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Game over for another Vancouver Video Game Studio with MGS Layoffs

The drain on Vancouver’s video game industry is quickly turning into a flood.

Four rounds of layoffs in as many weeks isn’t quite game over for local game developers, but their options are slimming — and fast.

“If studios are shutting down and others are scaling back, more and more people have fewer options,” said Matt Toner, a local game developer.

Toner will be seeking a provincial NDP nomination in the next election, a campaign largely based on turning around a declining local video game industry.

“Since 2009, it’s been a pretty steady slide downward,” Toner said.

The latest casualty are the staff at Microsoft Game Studios. Two teams were dumped with the closure of a pair of major projects Wednesday, flight simulator ‘Microsoft Flight,’ and ‘Project Columbia,’ a kids game developed for the controller-free Kinect.

The Yaletown-based studio declined to comment, however Toner believes 35 jobs were lost. A Microsoft spokesperson said the decision to cancel the projects is part of the “natural ebb and flow of our portfolio management,” adding they do not discuss layoffs.

On June 28, 89 jobs were axed when Activision shuttered Vancouver’s Radical Entertainment, a Vancouver-based game developer since 1991.

Shortly after, Rockstar cut 35 jobs when the Max Payne series developer pulled out of Vancouver, opting for a more tax-friendly location in Ontario.

Last week, Capcom Vancouver cut 20 jobs, adding into recent cutbacks at Electronic Arts and Ubisoft’s relocation to Toronto.

“The crisis isn’t that Microsoft laid off 20 or 30 people” Toner said, “The crisis is there’s no response to keep the talent here.”

This week, Dennis Chenard, director of industry relations at the Centre for Digital Media in Vancouver, was quoted saying the industry is still very strong locally. He added that major console systems such as Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 may be fading out, and suggested employment prospects will remain — but demand has shifted into visual effects in television and film.

But Toner said a competitive tax environment would save the industry locally, preventing a “drag and drop” restructuring of talent to the east coast.

Ontario offers a tax credit that covers 37.5 per cent of labour costs. B.C. credits 17.5 per cent of labour costs.

“BC doesn’t have to match out east, but they should try to come a bit close so that all the other factors that make BC a wonderful place can kick in.”

SOURCE: The Province Newspaper (Online), July 26 2012. Jeff Green