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What are the ingredients necessary to turn a region into a hub for great game development? That’s a good question, and it’s an economic gold mine for any region that figures it out since games have become a $90 billion industry, according to tech advisor Digi-Capital.

That question isn’t so different from why Silicon Valley became a great hub for technology. AnnaLee Saxenian, a professor at the University of California at Berkeley, studied that question way back in 1994 in her book Regional Advantage: Culture and Competition in Silicon Valley and Route 128. She noted that Silicon Valley beat out Boston as a tech region in part because it embraced a better business model. While Route 128’s corporations in Massachusetts were vertically integrated computer companies such as Digital Equipment Corp., Silicon Valley had more startups that embraced a horizontal model, where each startup (such as Intel) made a different piece of the product stack. That turned out to be in the winning strategy in the emerging PC era.

I thought about that comparison as I traveled the world the past couple of years. San Francisco remains strong as a game hub, but other regions have emerged around the U.S. as well, with a total of more than 1,600 companies across the U.S. Canada, by comparison, has 472 active game studios across cities such as Montreal, Toronto, and Vancouver. And while some regions are strong, others have emerged because the world is flat. That is, the conditions are ripe because of mobile games for studios to emerge anywhere, including in Siberia — as evidenced by one 100-person studio, MyTona.

We held a breakfast at the Game Developers Conference with people from around the world to talk about this topic. I led the discussion along with Kent Wakeford, the chief operating officer at Kabam. Sponsored by the Invest in Canada group, the event drew 20 leaders of game companies from around the globe to discuss the trends that are determining why some regions are strong and others weak. Here’s an edited transcript of our conversation.


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Kent Wakeford, Dean Takahashi, and Brandon Lee.

Above: Kent Wakeford, Dean Takahashi, and Brandon Lee.

Image Credit: VentureBeat

Brandon Lee: I’m the new consul general of Canada here. This is my territory. I arrived four months ago, so this is my first GDC. It’s a great time. I’m looking forward to it. We have a great Canadian team here. The purpose for this breakfast is to see what we can do better. Canada has a vibrant gaming industry. It’s the third-largest country in the world for game development. We have more than 20,000 gaming professionals and almost 500 studios. You were saying, in the U.S. the estimate is 1600 game studios. A country one-tenth the size of the U.S. has almost a third of what’s happening in the U.S. You can see we’re definitely punching well above our weight. These 500 companies contribute almost $3 billion to the Canadian economy.

Regional Advantage by Annalee Saxenian studied the rise of Silicon Valley over Boston.

Above: Regional Advantage by AnnaLee Saxenian studied the rise of Silicon Valley over Boston.

Image Credit: Annalee Saxenian

Coming from startups, looking at the ICT and all the other sectors I’ve been speaking with, it’s world-class talent that we have in Canada. Which is why we’re doing so well. The Canadian dollar obviously helps. But we have world-class talent. We have small boutique shops to go along with the large corporations helping us. We have game development, artwork, audio, motion capture, digital visual effects, the entire range. We can offer the breadth of services at 25 percent of the overall cost compared to the U.S. When you look at the whole G7, your total production costs, we’re the cheapest in the entire G7 to run a gaming company.

Dean Takahashi: Kent Wakeford, the CEO of Kabam, and I will start this discussion. We have an international group here by design because I’ve been curious about this subject. What makes a game region very strong? I’ve had a chance to travel the world because I’m covering games and gaming has become a global business. I went to MIGS, the conference in Montreal, last November. It’s one more place that put into my head this question of, what’s a good place to make games and why? 

One of the more interesting stories is these two brothers here from Siberia. I met them in Israel at Casual Connect. They started growing up in a very cold place where they couldn’t go outside, so they played a lot of games when they were young, and then they started making games. By their 15th game they made, they had a hit in the hidden-object space — 30 million downloads, and now they have 100 people working for them in Siberia. Canada has some competition over there, then.

