Level Up

When BioWare launched in 1995, Alberta’s interactive digital media industry was in its infancy and there were just a handful of studios in the province. The Edmonton-based video game developer rose to prominence with the global success of a few blockbuster games and was purchased in 2007 by Electronic Arts Inc. – a giant in the video game industry that is headquartered in California and earned more than $5 billion in 2018 with operations and sales around the world.

Now, thanks to a new provincial tax credit, more software developers in Alberta are hoping to take their game to the next level. In March 2018, the Alberta government revealed plans for an Interactive Digital Media Tax Credit, giving developers in the province a 25 percent refundable tax credit on labour costs.

“We’re looking at Alberta and saying, ‘it’s worth investing here,’” says Trent Oster, CEO of Beamdog, a game development studio based in Edmonton. “We’re going to go for it. We’re going to go big and we’re going to succeed in Alberta, because they’re behind us.”

Beamdog has published Enhanced Editions of popular roleplaying games, such as Neverwinter Nights, Baldur’s Gate, 
Planescape: Torment, and Icewind Dale, that add new content to the original versions of the games. Some of these games were first released by BioWare, where both Oster and his partner Cameron Tofer previously worked.

Beamdog’s story started with two employees in 2009. By June 2018, it had grown to around 24. Then, the ranks began to expand rapidly and, in five months, the company almost doubled its staff. Oster chalks up the latest wave of hiring directly to the new tax credit, noting that 90 percent of Beamdog’s operating costs are salaries.

“It demonstrates at least an awareness of the potential we can bring to the local economy,” says Oster, who was part of the group that consulted with the government to develop the tax credit.

Alberta is also a great place to run a video game company, Oster says, because of passionate, talented programmers graduating from the University of Alberta and the University of Calgary.

Oster believes the next two to three years will be a “wild and crazy time” for Beamdog as they continue to grow and push out new products. But that growth likely won’t be limited to just his company.

“I think we’ll see a good selection of studios of pretty decent size around here. I think we’ll have a pretty decent game development scene inside the next two years,” he says.