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Canadian video game sector thrived through pandemic, but came out changed

Most Canadian game companies have successfully navigated the pandemic, but today’s industry looks a little different than it did in 2019

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Most Canadian video game companies have successfully weathered the pandemic, but it’s a changed industry, according to research conducted by the Entertainment Software Association of Canada (ESAC).


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The Canadian Game Industry, 2021 , the lobbying group’s biennial study of the state of the Canadian video game industry, conducted by Nordicity, found that while the sector has continued to steadily grow over the last couple of years – Canada’s 937 active game companies reported revenue of $4.2 billion in 2021, up 20 per cent compared to 2019 – COVID-19 still had a noticeable impact on operations.

Nearly 60 per cent of Canadian companies have seen a drop in worker productivity during the pandemic, with larger studios reporting a bigger impact than smaller.

Studios with 100 or more employees – accounting for three quarters or of all full-time game workers – were forced to move from a model that saw 97 per cent of staff working within an office to virtually 100 per cent working from home during the pandemic

ESAC Report: The Canadian Video Game Industry, 2021

Larger companies have also seen the greatest disruption to their workflow and processes. Studios with 100 or more employees – accounting for three quarters of all full-time game workers in the country – were forced to move from a model that saw 97 per cent of staff working within an office to virtually 100 per cent working from home during the pandemic.


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Companies with fewer than five employees, meanwhile, where least impacted, since 80 per cent of those workers were already used to either working from home or working in a shared space as needed.

  1. Three executives quit Ubisoft after sexual misconduct, abuse accusations

  2. Canadians are playing more video games to stay connected and entertained during COVID-19

  3. Man playing a video game.

    Canada’s game industry is booming, but not all provinces are made equal

Where things get really interesting, though, is that the survey found larger companies seem to be changing based on what they learned is possible during the pandemic. The poll suggests that as the pandemic ebbs, some 88 per cent of workers at larger game companies will have the opportunity to continue to enjoy new hybrid systems that allow for flexibility between office time and remote work. What’s more, nearly a third of large game companies said they intend to reduce office space, and 44 per cent of companies switching to a hybrid model say that they won’t impose geographical restrictions on staff.


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The upshot would seem to be this: Post-pandemic, many game industry workers can expect more and potentially better opportunities regardless of where they live, as well as an improved work/life balance with less commuting and more flexible schedules. Someone with the right skills in British Columbia will have a better chance of finding a job with a company in Ontario or Quebec – no relocation needed.

And they can expect to be paid a bit more, too. In 2019, the average game industry staffer made $75,900, a number that has grown four per cent to $78,600 in 2021 – about $24,000 more than the Canadian median salary across all industries. This increase is modest compared to inflation, but makes sense given that of the roughly 32,000 full-time equivalent jobs in Canada’s game industry, the greatest growth over the last two years has been in junior and intermediate roles.


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It seems, though, that Canadian companies still need to do better when it comes to diversity – especially in employing women. Women account for just 23 per cent of industry employees, up four per cent since 2019. This growth rate puts gender parity nearly 15 years away. Even then, the survey notes many women working at larger companies aren’t in game-making but rather business-focused roles.

The lack of women entering the game industry probably shouldn’t come as a shock, though, given stories reporting sexual misconduct and toxic work environments at major Canadian studios, including Ubisoft Montreal, where there was a shakeup of senior staff after allegations arose last year.

From a purely financial perspective, however, the outlook for Canada’s game industry appears good. The sector is now contributing $5.5 billion per year to the GDP, up 23 per cent since 2019.

This continued and sustained growth, according to ESAC chief executive officer Jayson Hilchie, can be attributed, at least in part, to a “secret sauce” that combines Canada’s competitive labour costs with a highly trained and capable workforce.

“We bring Canadian talent and Canadian stories to the world stage,” said Hilchie in a statement. “With 84 per cent of our sales to foreign markets, driving billions of dollars of revenue and supporting tens of thousands of good jobs, it’s safe to say our industry is making a global impact.”


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