HQ Vancouver: Why global gaming giants set up shop in Vancouver

Jun 28, 2016
From left to right: Jon Lutz, VP, Financial Planning & Strategy at Electronic Arts (EA), Justin Dowdeswell, General Manager of Relic Entertainment, and Josh Nilson, CEO & Co-Founder of East Side Games.

From left to right: Jon Lutz, VP, Financial Planning & Strategy at Electronic Arts (EA), Justin Dowdeswell, General Manager of Relic Entertainment, and Josh Nilson, CEO & Co-Founder of East Side Games.

Vancouver is home to some global-leading organizations in thriving industries: visual effects, performance apparel, and information and communications technology to name but a few. Yet perhaps somewhat surprisingly, given the prominence of the great outdoors in Vancouver’s identity, one industry in which the city is a true global leader is gaming.

Three representatives of Vancouver’s burgeoning gaming industry spoke at the latest HQ Vancouver event about why Vancouver is the perfect location for their companies to reside – and why growing the competitiveness of the local industry can only benefit their own business.

The event, held at Steamworks in downtown Vancouver on June 27, and sponsored by the Beedie School of Business, featured a panel discussion on why such an eclectic and strong mix of domestic based and foreign companies call Vancouver their second home. They also discussed how to leverage the region’s potential to entice more companies to set up shop here.

Hosted by Yuen Pau Woo, President of HQ Vancouver, the event featured guest speakers Justin Dowdeswell, General Manager of Relic Entertainment, Josh Nilson, CEO & Co-Founder of East Side Games, and Jon Lutz, VP, Financial Planning & Strategy, Electronic Arts (EA), and was chaired by Dave Fracchia, Professor of Professional Practice at the Centre for Digital Media.

Valued at $4.5 billion USD and listed on the NASDAQ, EA is one of the largest video games companies in the world. Several of its biggest franchises, including FIFA soccer, NHL Hockey, and UFC, are developed at the company’s Burnaby campus, which is also the location of the organization’s motion capture studio, the largest such studio in the world.

In addition to the more obvious benefits of being located in Vancouver – access to talent, low corporate tax rates, a favorable time zone, and proximity to the West Coast of the US – Lutz was keen to emphasize the connections games companies have with provincial decision makers.

“We have a creative tech cluster here in BC, and we regularly talk to the government about what it will take to make this the best place to make video games on the planet,” said Lutz. “That ranges from financial standpoint to education, to immigration. I feel we have a provincial government that understands our industry and is here to support us.”

Echoing these sentiments, Dowdeswell mentioned the resilience that exists in the gaming industry in Vancouver, which has enabled studios to survive and rebuild after dips in the market. Though each company is competing for market share against their local rivals, an element of collaboration has proven to be beneficial. The challenge now is for Vancouver’s gaming companies to develop long-term strategy to build the next generation of developers.

“We all benefit when good things happen to other studios,” he said. “It’s true we are all competing against each other, but we are also competing against other countries and cities. We need to cooperate more, but the fact that all three of us know each other shows that we are not working in silos. Our role is to make games so incredibly appealing as to draw talent here, but we also have to think longer term, be more strategic in building the next generation of developers.”

With 90 percent of their employees hailing from within BC, East Side Games’ recruitment approach speaks volumes for the level of talent produced locally. Although this is not entirely a strategic decision – Nilson did lament the bureaucracy involved in trying to hire senior managers from outside of Canada – the company’s culture strives to provide for a strong local gaming community.

“We are a fiercely independent mobile games studio – everything we make we choose to make, and community is everything,” he said. “People here work really hard and do a lot of stuff outside. That’s part of the culture, and one of our biggest things that we can offer to tempt people to move here. But we also have all these great groups that share their information. That’s unlike a lot of gaming clusters in the world. You can meet with people in the gaming sector and ask for real numbers.”

For more information on HQ Vancouver, visit hqvancouver.ca/

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