From Cavemen to FIFA: Canada’s Video Game Industry
Few people reading this will be familiar with the video game B.C.’s Quest for Tires. Players guided the protagonist, Thor, through numerous levels in an effort for him to rescue his girlfriend, Cute Chick, who had been kidnapped by a dinosaur. If it sounds like a very basic game, that’s because it was released in 1983. As further anecdotal proof of this game’s digital antiquity, it went on to win the Golden Floppy Award for Excellence.
Not discussed much nearly 35 years after its release, the game was available for MS-DOS, Apple II, Atari, C64 and a couple other contemporaneous platforms. What is still remarkable about this game – and always will be – is that it was the first major video game to come out of Canada.
Canada has made tremendous leaps and bounds since Thor won that Golden Floppy. Canada’s video game industry now employs some 20,400 people, according to a 2015 report published by the Entertainment Software Association of Canada. With only nine percent of those employees coming from abroad and 19 percent coming from other locations in Canada, nearly three quarters of all Canadian employees working in the video game industry – some 15,000 people – hired locally.
Adding to those already impressive numbers, Canada has the third largest video game industry in the world, only coming behind the United States and Japan with populations nine and 3.5 times that of Canada’s 36m.
With 80 percent of Canada’s 472 game developing studios and nearly 90 percent of employees located in the provinces of Quebec, Ontario and British Columbia, it’s fair to say that the industry is heavily localized. A little bit of context demonstrates that this localization is not in the least coincidental. Quebec, with 30 percent of video game companies and 50 per cent of employs, has long since valued the multimedia and digital entertainment industry. For the last 15 years that video game industry in Quebec has seen tenfold growth.
One of the trends driving that growth – in Quebec, Canada, and across the global industry – has been the explosion of mobile gaming. In the years 2013 to 2015, console games, long considered the flagships of the gaming industry, accounted for just 35 percent of industry revenues, a fall of 32 percent in that same period. With an increase of one-fifth, the mobile game industry in that period accounted for a third of industry revenue.
The majority of gaming publications have long focused on games played on consoles or computers, with mobile games being a mere afterthought. The proliferation of smartphones, tablets and other mobile internet devices that is changing. One of the fastest growing branches of the mobile gaming industry is online gambling. Hit last or not at all during economic recession, gambling – be it digital or brick-and-mortar – gambling is an ever-strong industry.
H2 Gambling Capital, the industry’s foremost source of marketing and research data, predicts the industry will reach USD 13.5bn by next year, putting the industry at nearly 10 percent growth for more than a decade. The industry has become so expansive that comparison sites for poker, bingo, slots and any other online gaming having been growing. Players looking for the best deals for online bingo need merely to visit a website to see top offers across Canada and the world.
However, the dominant genre in Canada’s video gaming industry is by far action and adventure, which accounts for just under 60 percent of industry revenue. Although not a homegrown company, EA Canada and its 1300 employees work with American parent company EA to produce perennial best sellers in the FIFA and NHL franchises.
Another major studio excelling in the action/adventure genre – and not headquartered in Quebec, Ontario or British Columba – is BioWare. With general manager Aaryn Flynn’s sudden resignation, the Edmonton, Alberta-based company put former project director of the Mass Effect franchise, Casey Hudson, in charge. With more than 14 million units sold, the company has high hopes for its future under Hudson’s leadership.
In relative terms, the days of helping a pixelated caveman ride his stone unicycle from left to right are as far removed from Canada’s video game industry as we are from actual cavemen. As no one could have predicted Company of Heroes, Assassin’s Creed, or Baldur’s Gate – all Canadian – when Thor was winning that Golden Floppy, it’s nearly impossible what the future of Canada’s video game industry will bring. What we do know, however, is that it’s only going to get bigger.