Canadian Makin'

Canadian Makin'
Games from the Great White North

Nicole Tanner | 30 Jun 2009 08:42
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Canada has been a major player in videogames since the industry's infancy. In the early to mid-'80s, Canadian developers created games in their free time while they went to college to pursue more "acceptable" careers. That tradition of quiet innovation has made Canada one of the top three countries in the world in terms of game development.

Canada is now home to nearly 250 game studios, employing upwards of 15,000 people. The slate of developers includes ties to some of the biggest publishers in the industry, like Electronic Arts and Ubisoft. But quantity is only one piece of the puzzle, and Canadian developers have proved they can deliver on quality as well. Studios like Edmonton's BioWare and Ubisoft Montreal are responsible for some of gaming's most universally acclaimed titles, including Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic, Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time and many others.

Despite these huge successes, however, some in the Canadian game industry feel their country doesn't get the credit it deserves from the gaming media. Among them is Trent Ward, Creative Director at EA Montreal and former Creative Director at Ubisoft.


"I think there are a lot of things being done up here that the general user has no idea about," Ward says. "Even the big publishers like EA Vancouver and Ubi Montreal have managed to make their successes seem like they come from somewhere else. On the smaller side, there are a zillion independent developers who are doing crazy things that you never hear about. Even when you do, it's always assumed that it was done in the States."

On the flip side of the coin are people like A.C.R.O.N.Y.M. Games partner Joe Bonar. "I think certain developers are likely to get overlooked wherever they are situated," he says. "Saying that you're being overlooked because you're Canadian strikes me as a very Canadian thing to say."

One thing Canadian developers do seem to agree upon is the fact that it's nearly impossible to define the country's games industry as a whole due to the cultural differences between places like Vancouver and Montreal. Nonetheless, Ward sees some key distinctions between Canadian and U.S. development styles.

"Overall, I think that there are great similarities in what the goals are in Canadian and U.S. development. Our cultures are close in many ways, and we grew up playing the same games," he says. "That said, the ways in which those goals are achieved are often quite different. Canada places a really high emphasis on team development and a lot of different publishers work really hard to try and keep the same groups of people together for long periods of time. This is something I'm really fond of, as it has a tendency to wipe out a lot of the 'rock star' crap you run into elsewhere. More importantly, you know the strengths and the weaknesses of the guy who's sitting beside you."

This emphasis on slowly growing, unified development teams is one of the reasons why cities like Vancouver and Montreal have become global hubs for game development. But that's only half the story; for the other half, look at the country's generous tax incentives for game companies. Depending on the province, many developers are eligible for tax credits of up to 40 percent of labor expenditures, which can dramatically lower a company's bottom line.

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