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Canada’s video game industry is proving to be pandemic-resistant by powering the economy and keeping us entertained and connected.

If you’ve played video games, chances are many of them were developed in one of Canada’s 700 video game stu­dios. The gaming industry in Canada is huge — $4.5 billion huge. That’s the contribution to the country’s GDP and it employs almost 50,000 people directly and indirectly.

“Per capita, Canada is one of the strong­est spaces for video game development in the world and stands among some of the other top developers in the space including the U.S. and Japan,” says Jayson Hilchie, President and CEO of the Entertainment Software Association of Canada.  “This is an incredible story. It means we’ve got a national champion industry, and one that is capable of meeting the challenges of remote work, scalability, and a digital economy.”

Accelerating digital transformation

Like no other event before it, the pandemic has accelerated the digital transformation of our work and personal lives. The video game industry boomed during the pandemic because game developers could easily work remotely and a digital marketplace foundation already existed, where game makers could sell their products online without having to worry about storefronts and physical products.  

“Prior to the pandemic, digital sales of video games hovered around 40 percent, but that has now doubled,” says Hilchie. “While there’s still some uncertainty post-pandemic, the innovation that’s coming out of the game industry will continue to power our digital transformation.”

Next-level success

It’s not luck that has made Canada one of the world’s premier developers of video games. The winning combination is industry dedication and a support­ive government policy environment that creates space for success. Some of the best creative and technical gaming talent globally is here. This includes domestic talent as well as bright minds from around the world who understand Canada’s reputation in video game develop­ment and seek out employment here.

“We wouldn’t be where we are without intelligent, world-class government policies such as the Canada Media Fund and the federal government’s Global Talent Stream program, competitively placing Canada among other top countries around the world,” says Hilchie. “As a result of integrated conversations fostering spaces for success, the video game industry is a solution to many challenges in society, including good employment opportunities for young people and economic growth in digital exports.”

Maintaining connection through games

COVID-19 reminded us of our need for social connection. And when we couldn’t be together in person, we quickly found connections with family and friends through video games. The video game industry understands the critical role of keeping Canadians connected and since the beginning of the pandemic has provided a much-needed space to reunite virtually. For Gameloft Montreal, providing free content to its players in over 35 games to help connect and bring joy to players dealing with the challenges of isolation was at the forefront of how they wanted to support Canadians.

Playing video games has quickly become an essential activity for those looking to be entertained and keep in touch with friends and family, which is why studios around the world have mobilized accordingly – Matthieu Dupont, Studio Manager, Gameloft Montreal

A recent study by NPD Group Canada indicated that 58 percent of adult video game players were spending more time playing during the pandemic and 80 per­cent of teens spent more time playing games with their friends. Perhaps more sur­prising is that almost two thirds of adults and 78 percent of teens reported improved mental health from playing video games. 

The gaming industry in Canada is vibrant and dynamic, with huge growth potential. But continued success depends on a pipe­line of homegrown talent. Hilchie believes we need a rethink of our education system, so young people have foundational skills in computer science before they go on to post-secondary programs, much like we do for other sciences and math. 

“The time for awareness is over; we know what we need to do,” says Hilchie. “All levels of government need to be involved in developing a coordinated approach that trains young people in computational learning.”

And forget that stereotype of the lonely game developer toiling away in a darkened basement, jobs in the video game industry are as diverse as the games produced. Aside from computer programmers, engineers, and digital and creative artists, there’s also a need for project managers, historians, accountants, and marketers. “If you love video games, there’s enormous opportunity in Canada to build a fulfilling, lucrative career,” says Hilchie.

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