That’s the first question I throw out to Kent: If this can happen in Siberia, can’t it happen everywhere? Why would you think that gaming could be strong in a region versus gaming just happening anywhere?

Kent Wakeford: Do I think games can be made anywhere? Absolutely. Innovation can come anywhere.We’ll see a few kids build the next Flappy Bird and get 100 million downloads. But that’s very different from building a company, especially a company in today’s mobile gaming market.Kabam’s had a long evolution. It ties very much into talent and people and clusters. We started making Facebook apps way back when, nine-ish years ago. We needed to be here. We needed to pull talent who understood the social graph. Same with Terence and Zynga. You needed people who understood the viral mechanics, who understood social, who understood the behavior happening in this quickly evolving market. And so you saw these social gaming companies in Europe as well, but with a big hub here in the Bay Area. We were drawing talent from Facebook and the social channels. That became an underlying foundation.

You’ve seen, at least for the examples of Kabam and Zynga and others, this evolution, where we went from pure Facebook gaming toward two things happening. One was the evolution of free-to-play and trying to understand deep free-to-play systems. We looked east. We looked at Asia and opened an office in Beijing to try to pull talent who understood free-to-play systems.

The other aspect is that games, whether they’re social or mobile, the consumer expectation from a fidelity and gameplay and visual wow factor standpoint is increasing exponentially. From the very early days of the first Zynga games to where they are now—The talent you need today is very different.

You’re looking for deeper expertise in 3D graphics and motion capture. You also need to be able to run a business where you can find talent and keep talent. So do I think games will come from anywhere? Yes. We’ll continue to be amazed by innovation in places. But the great businesses in the space will evolve in the big clusters of talent around the world.

Alexey Ushnisky (left) , CEO of MyTona, and his twin brother Afanasiy Ushnisky, chief operating officer.

Above: Alexey Ushnisky (left), the CEO of MyTona, and his twin brother Afanasiy Ushnisky, the company’s chief operating officer.

Image Credit: Dean Takahashi

Takahashi: When you’re picking a space, are there advantages or disadvantages that matter close to you?

Wakeford: Yes, there are. It all comes down to talent and people. If you look around the world, San Francisco’s known as a hub of gaming. But within the U.S. you have Los Angeles and Austin. Canada is clearly up there – Vancouver, Toronto, Montreal. Then you move to Europe and Asia. For us, as we think about opening offices, we very much look for talent. We have an office in San Francisco, an office in Los Angeles – a great, triple-A team, all ex-EA. We have an amazing team in Vancouver is growing. When we opened it was about 35 people. Now it’s 120 and we’ll probably grow it to 180. But once again, all ex-EA, high fidelity, rich graphics, great ability to pull people together. We have an office in Austin, and then Beijing is another hub for us as we continue to look at what’s happening in Asia from a big-play perspective.

So yes, we go to where the hubs of people are, the hubs of talent. That’s where we’ve been opening offices.

Takahashi: The advantage and disadvantage is not static. It’s historically driven in some ways. Regional Advantage is a book on Amazon by AnnaLee Saxenian. She’s a Berkeley professor. It came out in the 1990s. She had this interesting observation about how Silicon Valley beat Boston because of a disruption in the computing business. As the PC came out, it was a horizontal industry. People like Microsoft and IBM made different layers of the stack. In Boston, they had the old model of vertically integrated companies, like DEC. Boston didn’t change with the times. It stayed a region of large vertical companies. Silicon Valley had all the startups that built these layers. Intel was another one. 

Silicon Valley won as a region just because of this moment in time where the right people figured out the right idea about where the business would go. That’s another interesting thing to me about why some regions of the world are strong in gaming now, and why some may be slipping.

In some ways, San Francisco and Silicon Valley are slipping from having such a large amount of control over the game industry in the past. I don’t know if you have thoughts there.

