Canadian digital gaming industry on a roll with new companies, jobs

An independent 2009 games sector census reveals a thriving industry in Canada with new development studios and job opportunities.

The U.S. games industry, meanwhile, has shown marginal growth since 2008.

The U.S. game industry has managed to hang on through 2009, an industry census report released this month by Game Developer Research (GDR) indicates.

However, it uncovers a Canadian game development scene that’s extraordinarily bright.

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In Canada the number of game developers grew from 9,500 at the close of 2008 to 12,480 to more than 12,500 in 2009 – an estimated 30 per cent increase.

The fact that video gaming can be an incredibly lucrative industry and potentially, a richly rewarding career for students willing to train for was a recurring motif at the Go Into Games (GIG) Speaker Series event held at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ont. in 2009.

The event was organized by Interactive Ontario, a non-profit trade organization representing more than 200 members in the digital media industry.

At that event attendees were offered an overview of Canada’s gaming industry, and practical tips on how to equip themselves for a career in this sector.

“For starters, realize it’s something you can get paid very well to do, if you take a disciplined approach,” said Trevor Fencott, president and CEO of Toronto-based Bedlam Games Inc., a mid-sized developer of frontline console games.

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Fencott urged the students in attendance to notify the naysayers — “perhaps your parents or grandparents” — that there are valid careers in this sector. “It’s a real industry with sophisticated games, big budgets, and an enormous market.”

At a time when other sectors were lagging, he noted that video gaming revenues were soaring.

This market’s 12 per cent compounded annual growth is exceptional when compared to other industries, Fencott said. “And growth hasn’t abated though we’re in a recession or whatever it’s being called now.”

According to the Game Developer Research report, much of the Canadian growth is centered in urban hubs such as Vancouver, Montreal and Toronto.

It’s being attributed to a slew of new studios popping up throughout the country, especially Montreal and Ontario.

With government subsidies and a deep pool of experienced talent to draw from, Canada may be poised to lead the gaming industry’s post-recession climb in 2010.

Overall employment in the North American videogame industry improved slightly in 2009 despite declining sales throughout the latter half of the year.

The GDR report reveals that the U.S. game development is becoming less dependent on urban hubs like San Francisco and Seattle, as many new studios spring up in the wake of significant industry layoffs.

Employment is marginally better at the close of 2009 than it was a year earlier, with 44,806 citizens actively working in the videogame industry (44,400 reported active employment in 2008.)

Mobile and casual games developed by small independent studios account for a significant chunk of that number.

Casual game studios such as PopCap and Zynga led the fundraising and employment charts in 2009 (Zynga alone netted more than $200 million, including a $180 million investment from Russian company Digital Sky Technologies).

Fencott from Bedlam games emphasizes that video gaming is an entertainment as well as a “software technology” industry – and this blend of disciplines is one reason it’s doing so well.

But he cautioned that working in this industry isn’t all fun and games. “It involves s

tructure, requires a high degree of discipline, and a more than average amount of intelligence.”

Those considering a career in video games should plan their training now, he said.

Another senior Bedlam executive spoke at length about the kinds of courses that could equip someone for career in the digital gaming industry.

There are plenty of options to choose from — and much would depend upon what you want to specialize in, noted Jon Paul Schelter, technical director and lead programmer at Bedlam.

He said core disciplines represented in most frontline developer teams are: Art, Code, Design, Production, Quality Assurance and Business/Management. “There’s plenty of interaction between these.”

Frontline teams, he said, typically comprise around 50 people, while the budget for creating a frontline console game could range from $5- $20 million.

Of the 50 or so team members, the engineering group alone would comprise around 14 persons.


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