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Anthony Gurr

Graduate student Anthony Gurr sends a warning to the videogame industry.

Vancouver’s videogame industry in need of a power-up

December 3, 2009

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Vancouver’s high-profile video game industry is at a crossroads, warns Anthony Gurr, a master’s student in education technology.

Gurr, who’s been involved in the industry for more than 20 years as a game designer, teacher and now researcher, has been in news media saying that industry has to adapt to the growing tendency of game consumers to buy and play games on smart phones such as the iPhone, rather than traditional game consoles such as the Sony PlayStation.

He points to recent layoffs and studio closings by the local game industry, most recently Electronic Arts’ announcement in November of 1,500 layoffs, including many of the people working at its Burnaby campus, as a sign of the industry’s increasing troubles.

Though the industry traditionally goes through boom and bust cycles, this time it’s different, he says, because of the iPhone.

"There are 21,000 game and entertainment apps available for the iPhone and iPod Touch, versus 3,600 Nintendo DS titles." As an example, to buy Electronic Arts’ Madden NFL football game for the PlayStation means a trip to the store and an outlay of $44.95, but it can be purchased and downloaded immediately on the iPhone for $9.99.

Gurr says the local industry is also being hurt by the Canadian dollar’s high value versus its American counterpart and by the lack of government support.

"When you look at British Columbia, we are really weak. All we offer is a 15-per-cent tax credit for computer animation and visual effects.

Manitoba is offering a 40-per-cent credit to new media companies and Quebec is aggressively courting and working with the video game industry to the extent that they’re helping to fund the development of a college for game developers."

Gurr sees signs of hope for the local game industry though. The industry is talking to the B.C. government about the tax credit issue. And he points to a growing number of local independent game developers and studios creating games for mobile platforms such as the iPhone or casual games that can be played online. "The game industry is like a roller coaster," he says. "It has a lot of incredibly breath-taking highs and some really gut-wrenching lows."

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Cody Watson

iPhone? Is that the best excuse that the industry can come up with? There is hardly any evidence that the number or price of titles would be dramatically affecting traditional players in an industry with such rapid growth as this. Their are micro-level issues behind a lot of this change that both companies and industries tend to underestimate.

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