Wakeford: You see the globalization, especially in mobile gaming. If you talk about VR, that’s a new open dimension. But in mobile gaming, any of us who look at the top charts see this rise of the Asian game companies dominating the mobile game charts. It’s an interesting dynamic. But I still believe that within mobile, in the western world you still have a much more traditional concentration around hubs of traditional video game development. Whether it’s San Francisco, Canada, Vancouver, Seattle, or Los Angeles.

When you see disruption, that shakeup enables new companies to emerge. When we think about what’s next in our space, thinking about VR, I don’t know where the epicenter of VR will be. I see the level of investment being made here, and I also see an even greater level of investment being made in Asia. VR is going to be an interesting question. Where does that power center lie? That will play out over the next couple of years.

GamesBeat breakfast crowd at GDC 2016.

Above: GamesBeat breakfast crowd at GDC 2016.

Image Credit: Megan Pulver

Takahashi: Finance has a lot to do with it too, I guess? It’s not an accident that a lot of the unicorns are here. The money flowing in is here on Sand Hill Road and San Francisco.

Other: Also, the platforms are here. When you think about getting into the larger bandwidth—Apple, Facebook, and Google are all here.

Wakeford: That’s a good point. When I think about a business, it’s not just making great games. That’s the heart of the business, but you also have to have distribution. You need the relationships with the platforms. You have to advertise. Where do you have the talent that knows how to run performance marketing at scale? As we get into the new world of TV commercials, you need talent. You need to be able to make commercials, to buy media.

You’re seeing, as this industry matures, there are new skill sets required. Whether it’s San Francisco or Los Angeles or throughout Europe, to have a business that’s sustainable, you need talent that can support all these different aspects of the business.

Takahashi: The platform companies are spreading out as well. Apple has something like 1,000 people in Israel doing R&D. A lot of people expect their next big thing to come out of Israel. The platforms, in some ways, give a region an advantage, but they also spread themselves around the world. 

Wakeford: They do. Apple, and so does Google—They have people in every region around the world. We need employees in Europe thinking about media. We have people on the ground in Asia. We have to grow as the platforms grow. It’s becoming global. But I also think there are unique advantages to certain territories. India, people have talked a lot about India. As someone who’s been at Zynga and other  companies, you’ve said that India is an interesting place because of the shift. How are you thinking about India?

Atul Bagga: India is eventually going to be huge. Right now, gaming is very small, but if you look at the development in all parts of India, it’s growing exponentially. Three years ago, there were maybe five million smartphones. Now there are 50 million. The funny thing is, right now the smartphone penetration in India is mostly concentrated in the top-tier cities. In those cities, people have income. Gaming is not in the top 10. But as the value proposition starts to move to the second- and third-tier cities, that’s where people start to have options with their time. Mobile phones are going there. We’ve seen what happened in China. When the value proposition started to build in the lower-tier cities in China, the gaming market grew. The same is going to happen in India. It’s still very small, but it’s getting to a point where in the next two or three years, it’s going to be a very interesting market.

Takahashi: Jens Begemann, the CEO of Wooga, is from Berlin, which is a very interesting place right now. It has six times the area of London and half the people. Costs are an advantage there.

Jens Begemann: That’s true. Berlin, after unification, has become a key startup hub in Europe. A lot of the industry is there – Berlin is the capital of Germany – but none of the large corporations are there. Costs were very low and lots of startups emerged. Now the biggest commerce company in Europe is based in Berlin. It’s just seven years old. There are lots of small startups and game companies. For games, Europe is not concentrated in one city. The talent is moving from one city to another. Europe is small enough—If you think of Berlin, every European city is just two hours away from there by plane.

Supercell is in Helsinki, King in Stockholm and London, Wooga in Berlin. The talent can move from one place to another. It doesn’t concentrate in one city. Europe is becoming one big area from a talent perspective. We have lots of talent coming from Silicon Valley. They want to spend five years in Europe, working in the game industry there, and they’re not particular about what city they go to. That’s been a very interesting development.

