Should Canadian Tax Dollars Help Developers at GDC?

Norma Rossler, the CFO of Blot Interactive, is a Toronto native currently in San Francisco with members of her Blot team. They’re joining the ranks of countless foreign game developers currently in California for the Game Developers Conference or GDC for short. “Our current game, which is Chat Fu, is a Facebook game,” Norma explained as we discussed what her studio is working on. “The one that we’re developing is a 3D Sony game. We’ll be exploring the underwater world with our next game PlanktOs.”

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To ensure a high level of quality for PlanktOs, Norma and her team decided to head to GDC to exchange best practices and new ideas. “Yesterday there was a large conversation that I took part in with regards to the monetization of ‘freemium’ games. I also took part in discussions on advertising, user acquisitions, and we have a programmer who’s attending very technical sessions in regards to procedurally generated environments. That’s a very technical industry driven opportunity for him. If we were not at GDC he would have to learn that through experimentation, or find a contact. Whereas [GDC] gives him a chance to advance in an area we need him too.”

I can’t think of a person who would argue against improving one’s self, but we should be asking ourselves, as Canadian tax payers, if it is happening in a cost-effective way. This is because the Government of Canada and Telefilm (a federal crown corporation) are using tax payer dollars and other government funds to make our maple syrupy presence felt in the Golden State. Topping the government’s list of expenses is the fact that they rented out the 5

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floor of the luxurious InterContinental Hotel in San Francisco. This is so that Canadian developers had an informal meeting space where, according to Norma Rossler, developers can bump into each other and start conversations. This is a noble goal, but wouldn’t it be better for our country to cut the government’s support in half and move these Canadians to the Montreal International Game Summit or another a similar event on Canadian soil?

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Norma’s response to that is 95%.  That’s the percentage of Chat Fu users who are foreign nationals sending money into Canada through Blot Interactive’s Facebook game. “The great thing about the videogame industry in Canada is that we bring in these excellent jobs.” Norma continued, “but the important thing is the money that supports it actually comes from outside of Canada. The majority of our users are external to our country, so the support of the videogame industry in Canada is phenomenally good for our economy.”

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It’s sometimes easy for people who see gaming as a hobby, or even childish, to forget that it is a worldwide business that has constantly outperformed the movie and music industries in recent years.  Information technology research company Gartner Inc. puts the worldwide sales figure of the videogame industry in the area of $93 billion in 2013, and they expect it to climb to $111 billion by 2015 (here is the link to Gartner’s sales figure claims http://www.gartner.com/newsroom/id/2614915).

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Yes, it would be easier on our tax dollars to only support developers staying on Canadian soil, but how do we get games on foreign store shelves through isolation? We need to be on the international stage first, and then we can compete on it. GDC sounds like a great place for developers to learn new ideas from around the world, but with everyone in one place it’s also a cost effective way for the Canadian government to put our citizens in touch with the movers and shakers of the development world. “There is fantastic support from the Canadian government and also from the Ontario Digital Media Corporation, Telefilm, and the Canadian Trade Ministers,” Norma said from the conference floor. “They organize sessions for us to take part in with regards to international business and exporting our products to other countries: China, Taiwan, and the United States. They also organize meetings for us. We have meetings with Microsoft, DnA, a lot of different publishers.”

Norma also told me that she and her team have taken the time to discuss game development with people from France, Israel, Germany, and pretty much anyone else who would stop and talk. As a tax payer I am happy to hear this since Norma told me that our Canadian developers have a bit of an edge right now, “The foreign countries see us as leading the way in innovation. For example, Blot Interactive has received funding 2 years in a row, through a competition through the Canadian Media Fund, which is weighted by innovation of the project; so I think the international teams see us as paving the future in gaming. From what I hear and see of other Canadian developers, we don’t tend to like to follow what is the Candy Crush of the season. We truly want to pave our own new path.”