CANADA RISING: Nova Scotia

CANADA RISING: Nova Scotia

By Stuart Richardson

November 15th 2010 at 8:00AM

Develop concludes its comprehensive exploration into the thriving Canadian industry

The south-eastern province of Nova Scotia is a beautiful and enchanting corner of Canada. Currently wrapped in a blanket of oranges as autumn grips the region, its rolling hills and dense woodland paint a vision of rural bliss.

Even the most heaving towns have a placid charm, and there is open space in an abundance that will be somewhat alien to those entrenched in Europe’s packed cities.

Yet Nova Scotia is no rustic backwater. Its urban spaces have a youthful, cosmopolitan feel, and across the cities and towns a development sector is cementing its reputation, gaining momentum and expanding ambitiously.

It may not yet rival the likes of Ontario and Québec in terms of industry headcount, but Nova Scotia appears to be booming. The provincial government’s Digital Media Tax Breaks are well established, and a number of trade bodies such as Nova Scotia Business Inc work tirelessly to assist developers of all sizes.

“The support that is in place in Nova Scotia has allowed the development industry to ride out the transition of the last couple of years and we have been able to keep the number of people employed that we have,” explains Alastair Jarvis, studio head at HB Studios’ main office in the town of Lunenberg. “It would have been a very different story without the tax credit in place.”

“We’ve got – and still get – a big support from NBSI,” adds states Estelle Jaquemard, general manager at Longtail Studios, which has expanded from Québec to set up a space in Halifax, the provincial capital that is just under six-hours plane flight from the UK.

“They’ve been working with Longtail for a few years now and propose to companies like us a payroll rebate. They work also with the financial minister to define the multimedia credit. On another level, for someone like me who is new here, they provide a lot of advice and contacts when I need specific services.

“NSBI also provides aggressive assistance to the industry with labour rebates, hiring incentives and as a lobbyist for significant labour tax credits from provincial government,” states Willie Stevenson, founder of Silverback Productions, which is based in a fashionable neighboured in Halifax.

“The organisation also provides critical
networking between game companies, educational institutions and industry representatives globally.

A way of life

Tax breaks and trade bodies are one thing, but neither of those attributes are unique to Nova Scotia. Spend some time with the province’s developers though, and you’ll hear much about a way of life that Nova Scotian’s seem to feel is the region’s strongest asset.

“Nova Scotia brings a style of life that is attractive to many of our employees,” says Wes Gould, division manager of branded browser gaming specialist TheREDspace. “Nova Scotia is definitely a place where you can feel comfortable moving your family to. This works well for us, because the clients we work for are some of the best in the world.”

Gould is not alone in highlighting plenty of other advantages that bolster Nova Scotia’s culture and environment as a powerful recruitment tool, from short commute times and a low cost of living to friendly maritime and an economy that leaves plenty of disposable income
There’s also a strong sense that the Nova Scotian development industry is increasing it’s potency and size with a newfound energy.

“It’s early days here in Nova Scotia, but I think it is true that, particularly in the last couple of years, the development industry in the region is gaining momentum,”
suggests Jarvis.

“We’ll hopefully see an IGDA chapter set up here, and other ways of mentoring and supporting new developers. That what was great about Toronto about five years ago, and that’s what we need here.”

To succeed, however, a provincial industry with a global view needs a balanced ecosystem. While Nova Scotia makes for a very tempting proposition for those looking to move to a new country for a better life, it still needs local talent and resource to remain sustainable. Fortunately, the area’s industry and educational establishments are forming a union that should prove beneficial to all.

A learning experience

“Many educational institutions here recognise the potential of the video game business and tailor their programs accordingly,” confirms Stevenson. “This is true both on the technical and programming side and the artistic side.”

To that end, Nova Scotia’s Acadia University has been working with local studios to offer a course that can serve as a valuable asset to the province’s develop industry.

“We’ve had such great interest from the Nova Scotia industry, from people like NSBI, and students in the area. It seemed like a natural course to offer Nova Scotia,” says Daniel Silver, associate professor and director of the university’s Computer Science department, which now offers a game development specialisation at degree level.

“A lot of our previous students have found themselves working at places like HB Studios. The word that we’re getting from these companies is that in the area of programming they want good, core knowledge, and the quality of our existing programmes here has always provided that. But there were things missing around the periphery missing, and that’s why we consulted with HB and others. We have our alumni links to thank.”

Tough times
Despite the collective effort of government, industry and academia, there are of course challenges for Nova Scotia. As a smaller region on the rise, Nova Scotia must compete for visibility of the province in Canada and in Europe. Attracting staff and companies remains an ongoing effort.

“Canada now has an international reputation as the best place for the video game industry. So, it facilitates the recruitment,” says and upbeat Jaquemard, but she highlights the fact that Nova Scotia’s strength can be its weakness.

Good studios and a good education system create great talent, but it is talent that can be tempted by a move to another province.

“The talent pool is growing quickly but is nowhere near what one would find in Montréal, Vancouver or Austin Texas,” suggests Stevenson.

“Manning-up for projects requires HR departments casting a wide net. It’s expensive and risky. Established talent might view Nova Scotia as a backwater and fear leaving more established epicentres of the video gaming industry.”

Nova Scotia’s people are hardy though, and the mutually supportive system of industry, education and government puts the area in good stead to rise as one of Canada’s strongest development hubs.

On top of that, there is an admirable strength of community that sees local studios talk of one another with fondness, and sometimes go as far as staff sharing.

“We have a sense of community with every game studio we have met,” concludes Matthew Doucette of two-man Nova Scotia indie Xona.

“There are little to no friendly rivalries. There is a lot of respect that floats around effortlessly. We believe we can do ‘our’ games better than other developers, and I am sure it is visa versa.”

With that kind of spirit, Nova Scotia has little to worry about.