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14th September 2011

Those Are My Friends You Are Insulting, Mr. Brown

Yesterday MacLean’s published an article titled Grand Theft Tax Break, written by Jesse Brown. This article, as you can guess by the title, was a disparaging piece about the tax credits and incentives received by the video game industry in certain regions of Canada.

I am going to overlook for a moment the entire tax incentives debate, mainly because I am not a developer or studio owner and I’m not a policy wonk – there are simply too many areas of the incentives program that I don’t entirely understand, so it’s best to skirt around that issue for now and get to what really got my dander up in that article. I will also overlook the inherent problems within the industry itself, because like any other industry in this country, there are work-life balance issues that need to be dealt with, but they don’t really come fully into play here.

I have to wonder what Mr. Brown has against the game industry, or if he has any friends who work in game development. If that article had been about an ethnic group or any type of visible minority, it never would have been published containing the insults and general slurs it does. It is one thing to be angry about something the industry receives, it is another to wipe a wide brush of insult across those who work in the industry. If the article was in any way meant to be a satirical rebuttal of the New York Times article Mr. Brown uses as reference, in my opinion the author fell far short of his mark.Surely in his tenure as a television host on publicly funded television stations Mr. Brown has had occasion to meet people who work in the game development industry. Surely he must be aware that while many of them do sport beards and are thus unshaven, and many do wear T-shirts with funny sayings (by the way, Mr. Brown, the shirt in your example wasn’t really that funny, there are far better ones out there), people who work in video games are some of the smartest, artistic and most creative people I have met – and many of them could easily grace the covers of fashion magazines for men and women. They come from all walks of life, and from many disciplines – from human resource specialists to the minute-detail oriented computer programmers and digital artists.

These people – to whom Mr. Brown referred to as “code monkeys” and “grunts” are my friends, and it is these “grunts” who help to bring entire worlds to life, whether it is in an adventure – and sneakily educational – game like Assassin’s Creed, or an educational game that is sneakily fun like those coming out of Vivity Labs’ Fit Brains – all of them are built on top of a foundation built from computer code. Even the military relies on “grunts” to get things done, and done well, Mr. Brown.

Yes, there is always the danger of this highly mobile industry picking up and leaving Canada for another part of the world that offers better financial gains. However, when that happens, there will be many spin-off studios and projects begun by those left behind, just like there have been every time a studio has shuttered its doors. These new projects and studios can then in turn take advantage of the many funds, incentives and resources available to the video game industry as they grow and develop, maturing into successful dens of employment and creativity.

What Mr. Brown neglected to mention was the number of incentives and grants available to other industries, such as natural resources. What about the handouts that were afforded to the automotive industry? Aren’t they deserving of your ire? Because we all know that companies in those sectors have never shut down and left the country, have they, Mr. Brown.

It’s a shame that Mr. Brown can’t see beyond the heavily tinted glasses he must have worn when he wrote that editorial piece, because he would know that the game he used as his example of how seedy the video game industry is, wasn’t even made in Canada. Surely you could have found a better, home-grown example to use, like, oh, I don’t know, Bully? Or did that hit a bit close to home for you – what with your penchant for name-calling, and all.

It’s also a shame that Mr. Brown also couldn’t see what huge successes the video game industry in Canada has attained and sustained. Canadian made video games are among the top-selling franchises in the world – FIFA, NHL, SSX, Assassin’s Creed, Mass Effect, Splinter Cell, Dragon Age,  Dawn of War, Prototype, Ghostbusters, Army of Two, X-Men, Spider Man, the latest Deus Ex title, Human Revolution – all from Canadian studios. One of the most highly anticipated open-world RPG games is coming from a Canadian studio as well – Funcom’s Montreal studio will soon be unleashing The Secret World upon the gamers of the globe – and these titles are just a few drops in a very big bucket of Canadian-developed games.

There are countless game components for “foreign” titles which have also been “outsourced” to Canadian studios. These include world objects, multi-player components, music, voice-overs, audio, Q & A and even localization – yes, that’s right, Mr. Brown – we have Canadian companies and Canadian talent who can provide for any part of a game, no matter how minute that part may be. Companies from outside of Canada want to work with Canadian developers. They come here seeking project partnerships, and it’s not just the possibility of tax incentives, because those “outsiders” are working with companies in provinces that do not offer provincial incentives as well as with those who do. They come here for the talent and work ethic, Mr. Brown.

