Arrival of new player seen as win for a videogame hub that remains soft on hard business skills
BY JENNY WAGLER, BIV
The arrival of a new videogame industry dealmaker in Vancouver is being viewed as a vote of confidence in the local industry – and a source of potential opportunities for local companies.
California-based Interactive Studio Management (ISM), which represents independent game developers in business transactions, launched a one-man Vancouver office in January. ISM’s new Vancouver agent is Sean Murch, who was previously in charge of central development for EA Sports.
Murch said ISM helps its videogame developer clients land both work-for-hire service contracts and publishing distribution deals for their own properties.
Howard Donaldson, president of the Digital Media and Wireless Association of BC (DigiBC), called Vancouver’s new ISM presence “very positive news” for Vancouver’s videogame hub.
“[Murch] is likely to attract publishing deals here, which will be good,” Donaldson said. “He could place these anywhere, but because he’s here in Vancouver it gives Vancouver an edge up on placing deals here.”
Donaldson said the focus of Vancouver’s videogame industry has shifted in recent years as jobs at large console-based game makers have disappeared and smaller companies have formed to service the mobile and social videogame sectors.
“I think it’s an opportunity, but it’s a tougher place to compete.”
Donaldson added that some of Vancouver’s game companies might be too small and underfunded to survive.
He said the shift to smaller company structures has required more business expertise in the industry.
“I think a lot of our talent underestimates the business skills that are required to be successful,” he said. “Our people are generally good at product development. I’d say less so on marketing strategies and promotion and even business development.”
Given those challenges, Donaldson said, ISM’s arrival is particularly welcome. He said Vancouver has one other videogame agent in town, representing Toronto-based Birthplace Inc.
Why did ISM pick Vancouver?
“Vancouver is just a global hotbed and hub for game development,” Murch said. “We felt that it was being underserved by the existing agents that operate in this space.”
He said that while Vancouver’s gaming industry still faces competitive challenges and has lost some studios – Ubisoft recently closed its Vancouver operation – Microsoft Game Studios’ Vancouver and Victoria locations are growing.
Murch said Vancouver’s overall videogame industry is not shrinking. He added that studios are opting to expand or contract depending on what they’re trying to accomplish in Vancouver.
“If they’re just looking for lowest possible costs of production regardless of quality or genre – then, yeah, certainly there’s going to be places globally that are cheaper to do business,” he said.
“But we have such a mature, qualified talent base here in Vancouver, and often in our industry, quality will persevere over cost.”
Donaldson said Vancouver’s videogame industry is healthier than it was a year ago.
“We’re still growing, but we could be growing quite a bit more,” he said, referencing the more positive tax credit regimes in Quebec and Ontario.
Murch said ISM won’t be signing new deals with local companies right away.
“ISM has experienced quite a bit of success and growth so at this particular time, we’ve got a full plate,” he said. “But within the next six to eight months, we’ll be looking to bring on additional clients – and at that time we’ll start talking more to the folks that we already have great relationships with here locally.”
First published in Business in Vancouver, issue 1168.