said. "We’re not thinking about one specific domestic market when we make a video game. We’re thinking about selling a video game across all sorts of different markets.”
According to ESAC, the gaming industry in Canada employed the equivalent of 48,000 full-time workers and generated $3.6-billion in revenue in 2019. Some of the biggest Canadian video-game makers include Edmonton’s BioWare, maker of the Mass Effect series, and Ubisoft Montreal, maker of the Assassin’s Creed series, both of which have sold millions of copies around the world.
Janet Yale, a telecommunications lawyer who chaired the government’s expert panel, said its recommendations on digital media were broad and could include gaming, because the lines between different types of digital media are becoming blurred. For example, Netflix has started to experiment with interactive movies in the past year, such as Black Mirror: Bandersnatch and Captain Underpants Epic Choice-O-Rama.
“One of the things we were thinking about is what about when traditional content becomes interactive, or we think about virtual reality," she said. "The notion that interactivity in and of itself is excluded is disappearing as the silos between different types of content disappear.”