Jeferson Valadares of Bandai Namco: I’m originally from Brazil, so I’ve faced what he’s talking about. That’s one of the disadvantages of the U.S. I always wanted to go to the U.S., but it was very hard to get here. Europe’s very easy. In Europe you could move around inside, to Finland and other places.

Begemann: Yes, we have very free immigration. We’re spread around three nations, even though we’re based in Germany. More than half of our people are from outside Germany. Within six weeks we can gather work anywhere around the company, no matter where somebody’s from. That’s an advantage.

Google Play is bringing a ton of changes for game developers.

Above: Google Play is bringing a ton of changes for game developers.

Image Credit: Supercell

Takahashi: Helsinki is very interesting as an epicenter of mobile games right now, with Rovio and Supercell and a bunch of startups. A good thing for them, and maybe for Canada and Montreal, is that you can’t invent this overnight. You can’t just will it in into being or just put some money out there. Those guys got started in the 1980s in mobile games. Supercell went to the same group that spawned a lot of mobile game creators. They were decades ahead of their time. When the market arrived, they had all the veteran people — everybody trained to make mobile games. It’s not an accident, I think, that they have such a lead now.

Montreal has that history in 3D animation. Ubisoft has been there for so long. Those are advantages that newcomers can’t create just like that.

Wakeford: That goes to a key point, which is, where you’re seeing these clusters are often the spin-offs of successful companies. Other companies have spawned innovation as people leave. You see it with  Zynga. Zynga executives have left to start their own companies. Folks have left Rovio to start their own companies. Supercell is such a small company, but eventually you’ll see it. People will spin out of Supercell and get investment and create new companies. Once these hubs flourish, you see them sprout new companies.

Terence Fung has been leading an evolution at Storm8, going toward more sophisticated and deeper gameplay, pulling in great talent. Where do you think about talent and pulling new people from?

Terence Fung: At Storm8, we’ve always been a little different in the market. We wanted to create more games that met a certain quality bar. We never tried to create the next Infinity Blade or Monument Valley, which are all phenomenal games. For us it was important to recognize that we were focused on the network, more at the programming level. We knew that users would drop off after a certain amount of time and figured out what type of content the user would want to play next. We’re focused on all the typical metrics of retention, but that being said, we know the user will drop off, so what will the user play after that?

We’ve launched more than 45 games since we were founded in 2009. Today we see the areas we’ve naturally evolved in, which are arcade casual, simulation style games, and social casino, which leans slightly female. For us, I use a metaphor of—There will be studios coming out creating movie-quality content in mobile games. You see the evolution of the movie industry, which is coming out with sequel after sequel based on a formula.

For us, we’re still in the mode that—We might not have the largest aspirations, but I’d look at the Bravo network, for anyone who watches reality TV. The Bravo network has a real hodgepodge of content, but I’d argue that Bravo as a network—Strategically they have a pretty focused road map. They know that in a world of content which is very challenging, they have a recipe relative to AMC – which is a phenomenally valuable network thanks to Walking Dead and Breaking Bad and so on – there was no synergy between, say, Walking Dead and Mad Men. AMC made a call to take more of a risk. They were bold and took on content that no one would take on. Now, what world are we in? Netflix is competing for that. Showtime is competing for that. Back to what Kent said, everything is about talent. For Storm8, what makes the bay area so strong for free-to-play games is particularly the product management talent for live ops. When I spent time at Zynga – I joined when it was close to 3500 people – we looked at everything from engineering talent to art talent to the game director. But when it came down to it–Canada was the one glaring area for Zynga, where I always wanted a studio, but it was about the leadership and product management, which were areas that were lacking.

Invest in Canada breakfast

Above: Invest in Canada breakfast

Image Credit: Megan Pulver

Takahashi: Zynga’s rapid rise also probably wouldn’t have been possible if EA wasn’t faltering at the time. They laid off a few thousand people. It’s an interesting competition between two companies there, making for some interesting dynamics in the San Francisco area. L.A. and San Francisco as regions have competed for a long time as well. EA’s eye may have been on Activision at the time when Zynga was rising.

