Why video games matter to Canada

CBCNews.ca has launched an excellent series of articles and videos called “Pushing Buttons,” covering the history and future of video games in Canada, and why we should pay attention to this field. One article that really stands out is Peter Nowak’s “Respawned: How video games revitalize cities.” He details how video game developers are a fresh source of community redevelopment because of the investment dollars they bring to often downtrodden neighbourhoods.

For example, he opens his article by mentioning how Ubisoft’s purchase of an old textile factory in Montreal’s Mile End neighbourhood began gentrifying an otherwise decrepit section of the city:

Over the past decade, though, things have changed. Mile End is now gentrified, condos have taken over, shops have moved upscale and rents have gone up, making it one of the more desirable parts of the city to live in. The area used to be home to low-income artists and immigrants, but it’s now the place to be for Montreal’s young, well-paid professionals.

At the epicentre of this transformation, in an old four-story textile building on the corner of Boulevard St. Laurent and Rue Saint Viateur, is Ubisoft Montreal, the main Canadian arm of the Paris-based video game publisher.

The floorboards creak as you walk on them, but make no mistake — the building houses cutting-edge technology that has been used to create such hit games as Assassin’s Creed and Splinter Cell.

Since its founding in 1997, the studio has driven the area’s revitalization by employing a steadily growing number of designers, engineers and artists, many of whom moved into Mile End and parked their big salaries there.

“Thirteen years ago, Mile End was just emptiness,” says Alain Tascan, a co-founder of the studio who is now vice-president and general manager of Ubisoft Montreal’s main rival, EA Montreal. “If you visit the place now, it’s so vivid, so lively.”

Nowak exposes the huge impact video games have on Canada’s economy; we’re the number three country in terms of people employed in the field (the U.S. and Japan are one and two, respectively); video games generate $2 billion in yearly revenue, of which $1.7 billion is reinvested in Canada; the average employee earns $68,000; and now video games are even creating interprovincial competition for investment dollars, as Emily Chung reports.

It’s a really great, well-written series; you can check it all out here.