When Ubisoft set up a studio in Toronto last July, Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty stood in front of a giant flat screen TV displaying graphics from Assassin’s Creed II.
The game was developed in Canada by the type of “creative minds” Ontario needs, he said, undaunted that taxpayers would be subsidizing violent games through the new interactive digital media tax credit. But the release of another new game has prompted anger from at least one politician. In Medal of Honor, players can don the persona of a Taliban fighter and shoot American soldiers. “I find it wrong to have anyone, children in particular, playing the role of the Taliban,” said Defence Minister Peter MacKay.
Although this game was developed in Los Angeles, it’s caused war veterans to question Canada’s highly subsidized video game industry. Medal of Honor was created by Electronic Arts, a company whose Canadian arm benefits from provincial subsidies like B.C.’s digital media tax credit. Provincial competition for gamer jobs started when Quebec enticed French software giant Ubisoft to Montreal in 1997. Ontario began aggressively courting the industry in 2009 with a program covering 40 per cent of labour, marketing and distribution costs. In February, B.C. increased its labour credit from 15 per cent to 17.5 per cent.
Experts say the recent controversy is unlikely to reduce sales or government support. Tirtha Dhar, a marketing expert at the University of British Columbia, points to the controversy over the game Grand Theft Auto, which was partially developed in Canada. In one version, players could have sex with hookers (a feature that was removed after complaints). “The controversy actually helped sales,” says Dhar, who notes that it was followed by the recent jumps in provincial subsidies.
Danielle Parr, the director of the Entertainment Software Association of Canada, says she isn’t worried about backlash from Medal of Honor. For the government, she says, “it’s a matter of investing in an industry that’s creating high-paying jobs,” noting that violent television is supported too. Dhar agrees: “Every year some politician or some group will make a lot of noise, but it never really hurts the industry.”