CANADA SPECIAL: Ontario region

CANADA SPECIAL: Ontario region
Will Freeman

By Will Freeman

November 20th 2009 at 10:00AM

Develop speaks to Ontarioâ??s Minister of economic development and trade

Positioned in east-central Canada below the Hudson Bay, Ontario is Canada’s most populated province, and home to over 2,000 people employed in the video games industry.

Publisher Ubisoft now has presence in the region, and is joined numerous studios including Bedlam Games, Artech Studios, Magmic Games, Silicon Knights, Digital Extremes and March Entertainment.

Home to Canadian metropolis Toronto, Ontario is currently spearheading a drive to establish itself as one of northern America’s most significant games industry hubs, thanks to the efforts of government bodies like the Ministry of Economic Development and Trade, and fellow groups such as the Ontario Media Development Corporation.

Established for several decades, Ontario’s Ministry of Economic Development and Trade began to look seriously at the local game development community over two years ago.

“We recognised that if we could talk to the industry directly we’d get a very good clue as to what we’d need to do to help them grow,” reveals the Minister of economic development and trade Sandra Pupatello. “And that’s exactly what happened. We knew that after we’d met them we’d have a game plan that would create and environment around incentives that at least rival the other jurisdictions.”

Other territories across Canada offer infamously generous incentives and tax benefits, and Ontario’s Ministry’s Digital Media tax credits are no exception. But in order to compete, it’s become important to deliver a more rounded support structure.

That meant a focus on nurturing skills and attracting publishers that would both feed from and magnetise local talent. Ubisoft was the first major publisher to establish a presence in Ontario as a result, and subsequently the area has become more attractive to returning graduates and the developers that employ them.

“We knew that Ubisoft establishing a significant footprint in Ontario would in itself would help tell the story of what’s available,” enthuses Pupatello. “Why would Ubisoft come unless they knew that they were going to get absolutely the best talent? That’s what they’re finding here.”

As Pupatello suggests, competition between jurisdictions trying to offer the best tax breaks ‘can be a never-ending run’.

“At some point, governments are going to say: ‘Ok. Stop now.’ That’s why we have to consider that we have other alternatives for being the kind of jurisdiction people want to be in.” says Pupatello. “When we talked to people in the information communication technology sector they said their number one reason for being in any jurisdiction is talent.”

That means one thing: investments in education. One fund Ontario offers is the Video Game Prototype Initiative, which can offer $500,000 to help developers create market ready games. Furthermore, companies who work with an Ontario university can also be eligible for another 20 per cent of a refundable tax credit on production expenses. It’s programmes like these that keep the region’s post-secondary education system close to its industry.

“I want people to know that we’ve got a relentless pursuit ongoing, to continue to grow this industry,” concludes Pupatello.

“We’ve got the best corporate tax structure of any jurisdiction in North America. Companies who truly want to be global need a footprint in North America and we think Ontario is best launch pad for that.”

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Check back for the rest of this week when we'll be profiling key Ontario developers.