Wakeford: To keep the conversation going, Jon Radoff of Disruptor Beam is an interesting example of building a cluster slightly outside of what people normally think about. What have you been experiencing?

Jon Radoff: We’re based in Boston, but we’ve brought people from all over the world to work with us. Boston as a region has a tradition of MMORPG development with companies like Turbine. A lot of the  expertise in creating deep, long-term engagement was there, if not necessarily in free-to-play. We’ve brought a lot of Canadians into Boston, which is maybe not what you want, but that’s worked well for us. Historically Boston’s challenge is that it’s a region that’s phenomenally good at starting companies.

Facebook was started in Cambridge. It didn’t stay there for a variety of reasons. Getting to scale has always been the hard thing in the Boston community. The thing that’s been changing, though, is a lot of regional specialization around digital marketing. You have companies like Fiksu and Datazoo, a lot of people in the area building up that skill set. As we’ve been building our own in-house marketing competency, we’ve been able to mine the local region a lot more than we expected.

Boston is emerging for a lot of reasons as a good region for building a product company. We’re seeing some companies like Mayfair getting to serious scale in the Boston region. But no doubt, historically Boston has been a challenging region to build consumer tech companies to scale. Part of it was investors in the area. You had DEC years ago and other semiconductor companies. The area’s good at that. But we’ve been the exception to the rule for a lot of reasons. 80 percent of our investors are from the Boston area, instead of the west coast.

You can build a company in any market in the world. You mentioned Siberia. Nobody would have thought Helsinki was a really obvious location for a game company up until a few years ago. Now it is. These are companies that could have found success anywhere.

Wakeford: I’d throw out another thing we’ve fought with for years, and I know Zynga has fought with as well, which is the idea of employee retention. Having a company based in San Francisco is a tough place. Our retention is much better in Canada and Austin than in San Francisco. Our engineers are being poached all the time – not just by Zynga, but by Facebook, Twitter, and all the newest startups coming along. San Francisco is hard. You guys did a lot of poaching – half of EA moved over – but—

Fung: Even at Storm8, when we look at the competition in the market, we’re challenged by being a private company. When our engineers are getting poached by Facebook—People are gravitating toward a company that’s a little safer, whether it’s Facebook or Unity or Google or Apple. Even when we were at Zynga, that was one of the key reasons for expansion to other offices. One, can we find creative leadership and talent that can give us the content pipeline we need to build at Zynga? But the other was retention, being able to scale and keep people.

You see that with Facebook and Google and Apple, the reason why they have massive offices in places like Tel Aviv or other areas. It’s a talent issue.

Emma Roberts is stirring up the community in Covet Fashion.

Above: Emma Roberts is stirring up the community in Covet Fashion.

Image Credit: Crowdstar

Takahashi: Jeff Tseng is CEO of CrowdStar. Do you have everybody here in San Francisco?

Jeff Tseng: Yes, we do.

Takahashi: The question for you is, have you benefited from keeping everyone in one place? What do you think about that versus having people who can be spread around the world?

Tseng: You just talked about the retention issue. For us, I believe that our company’s strength is around our mission and our culture. Something like 8 percent of our employees have left and decided to come back because they feel like the grass wasn’t greener. Ex-employees come out and hang out at our office all the time.

For that kind of thing, my take has been that I don’t like people working remotely, but it’s something that we’re exploring now in terms of talent. For now I would say we want to keep things together. It’s a very family-oriented company. That’s been a big priority for us.

Takahashi: I’m curious about Japan. Where you think Japan is on the global stage of making games?

Mikihiro Yasuda of DeNa: The needs of the industry are different, and the games are different. It’s the same in China. When it comes to things like card battle elements and RPG elements, the programming is different. IP can be a bigger factor. Puzzle games feature some different game types, but they’re largely the same.