Speaking of a mobile industry – Canada is also a leading developer of mobile entertainment. Were you aware of that? The same can be said for social games, casual games and serious games. How many games on your mobile device were made in Canada, Mr. Brown? Do you know which ones were? Unless your mobile device is a no-fun zone and is purely for productivity, chances are there is a game on it that was made in this country. Even if you don’t have any mobile games, there’s a good possibility that some of those mobile productivity apps you may have were made in Canada and could even have been anchored in game technology and come from a studio that may have received some type of government funding or incentive. Oh, the horror.

Yes, that’s right, Mr. Brown. Game technology isn’t only useful in games. It’s useful in the development of many, many other products. You have games to thank for the high performance curve of your computing devices, because without the need for faster processing protocols for game content, your computer might not be as fast as it is today, or the graphical interface providing the rich, high quality visuals it does. Are you aware, Mr. Brown, of how much of that technology was developed in Canada? How about the software that helps develop those games – do you know how much of it has been developed in our fine country? Just like many other large industry sectors in this country, there are a myriad of support industries developing the products needed to create these great works of art – and yes, I went there. Video games and art in the same sentence.

Are you also aware, Mr. Brown, of how supportive the video game industry is of education? Not just of our children, but also of adults. Literacy programs, science programs, history, math, the military, search and rescue, fire fighting, even the tow industry – all are beneficiaries of game technology. Even space technology, which you use as an example of a sector more deserving of funding – is a beneficiary of game technology. Let’s also not forget that medicine, too, has gained from the research and development done for video games. Some students are the recipients of scholarships whose funding comes from the video game industry. How many children have developed a keen sense of “like” for math, physics and computer engineering because they wanted to know how something was done in a video game – even though they may apply that knowledge in a career not related to game development? How many people have gotten back on the fitness track because of a video game that was most likely also made in Canada?

How many museums and libraries are now incorporating game technology to better engage young people in the wonders of our world? How many television and film productions harness the power and attraction of games and their technology to engage viewers? How about the cross-over technology between television, film, games and special effects development.  Let’s also not forget industry sectors like architectural design, product prototyping for the manufacturing sector, geological research and visualization, brand engagement for consumers and the engagement of employees in the work place. Yes, that’s right. Game technology. A sustainable, clean and green resource upon which to build a lucrative future in technological development across all industry sectors in any corner of the country.

So, Mr. Brown, before you fire your guns of insult and disparagement at the people who work in the Canadian video game industry, perhaps you should look at the benefits those incentive and funds afford our country. Incentives may have their own list of problems, but those problems apply to any industry which benefits from tax incentives and public funds, not just video games.

The video game industry does not just take of the incentives and funds, Mr. Brown. It gives back in spades. So some of the big publishers have been attracted to BC, Ontario or Quebec because of the incentives offered by their respective governments, and at some point in the future they may choose to leave. So what? While they’re here, they will employ people to find the perfect location for their new studio, they will employ tradespeople to outfit the studios, they will employ technicians to wire the studios, and then they will hire people to run the studio’s administrative support systems and develop their games.

Those hires, who may have been found via a Canadian-based employment service, will have money in their pockets, they will contribute to the municipal, provincial and federal tax coffers,  they will contribute to industry, they will spend money in their neighbourhood stores, and they will be productive members of society. Their families will attend local schools, visit local libraries and museums, eat out in local restaurants, enjoy local cultural and community events and see shows in local theatres – ones that may be equipped with those very cool “full immersion” theatre seats developed D-Box Technology in – yes, Canada.

Game developers and members of the support staff participate in conferences and expos – thereby supporting the travel, tourism and hospitality industries. They speak on panels, they share their knowledge, they mentor young people, they write books, they publish white papers, they create video tutorials and documentaries – they actively engage, entertain and educate, just like the products they develop.

So you see, Mr. Brown, even the dark cloud of video game tax credits and incentives has a silver lining.


This entry was posted on Wednesday, September 14th, 2011 at 9:34 am and is filed under Editorials, Game Dev, National News. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

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