Video Game Workforce and Emerging Indies in Montréal

We’ve been living through an ‘interesting’ few months in Montréal’s gaming industry. News of studio closings, slowdowns and acquisitions have come in successive waves and are indicative of fundamental changes happening in Montréal and in the video game industry, in general.

Sure, the news isn’t great for those employees who lost their jobs but the silver lining to this cloud is that there a number of other studios in Montreal ready to pick up the slack and rehire those employees. A recent post by the Montreal Gazette’s Jason Magder hints at this, relating the experience of Montreal’s Ludia that is now finding its groove in hiring talent, drawing from the pool of recently laid off game employees.

The upside and a sign of the maturity of Montreal’s game industry is that the multiple studios in the city have performed a tremendous task in attracting, training and recruiting talent to create a lasting, sustainable talent pool. This work, done in conjunction with educational institutions (the Centre NAD stands out in this regard as well as a large number of schools offering courses of study at both the college and university level) and through the efforts of companies to bring in talent from abroad (a special thanks must go out to Montreal International’s team of immigration professionals who have worked closely alongside these studios in this effort) has resulted in an industry that employs close to 9,000 people in the province of Quebec. According to an exhaustive study carried out by TechnoCompetences, Quebec’s video game workforce* grew at a rate of 9% in 2012. More telling is that almost three quarters of the video game companies polled were able to meet or surpass their hiring objectives for 2012.

If this growth is to continue sustained recruitment efforts will be required of all the players and, in many cases, realignment on new platforms. A significant challenge remains the emergence of a homegrown indie game development community. Montreal’s video game industry is dominated by large players (a telling statistic from the study mentioned in the preceding paragraph: 89% of the workforce is in companies with over 100 employees!) and, unfortunately, these studios depend on decisions and market forces that are out of their control.

Progress is being made. A growing indie scene has always been present but is getting stronger and attracting more visibility. A Montreal Game Studios Tumblr was recently set up to help centralize the names of and information on local game studios. Studios like Minority Media are making a name for themselves. Its game, Papo & Yo, was nominated for several awards at the recent Canadian Video Game Awards.

Finally, no article or post about the strength of Montreal’s game industry can go without mentioning the efforts that Jason, Alex and Keith have put into the creation of Execution Labs, a hybrid game incubator and accelerator. In a few short months, this space has contributed tremendously to make Montreal known on the indie development scene.

Sure, Montreal has a way to go to establish itself as a leading, sustainable indie game development city but the pieces are falling into place. The talent pool is large and skilled, incentives remain attractive and there is a critical mass of major studios. Continued supports from existing industry players, sensible regulatory decisions by governments and support (both financial and structural) will help lead to diversification and continued success.

* Quebec and Montreal are used interchangeably within the article but the state of the province and the city are similar. In total, Montreal accounts for approximately 80% of Quebec’s video game workforce.

Éric Kucharsky, Director ICT, Montréal International

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