Canadian Video Game Developers Had a Historic 2017

Many eager players are sure to unwrap a few video games this holiday season—digitally or physically. But what those happy gamers may not realize is some of the best games this year have distinctly Canadian origins.

The video game industry in Canada has a massive impact on the country’s economic output. A Nordicity study released this year indicated that video games drive the tech sector for Canada and that studios and developers have created 21,700 direct full-time jobs and contributed $3.7 billion to Canada’s GDP in 2017, a 24 per cent increase from 2015.

Canada had a major impact on the video game sector this year, often in the areas of art direction, graphics, and AAA development. Take a read through some of the biggest studios, developers and publishers in the country and what games put them on the map this year.

StudioMDHR (Oakville, Ont.)

If the name Cuphead isn’t familiar to someone, then it’s probably because they either hate fun or hate video games—or maybe both. StudioMDHR developed Cuphead over several years, and the hard work paid off. The game took home a slew of accolades from the Video Game Awards this year, including Best Independent Game, Best Debut Indie Game, and Best Art Direction.

Cuphead has sold over two million copies in the three months since release, which is all the more rewarding to StudioMDHR founders Chad and Jared Moldenhauer, who at one point had to remortgage their house to continue working on the game. Cuphead features 1930s style graphics, big band orchestras and 2D side-scrolling action, all combining to near-perfect reviews from the biggest video game outlets out there.

The game was almost entirely drawn by hand then digitally filled in, creating an art style unlike anything seen in video games. A video below details the often-painstaking process of animating everything in the game.

StudioMDHR also got a shout out from Prime Minister Trudeau; if that isn’t enough, then what is?

Ubisoft (Montreal, Que. and Toronto, Ont.)

A name synonymous with gamers everywhere, Ubisoft hardly needs an introduction. But 2017 was still a special year for the France-founded company, as their Montreal and Toronto outposts released two of the most popular games of the year.

Both Assassins Creed Origins (AC:O) and For Honor are products of Ubisoft’s Canadian counterparts, and both games scored rave reviews. AC:O helped to revive a franchise that had been growing relatively stagnant, while For Honor revolutionized what a multiplayer action game could do.

Two big releases would be enough for Ubisoft to show off their Canadian talent, but the company pledged to inject $780 million into Quebec with the hiring of more than 1,000 new employees and two brand new offices. The company also announced it will be continuing its Indie Series, where small game studios can win up to $50,000.

Hinterland Studio (Cumberland, B.C.)

A game called The Long Dark is probably a good indicator of what it’s like to be in Canada in December, but this Hinterland Studio release was more than just a homage to the frigid north. The game, released widely in mid-2017, puts the player in the shoes of a pilot who must survive a crash landing in Northern Canada.

long dark

Minimalist graphics mixed with survival-style gameplay took the player on a journey that led the game to receive great reviews, cementing Hinterland Studio as a name in the Canadian video game industry that will be remembered for years to come.

Prodigy Game (Burlington, Ont.)

While 1930s cup-shaped superheroes, assassins, and downed bush pilots are fun, sometimes using games to learn is just as important as using them for leisure. Prodigy Game had an amazing 2017 teaching students all around the world about math through their online platform.

Prodigy has over one million daily players, and half of all elementary and middle schoolers in North America (24 million!) are registered in the game. Prodigy saw over 1,100 per cent growth over the past two years and sat in ninth place on PROFIT’s 50 fastest-growing new companies in Canada.

Relic Entertainment (Vancouver, B.C.)

Relic released Warhammer 40,000: Dawn of War III this year as a continuation of the popular Warhammer series. The game received good reviews and helped keep Relic as one of the top Canadian game developers.

However, the biggest announcement involving this Vancouver studio might have come when Microsoft unveiled that Relic would be developing the fourth installment for the widely loved and critically acclaimed series Age of Empires. When it releases, it will undoubtedly be one of the biggest games of the year and Relic will be catapulted into the limelight.

Bioware (Edmonton, Alta.)

One of the stalwarts of Canada’s video game industry, Bioware is the company behind the Mass Effect series, one of the greatest video game trilogies in recent history. The company released Mass Effect: Andromeda this year, and though it was tough to live up to the standards the company set for itself, the game did well with fans of the original.

Electronic Arts (Burnaby, B.C.) and Motive (Montreal, Que.)

EA is perhaps the most well-known game developer in the world, and it’s 1,300 person office in Burnaby keeps chugging along. Though the publisher is based in the U.S., the Canadian outpost helps to produce EA Sports titles, from FIFA to NHL to Madden. These games come out every year and sell millions of copies, delighting sports fans across the world. In fact, the FIFA series continues to be one of the highest-selling game series of all time.

Motive, an independent studio operated by EA, had a hand in one of the most controversial yet massive games of the year. The Montreal developer helped to make Star Wars Battlefront II, a game that was criticized for its inclusion and reliance upon microtransactions. Despite the backlash from fans, the game received pretty good reviews, and anytime a Canadian studio can get involved in a licensed Star Wars production, it’s good news.