The growth of the global video game industry continues to outpace many traditional industries. The ability to develop local talent and draw people in from around the world has helped spark the development and growth of a number of gaming companies in the Edmonton metro region.
“Video gaming is a truly diverse industry,” says Trent Oster, chief executive officer and co-founder of Beamdog, one of the largest game studios in Alberta. “We are a strong exporter, and we’re diversified — 95 plus percent of our sales are outside of Canada,” he says, explaining that they’ve sold games to people in all but two countries.
The Edmonton-based company of close to 60 people is known for remastering popular role-playing games like Baldur’s Gate and Planescape: Torment for desktop and tablets.
“The gameplay itself, the length, the hard coded rules … is the same. Everything around that is changed: how it plays sound, how it sets up the video screen, how it displays graphics, how it does everything,” Oster says.
And it’s paid off — Baldur’s Gate is so popular that it has been translated into 19 languages.
“We actually did a Turkish version by working with people in Turkey out of the fan community. They helped us translate it and get the game represented there,” Oster says.
Beamdog is currently actively developing its own original game and there are about half a dozen other potential concepts the team is working through.
According to GamesIndustry.biz, the global games market was valued at close to $150 billion by the end of 2019 and is poised for continued growth. Oster worries about how the provincial government’s move to remove the Interactive Digital Media Tax Credit and the Alberta Investor Tax Credit will affect game studios in Alberta, but thinks the industry as a whole is still poised for continued success.
“It’s currently one of the largest forms of entertainment on the planet … the potential for growth is unimaginable. It’s going to be feeding so many other industries going forward,” says Oster.
Oster views working in game development as “a gateway” to the augmented reality and artificial intelligence industries. Especially in artificial intelligence, the Edmonton metro region has a significant competitive advantage. The University of Alberta ranks among the top five institutions in the world for AI research, is a national leader in high performance computing, and the Alberta Machine Intelligence Institute (Amii) is helping turn that expertise into practical industry applications – including in the gaming industry.
“If you look at fields that require a lot of concentration on high performance computing, performant code, user interface and user attraction optimization — video games is right in the mix,” says Oster.
He explains that the skills his team has in visualizing and interacting with large datasets will be invaluable for the next generation of AR and AI companies.
“You put augmented reality plus artificial intelligence together and we’re going to be able to do amazing things with computers,” Oster says.
“I can’t imagine an industry that won’t be impacted by it.”