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Retro video gaming at the Game Developers Conference 2013 in San Francisco. (Game Developers Conference website)
Retro video gaming at the Game Developers Conference 2013 in San Francisco. (Game Developers Conference website)

Guest Column

Ontario makes big pitch to attract more gaming firms Add to ...

It wasn’t easy to stand out at this year’s Game Developers Conference with all the colourful lasers, the life-sized mascots, the dazzling hardware and the world-famous brand names. But that’s exactly what members of the Ontario Technology Corridor (OTC) tried to do in San Francisco last month at the largest trade show in the industry, attended by 22,000 video-game developers from around the world.

Armed with a great story – successful development and execution of a lead-generation program around the time of the GDC – the OTC leveraged the conference to raise awareness for Ontario as an investment location for the interactive digital-media sector.

The OTC recognizes that the GDC is a place to make industry contacts, to exchange ideas and awareness, and to germinate deals. Thirty-nine pre-scheduled meetings were held with companies that want to explore business opportunities in Ontario – and six are now seriously considering locating facilities in the province in the coming months. Members of the Corridor also participated in and sponsored several networking events to build professional relationships with senior executives and decision-makers in the industry.

It is clear the gaming industry will continue to boom along with mobile access growth. Ontario is well situated to accommodate this growth: it is equipped with the work force, the government support and the infrastructure, with the most extensive network of fiber-optic cable in North America. The province’s business case made it easier to set up meetings with gaming companies looking to expand to new markets.

The Ontario Technology Corridor – named for the series of high-tech centres that stretch along the region’s 400 series of highways – includes the Greater Toronto Area, the Ottawa Region, the Waterloo Region and the City of London. Members within the Corridor – supported by provincial, regional and local governments – work together to help build the technology industry.

OTC partners recognize the role of digital media in transforming the economy, especially its ability to create high-value jobs. Ontario is Canada’s No. 1 jurisdiction in terms of concentration of companies and industry momentum within the country’s $1.7 billion, 16,000-employee video-game sector.

The keys to Ontario’s success have consistently been momentum, a competitive cost structure, and talent. The momentum began when Ubisoft signed on. The developer of the Assassin’s Creed franchise and one of the largest video-game manufacturers in the world, Ubisoft is like that big anchor store at the mall. When it opened a facility in Ontario, it sent a signal to the rest of the industry that the province was a credible base. Electronic Arts (EA), Gameloft and several other leading companies soon followed.

“Companies are surprised at how willing our governments are to partner and invest by providing tax incentives to ensure we’re competitive. These people are making large investments and they want to feel the love,” says Tracey Jennings, a partner of national technology, information, communications and entertainment, and media leader for Canada at PwC.

Ms. Jennings of PwC concedes that “tax incentives are designed to ensure we’re competitive, but in the end they’re a supplement to intellectual capital.”

Every year, more than 38,000 students graduate with math, engineering or science degrees from Ontario's 44 colleges and universities, and those institutions currently have 23,846 students enrolled in in digital gaming related programs.

Gerald Pisarzowski is the 2013 director of the Ontario Technology Corridor (OTC) and vice-president of business development for the Greater Toronto Marketing Alliance (GTMA).

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