Game On

Imagine nearly 60,000 people from around the world, playing the same game at the same time, via the cloud.

That’s what happened this summer, thanks to the hype around Mass Effect: The Legendary Edition, the latest release in the famous video-game series from Edmonton’s BioWare studio.

The origin story of the contemporary video game industry in Alberta famously begins with BioWare, now one of the largest and most recognized video-game companies in the world, founded in Edmonton in 1995 and acquired by video-game giant Electronic Arts in 2007.

Contributing to its international status is BioWare’s headquarters in downtown Edmonton, the provincial capital located near the geographic centre of Alberta.

According to Calgary’s Video Games and Immersive Technology Strategy Final Report, BioWare’s presence has encouraged organic growth of the video game industry in Alberta. Included in that growth are both Alberta-born start-ups and big international players looking to open development studios in the province. These include virtual-reality company, Improbable, which opened its first office outside of the United Kingdom in Edmonton in 2018; United States-based New World Interactive opened offices in Calgary in 2019; and Bioware co-founder Trent Oster co-founded Beamdog in Edmonton in 2009 — a video game company that recently released Axis & Allies 1942 online and creates enhanced editions of classic Dungeons & Dragons games like Baldur’s Gate.

“Alberta is a special place for us, it holds a lot of history for Beamdog’s co-founders, Trent and Cam, who were part of the original team at BioWare,” says Kara Brown, Beamdog’s human resources director. “Alberta has some fantastic culture and landscapes, it has a lot to offer.”

Alberta has a small but active video game industry, and there is plenty of potential for growth with the right investments. Canada’s video games industry generated $3.6 billion in 2019, and directly contributed $2.6 billion to Canada’s GDP.

According to NewZoo research, video games generated $139 billion US in global revenue in 2018, making it the top entertainment industry in the world. While most video game companies in Canada operate in Quebec, British Columbia and Ontario, there is significant room for growth in the emerging areas of mobile, cloud and immersive gaming in Alberta.

The Virtual Reality and Augmented Reality markets are projected to surpass $65 billion US worldwide by 2023. In the past three years, Beamdog has grown from fewer than 20 employees to more than 80. Brown says creating a healthy workplace culture has been key to recruiting new employees. “It is important that when we speak about culture with our prospective employees, we really live it and make sure we find people who align with the ideals of where the company wants to go.” Beamdog also offers individualized professional supports and opportunities for employees to meet one-on-one with the CEO or COO. “We can give employees direct contact with our leadership team and with our leadership groups so that we make sure their voices are heard,” Brown says. “As a smaller company, that’s something we can offer that larger companies cannot.”

Since offering remote work options in March 2020, Brown says they have had success “engaging with talent and senior staff that we have never before had access to.” Though Beamdog will maintain some form of hybrid and remote work beyond the safety necessities of the pandemic, it will continue to encourage relocation to its Edmonton headquarters. “There’s nothing like having people in the room together to be able to get in that creative mode and form connections.”