Poutine, Hockey and Game Developers: Great Canadians Making Great Games

With Ubisoft Montreal’s name splashed across every Assassin’s Creed title and the integral role of EA Canada in some of EA Sports’ biggest titles, it’s hard to forget that Canada is home to some of the best game-makers. But big developers and publishers aside, there is a wealth of small and indie game developers in Canada that is as much a part of Ubisoft and EA’s long roots in this country.

Beginning from the west coast, Vancouver’s Next Level Games started making smaller console games but quickly became focused on Nintendo hardware with popular games like Luigi’s Mansion: Dark Moon and Super Mario Strikers (by far my favourite sports game). While larger than many of the other developers featured here, Next Level continues to take a measured approach to game-making with a small team working together. Also part of Vancouver’s growing indie game developer scene is Klei Entertainment, best known for Don’t Starve and a handful of other games for PC and console, and Matt Makes Games, whose recently released Celeste has proven to be a hit on many platforms. Many watching the game development scene also recommend keeping an eye on Hinterland Games, known for The Long Dark.

A lot less indie – despite their history – is Edmonton’s BioWare. The developer has been around for more than 20 years, focusing on role-playing experiences and best known for the Mass Effect and Dragon Age trilogies. After being purchased by EA in 2007, BioWare’s output has focused on these trilogies and the upcoming Anthem. Other prairie developers include Winnipeg’s Infinite Ammo (Alec Holowka), partially responsible for Night in the Woods, and Complex Games, focusing on mobile free-to-play and licensed games.

Ontario – and specifically Toronto – is a growing hotbed for game developers working outside the larger studios. Capybara Games used to focus on mobile, branching out to other platforms with hits like Superbrothers and Super Time Force. DrinkBox Studios is best known for Guacamelee! and Severed, bringing prominence to the small Toronto outfit.  You may have also seen ads for London developer Big Blue Bubble’s mobile hit My Singing Monsters, one of many games made by the developer. Ontario also plays host to a number of small companies supporting development of bigger and smaller games, like DotBunny and Snowed In Studios.

Looking to Quebec, hosting some of the largest game studios, Montreal and Quebec City also feature subsidiary developer houses (such as Activision’s Beenox) and bigger indies Frima Studios (provider of ports, online games and original titles including Chariot). Montreal’s Compulsion Games has provided development services to other studios while also building their own hits including the upcoming We Happy Few. Other studios to look out for include Tribute Games (Mercenary Kings) and licensed-game experts Behaviour Interactive.

In the Maritimes, Other Ocean Group (with studios in St. John’s, Charlottetown and Emeryville, California) has worked on games including Rick and Morty Virtual Rick-Ality and Giant Cop: Justice Above All. Nova Scotia’s HB Studios is a powerhouse for sports games, focusing on sports other studios leave out (including rugby, and extreme snowboarding). 

The game development industry in Canada continues to grow, propped up by better funding support, more post-secondary schooling options and the annual Canadian Video Game Awards, along with many very talented developers calling Canada home. With all this growth, I can’t help but lament the loss of some of Canada’s great developers of the past: DreamCatcher Interactive, responsible for many point-and-click adventure games of my youth, Silicon Knights (hailing from St. Catharines) for their unique original games, and Artech Studios, since someone had to do the hard work of putting Q*Bert on everything. 

If you’re looking to support the Canadian game industry and help ensure the development of more home-grown games, check out any of the games I’ve talked about today and follow your favourite developer to see what they do next. Did we miss your favourite Canadian game or developer? Let us know on Twitter!

About author

Sammy is many things: a mandolin pop "musician", a non-profit professional, a video game aficionado, an avid movie & concert-goer, a collector of Blu Rays, an enjoyer of peanut butter and a knower of things. Sammy is not: very good at writing bios, an avocado.