Q&A: Public Funding in Canada?

Silicon Knights X-Men: Destiny was bad. I don't have a joke. It's just terrible.
Silicon Knights X-Men: Destiny was bad. I don't have a joke. It's just terrible.

I received this note from GB User @celegorm_menegroth:

I'd really like to see some follow-up work in regards to your most recent article on these points:

a) Canada had a similar program of providing funding for games ... and then along came Silicon Knights and that whole debacle. Was any money from the Canadian government actually used in settlements of lawsuits? How did that entire episode effect Canadian game developers and the grants they receive? Does UbiSoft Montreal ( or other studios in Montreal, of which there are apparently several ) use the same grant system, even though they are a huge AAA studio? Does the money going to these large studios help or harm other smaller Canadian development, even through a "trickle-down" effect where by creating a favorable environment for games development in Montreal a concentration of talent now resides there?

b) What does the resulting fallout from 38 Studios and their dealings with the government of Rhode Island say about this issue, and what are the chances of other state-level governments giving lucrative incentives in light of what the Gov. of Rhode Island says was a loss for his state?

I thought the article was good ... but could have gone a lot deeper and cast a slightly wider net to take into account studios and issues that we are more familiar with ( and in the case of 38 Studios was a contender for GiantBomb's "News Story of the Year" during GOTY discussions at the time ).


Hey Keto!

If you're interested in the specifics of the Silicon Knights case, Polygon's Brian Crecente breaks it down really well here. The long and short is: Silicon Knights successfully applied for a number of different government grants over a period of a few years. They used that money to hire people and run the studio. Then, they successfully applied for additional funding from another gov't source, the ODMC. But once stuff started falling apart at SK, the ODMC stopped their funding payments. That's how this should work, and mostly it's how it does work: The organizations who grant the funds set up milestones and other requirements, and if the recipient of the funds fails to meet those, the funding ceases.

But the specific funds that SK used didn't stop over that studio's failure. In fact, the ODMC has since gone on to fund London, Ontario based Digital Extremes, whose Warframe has been pretty damned successful. Beyond that, Canada has multiple other programs that support game development. Quebec has initiatives that help to pay the salaries of employees at studios like Eidos and Ubisoft Montreal, and other provinces have similar programs. And there are other roles the gov't has played, like paying to hold events where private interests can meet and make business arrangements together.

It's hard to know specifically how these incentives and funding programs have affected smaller developers, but if you go read the Gamasutra piece I linked to in the initial article, you'll see that the quoted devs pretty much all say that the funding mechanisms for AAA studios aren't scaled in a way that makes them accessible for independent studios. But there is also a history of smaller devs receiving support from the Canadian Media Fund and the Rogers New Media Fund offer independent creators partial funding for their projects.

The fact of these things is that cases like SK and 38 Studios make the news, while successful cases of these programs rarely do. So it's easy to think the whole endeavor is fucked when really it's just a few really bad cases, while in fact any analysis of a funding program (let alone the entire concept of public arts funding) requires a lot more than a single case study. So I'm with you: We need longer form pieces investigating this. But at the same time, public funding for games (like films, music, writing, and other art forms) is already here, so we need to start talking about it. I wanted to get that ball rolling while still tying it to a relevant news story. For the most part, I think I managed that.