Maclean's columnist Jesse Brown launches a misguided missile at tax incentives for video game companies.
A new column for Maclean’s by Search Engine host Jesse Brown, slagging tax incentives for the Canadian video game industry, has sparked a heated discussion online—one greater than Brown may have expected.
In a piece titled “Grand Theft Tax Break,” Brown argues that tax breaks for video game companies aren’t worthwhile for three reasons: the foreign firms that receive these breaks will only stay in Canada for as long as there aren’t better incentives elsewhere, the industry isn’t fledgling, and video games lack (or have relatively little) social benefit.
Members of the games community in Canada are calling hogwash on Brown.
Nathan Vella, president of local studio Capy Games, took to Twitter, letting Brown know he felt the article “insults my co-workers and shits on Canadian devs unfairly. For shame.” A post from games blog Village Gamer echoed dissent over Brown’s dismissive language in describing game developers as “grunts” and “code-monkeys.” (In response to the post, Brown posted on Twitter: “I think [the post author] Tami decided to misread my post as an attack on the game industry itself.”) At the core of the upset is the view that Brown has seen Canadian developers as disposable, easily replaced by overseas talent if foreign game companies are offered a better tax incentive for comparable workers.
Brown gives too little credit to Canadian developers in assuming that the only factor that lured foreign corporations here was tax breaks. He neglects the strength of our national talent that comes from not only technical mastery, but interdisciplinary experience. Vancouver, Montreal, and Toronto are all major Canadian cities for game development, and are also animation, television, and film production hubs. That access to additional experience bolsters our developers.
On the same note, the cities themselves are vital artistic, technological, and financial centres that help support the talent here. Put another way, Canada didn’t pull developers from the United States because we’re like India. Yes, tax credits helped, but one can’t discount the appeal of our high quality of life.
Brown, on Twitter, has tried to clarify his position. To journalist (and former Torontoist contributor) Mathew Kumar, he notes “I like and respect devs and think they deserve their own Cdn industry- subsidized gigs for foreign firms make that hard.” What’s missing from this line of thinking is an acknowledgement of the history of game development in Canada. It could be argued that the only reason Canada has a games industry is because of tax credits for foreign firms: the aggressive use of incentives has made our country the third-largest for game development [PDF], behind the States and Japan. (Incidentally, Canada replaced the U.K., which as Brown notes has been pulling back on incentives.) Where Brown goes wrong is in maintaining the faults of the American system apply to Canada—the comparison is not so simple considering the relative youth of the Canadian games industry.