One of Canada’s fastest growing industries is struggling in Alberta, and the government is doing nothing about it.
The Great White North has become a hotbed for producing video games, according to an Entertainment Software Association of Canada (ESAC) study, with companies like Ubisoft and Bioware contributing over $2.3 billion to the Canadian economy in 2012.
While these stats may make it seem as if everything is coming up roses in Canada’s video game industry—the third largest in the world according to the ESAC—it’s not the case for video game studios in Alberta.
The number of studios in Alberta decreased by a third between 2011 and 2013, according to the same ESAC study. Association vice president of public affairs, Julien Lavoie, said the study doesn’t track studio openings and closures and couldn’t confirm that the decreases in video game studios are, in fact, closures.
But game creators interviewed by The Calgary Journal said times have been tough for the industry in Alberta.
Hilton Patton was a programmer at Dreamcloud Games from the opening of the company until the closing seven months later and said it was among those that struggled, though there was never a shortage of ideas.
“The closing down almost happens exclusively because of running out of funding” Patton said.
“Indie companies will usually dump whatever they have into one game idea that they strongly feel will be a huge success, and if they’re not, well then that’s it,” Patton explained, “you don’t get a chance at a second game, because you simply can’t afford to make another.”
Patton added that the industry is very high-risk, high-reward for smaller companies.
“Dreamcloud Games received zero support from the government; we financed ourselves out of our own pockets, with everything we had. Which, albeit, wasn’t much,” Patton said.
Patton feels the quality of support from the government is lacking, and should be increased for game developers.
By comparison, British Columbia already provide such support in the form of the Interactive Digital Media Tax Credit (IDMTC), which returns 17.5 per cent of eligible salary wages involved in the creation of interactive products, like video games.
Logan Foster, an employee of Fluik Games in Edmonton, said the Alberta government has a resource like the IDMTC that could help video game companies, but their own regulations are getting in the way of that help.
“The Alberta Media Fund is set up by the government, but most of it goes towards the film, television and broadcasting projects,” Foster said.
The Alberta Media Fund promises 25 per cent of a company’s project cost if they have a proper broadcasting license and the rest of the funds lined up. Those, amongst others, are some of the restrictions that keep game developers on the outside looking in.
“The fund has really strict rules that say you cannot get money to make a game unless it is for educational purposes or tied to a television program,” Foster said, “it also has to be for an open market project. Essentially, no video games allowed.”
The Calgary Journal twice contacted the office of the Minister of Finance of Alberta about the lack of support for video games, but did not receive a response.
Craig Pfau, founder of Calgary Game Developers, said the province could be a great place for the video game industry to thrive if there was enough funding, given the amount of resources already here.
Photo by Bioga Machar
“There are all these wonderful artists coming out of Alberta College of Art and Design (ACAD) and programmers out of the University of Calgary, but we’re so focused on other things like oil here.”
Jaques Rossouw, founder and CEO of Calgary-based Neojac Entertainment Inc. agrees with Pfau. He said that he has seen a lot of talent here for the video game industry to grow, especially in Calgary.
“The industry in Canada is so big and has the potential to genereate a tonne of revenue, so that’s one thing that they have to change,” Rossouw said.
Though Rossouw believes that if the current relationship between the video game companies of Alberta and the provincial government stays the same, the talent that both he and Pfau mentioned could start making their way out of Alberta to a more welcoming environment elsewhere.
“Personally, if I didn’t have any personal connection here, I wouldn’t be here,” Rossouw said, “It’s even harder for people to start up here because of the industry is so settled in other provinces and they have all the financial assistance. There’s really no industry here because of the lack of support.”
Despite all of this, Rossouw has faith that the video game industry in Alberta will survive, but will never match the productivity of other provinces.
“At the end of the day, it will be much harder and there will be less people producing games here, which leads to less revenue overall. So if the province doesn’t help, that’s money that they’re losing out on,” he said.
Correction: It has come to the attention of the Calgary Journal that a source used in this article was unaware that their quote would be used for publication. We sincerely apologize for this misrepresentation.