Dan Gunn

Digital video game industry booming in Greater Victoria

Success of GottaCon gaming conference underscores emerging economic boost to Capital Region

Forget liquefied natural gas – it’s the gaming industry that’s booming in Greater Victoria.

Last weekend’s GottaCon gaming conference at the Victoria Event Centre saw more than 3,000 attendees, hundreds more than expected by organizers.

“We’ve never received so much positive feedback from everyone, from sponsors to attendees to participating game studios,” said Evan Hatch, GottaCon co-owner.

Hatch attributed the success of this year’s event to support from the City of Victoria, which worked to lure the conference from Pearkes arena in Saanich. Affordable all-weekend parking, cheap eats from Fairmont Empress Hotel caterers and media and student events also helped boost interest, he said.

“The involvement of the video game industry was another huge one,” Hatch added.

“They really helped to legitimize our involvement and provided a lot of sponsorship and prizes.”

There are 19 gaming studios in Greater Victoria which employ more than 240 people, according to a white paper released by the Victoria Advanced Technology Council (VIATeC) at the launch of GottaCon.

Those studios pump $24 million into the local economy annually and represent a 600-per-cent increase in jobs since 2008, said Dan Gunn, VIATeC executive director.

“Our fastest-growing sub-sector in the tech industry is gaming,” he said. Two-thirds of studios plan to hire new grads this year, while nearly 70 per cent of recent hires are local graduates, Gunn added.

TinyMob Games is one of those local success stories. In less than a year, the studio has grown from three to 15 staff, thanks to $2 million in seed funding from local investors.

TinyMob is set to release its first mobile-platform game this spring to target the “mid-core” audience, said co-founder Chris Hoefgen.

“A mid-core game is somewhere between hardcore games for consoles and your casual games like puzzles or Bejewels on your phone,” he said.

Hoefgen said the growth of gaming on Facebook and mobile devices has transformed target audiences over the past five years.

“There are so many more people who are looking for experiences that aren’t from a background where they played Call of Duty or Starcraft of any of those games,” he said. “We want to find something that brings them a little closer to the bigger gaming world.”

Greater Victoria’s technology industry is valued at $3 billion and employs about 15,000 people, according to VIATeC.

Students jump at tech work placements

The proliferation of local gaming studios is providing enviable opportunity for high school students as well.

While studios are already accepting individual work placement students,  Eric Jordan, CEO of DJArts Games, is spearheading a program that will give 250 to 300 high school students work placements by the end of 2014.

“It’s part of inspiring those students and part of making it real so they realize what it’s like to do this everyday,” Jordan said.

Students sign up at vicvideogames.com and are selected by lottery for work placements at DJArts Games, Gamehouse, InLight Entertainment, TinyMob Games or RaceRocks 3D Inc.

The program meets all provincial high school graduation requirements for work placement or volunteer hours.

See more at vicvideogames.com.

VIATeC purchases downtown digs

The Victoria Advanced Technology Council (VIATeC) is moving downtown after it purchased a building in the 700-block of Fort St.

The 15,000 square-foot, four-storey building known as Deans Block will get a $600,000 renovation before it opens later this year, said Dan Gunn, VIATeC executive director.

The building will house VIATeC’s startup accelerator program, which has worked with more than 50 companies in the last two years to raise $9 million in investments.

The space will be rebranded as Fort Tectoria, a nod to the region’s continued growth as a technology hub.

dpalmer@vicnews.com

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