Peter Fabiano of Capcom: If I could add to that, I work for Capcom Japan. Acquisition is very difficult for Japanese studios because the culture is so different. Not only the Japanese culture, but game culture is very different. The first challenge we have is, if we’re going to have global talent—The common talent in Japanese companies is Japanese. So you already have to struggle with the fact that communication is going to be an issue. You need to hire people from worldwide.

We’re finding that people do want to work for a Japanese company, especially a company that has strong intellectual property, which is understandable. That can be interesting from the talent side and the creative side. But then you have the challenge of having them work with internal devs. We do have an advantage on that side with the IP we hold internally, but it’s a challenge to keep people.

Yasuda: I pretty much agree about talent acquisition. As far as gameplay, we’ve been successful with our platform. We acquired Ngmoco and tried to copy the success of their platform strategy in the U.S., but that failed. Now we’re focusing more on independent native apps. We still try to apply the kind of gacha mechanism that we’ve had success with, but players here are different.

Takahashi: That’s an interesting topic, the question of targeting consumers in different regions. It seems like very few companies have been successful at that, especially going from West to East or East to West.

Tseng: That’s been very interesting for us. If you’re not familiar with our title, it’s a fashion title. The difference is that it’s more of a platform. 95 percent of the content you’re playing is new all the time. It’s not like level one is level one. We have these huge content teams. Opening up local content teams is something we’re seriously considering, because our content needs to be so localized.

Takahashi: You can’t create that in San Francisco?

Tseng: No, you can’t. This is what you see. Most U.S. games going east or east games going west, the cultural sensitivity issue is huge. You need that leadership being run by people who are local.

Kim Ahlström from King: We continue to struggle with that issue. We’ve opened up offices all over. We’re one of the few companies that’s so global that it’s tough for us at a management level. We constantly have to struggle. Every third or fourth week we’re on the road managing all the different studios we have. But when it comes to stuff in Asia, can it be done in San Francisco and other world regions? Yes, but only very few have done it. Supercell is one good example. But when you talk to those guys, you realize how much time they spend out there. I have people working on Asia from San Francisco, but they probably spend more time there than I do understanding what truly works in the market.

At some point – we all go through this and we all struggle – how much localization and customization do you want to do for a region without breaking the global game? That’s where we continue to struggle at King. You have to make a decision and say, “My game is what it is at a global level. I’m going to try to make it work here.” Or you say, “This region is worth a certain amount of investment, so I’m going to invest in it in a way where I may have to branch the global game.”

The core game doesn’t change. You might have some local customization, where art or character or story needs to be built on top of the game. That’s what we’re doing in China now. We started a studio in Shanghai. We’re actively recruiting. We’re up to seven people now, and we’re trying to get to 20 by the end of the year. We think we’ve finally cracked making our game work for that particular country.

The crowd at ChinaJoy 2015.

Above: The crowd at ChinaJoy 2015.

Image Credit: Dean Takahashi

Takahashi: We’ve heard about things like cultural fit. This question usually doesn’t come up by region, but diversity is a value in the game industry as well. People want more of it. They believe that the products coming from diverse teams tend to be better. But when you think about it on a regional level, how does diversity work into that?

Asra Rasheed of Disney: It’s been challenging. When you think about it on a regional level, it’s very challenging. On a global level it’s very challenging. The meaning of diversity is different everywhere. It’s different on the east coast versus the west coast. At Disney that’s been a key driver for us, making sure we start from there at the core. At the moment our efforts are focused on expanding our teams, the people who create games from a storytelling perspective.

The good news is we’re catering to an audience that’s predominantly female, that has a family and children. We’ve made a very big transition from who we’ve hired in terms of diversity, and you’re seeing that in a lot of our products. Regionally, when we focus on the United States, we know the market. It’s about knowing the consumer. It’s been a challenge for us, though, as we expand.

A lot of it is going to come from hiring local teams who understand their culture and the requirements of the consumer. We’re always very consumer-focused, just like everyone else is. We do have to monetize our games, but it’s very deeply entrenched in storytelling. We work with a lot of studios in Canada, and that’s been wonderful. North America works for us. Everything else has been more challenging as far as expansion.

