Canadians tend to be a reliable lot. Maybe it’s because the country is an inhospitable arctic wasteland half the year, but when there’s a job to do, Canadians tend to put their heads down and help each other out (while grumbling to anybody who will listen). Reliable would certainly describe the Canadian video game industry in 2021. While the industry as a whole continued to stagger off course due to the lingering pandemic, Canadian devs delivered top-notch AAA games, innovative indies, and reliable live-service experiences. Things weren’t perfect, as allegations of toxic management at some publishers and studios still cast a shadow, but overall, Canadian devs once again showed why seemingly everyone wants to make games here. Here’s a quick recap of the year that was in Canadian game development…
In a year when seemingly everything was being delayed, a good portion of the few AAA games to actually make it to shelves came from Canadian devs. Guardians of the Galaxy, Far Cry 6, Age of Empires IV, and Mass Effect Legendary Edition, to name a few. Heck, we also had a hand in the most impressive technical showcase of the year, as Vancouver’s The Coalition pitched in on Epic’s The Matrix Awakens Unreal Engine 5 showcase. Meanwhile, many of the industry’s most well-managed live service games, like Apex Legends, Dead by Daylight, Dauntless, and Rainbow Six Siege, kept chugging right along thanks to Canadian talent. As I said… reliable.
An Independent Frontier
And while bigger Canadian studios kept the AAA industry running as the pandemic ground on, Canadian indies had one of their best years ever. The releases covered a wide gamut, from the vibrant art-adventure Chicory: A Colorful Tale, to the heartfelt and meditative fishing RPG Moonglow Bay, to the subversive dating hack ‘n’ slash Boyfriend Dungeon. Canadian indies just seem to have a particular knack for marrying endearing worlds with unique, well-thought-out mechanics. Backbone, Echo Generation, Lemnis Gate, The Big Con, Wytchwood, Tribes of Midgard, Jett: The Far Shore – the list of intriguing 2021 indies goes on and bodes well for the future of the Canadian gaming industry. Of course, nothing is perfect…
A Cold Chill
The reports of workplace mismanagement, harassment, and discrimination that rocked Ubisoft last year haven’t gone away, with employees continuing to accuse management of empty promises. Meanwhile, reports of toxic leadership elsewhere, such as Season developer Scavengers Studio, uneasily hint that the infection that was allowed to fester at Ubisoft (like many, Scavengers founder Simon Darveau got his start at Ubi Montreal) may have spread. Whether Ubisoft can truly clean up their act remains to be seen, but it’s up to others in the Canadian industry to pressure them to do so and not repeat their mistakes.
Thankfully, some Canadian devs are also leading the way when it comes to workplace reform. In addition to the many indies striving to make game development more friendly and equitable, large studios like Eidos Montreal are tackling crunch by moving to a 4-day weekend (boldly announced shortly before delivering Guardians of the Galaxy, one of the few 2021 AAA games to hit its release date). Hopefully, moves like this will be the Canadian industry’s legacy, rather than Ubisoft’s failings.
Regardless of any negative headlines, it seems everybody who’s anybody wants in on the Canadian game dev dream with Full Circle (the folks behind the new Skate), Haven (Jade Raymond’s new Sony-backed crew), CD Projekt Red Vancouver, Gearbox Montreal, and more all setting up shop north of the border this year. It’s on the Canadian games industry to grow responsibly – hopefully potentially-worrisome new studios like Quantic Dream Montreal are held to a high standard – but overall, the future looks bright. With games like Gotham Knights, Splinter Cell and Dead Space remakes, and Darkest Dungeon 2 on the way, expect more reliable fun in 2022.