Wakeford: One question we haven’t asked yet is about the idea of cost. There was a point of time, for us, where we looked at costs. We looked at Austin and decided the talent base was less. At one point Beijing was a lot less, but it’s since ridiculously gone up in price. In Vancouver there were some subsidies when we started. That was a benefit. Our CFO loves looking at costs, of course. But I can’t say it’s a determining factor in how we think.

We think about talent. Terence brought up a great point about leadership. Even if you have great talent, you have to have a leader as well. But I’ll open it up to everyone else. Is cost a big factor in your decision-making?

Fung: At Zynga we had our India office, which at one point in time—Our CTO had a very strong team out there, so from a leadership perspective there was a tie back to the San Francisco area. We could get a trusted leader into the office, and then over time, that office gained enough trust within the San Francisco office to start growing and building products. But that product was primarily core tech related, and then they moved on to doing live ops. We spent a lot of time on that area trying to push it to new IP, and the office just wasn’t good enough.

Eventually they did do some new IP, but overall the historical look back on that office—It did save some money, but over the long haul, did we really need to have that office? That’s still a major question. That’s over a seven-year time frame that we can look back and have those insights, though. It was the right decision at the right time, and things change.

Amazon Lumberyard and Twitch at GDC 2016.

Above: Amazon Lumberyard and Twitch at GDC 2016.

Image Credit: Jordan Novet/VentureBeat

Radoff: The real cost is not necessarily the per-headcount cost, which I think is what you’re talking about when it comes to price for a region. The real cost is, how do you scale up an operation in a region with a unified culture and a high degree of institutional memory that’s valuable for keeping the kind of product successes you’ve enjoyed earlier? It’s not immediately obvious that simply locating in regions with an eye toward the cost of labor is a good way to accomplish that. There’s a lot of taxes in the abstract sense – the leadership tax, the institutional memory tax you pay to grow anywhere that’s outside your main operation.

Valadares: It’s very tempting to just look at the numbers and think, okay, we’ll have an office there. There’s a lot of other costs involved. Usually these cheap locations also have hidden costs of doing business there. When you look at companies that have major global offices, they usually came about because they had somebody they trusted there, and then they gave him a little opportunity to start off, and somehow it just worked.

That also brings up the fact that a lot of these regions are war zones. The founder of one game company doesn’t go back there because he knows he can be arrested as soon as he steps on the ground. He can be taken hostage and forced to pay money. The Ukraine is a war zone right now. There are a lot of things to think about in other regions.

Wakeford: Here’s a softball to our Canadian hosts. You guys have talent, with decades of great game companies in Canada, but a lot of that has been spurred by subsidies and tax advantages that Canada provides. As you think about recruiting any of us to open up more offices in Canada, how are you thinking about that?

Lee: I’m ramping up as well in the gaming sector, and it’s been fascinating. But when we look at the startup scene writ large, the first is always talent. You need the right team and the right people to succeed. There, our Canadian talent pool is our strongest selling point. The language barrier doesn’t really exist. In fact I’d say that Canadian culture is a strength. Canadians are generally more open-minded, more flexible, better at working in teams.

The biggest thing there, which was mentioned before, is loyalty. When you have people staying with you for seven years, you can really build a strong foundation. Second, because the culture in Canada isn’t like the U.S.—Raising money isn’t as easy. Wealthy Canadians don’t invest their personal money as much. Government is filling that space. Subsidies, tax incentives, research and development grants, these are very strong in Canada. This is where we have not only the dollar as an advantage, but the government spends a lot of money trying to support this space.

Not a lot of regions can offer our political stability, our ease of immigration, our depth of talent and loyalty of talent. Canada is going to explode in the next five to 10 years. We’re perfectly lined up. When you look at what’s happening in the U.S. politically and other spots of instability globally—The stability and safety Canada offers is going to lead to a big growth spurt.

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