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Smartphone addictLast Tuesday, August 6th, the good Doctor was invited by CBC Radio to appear on the afternoon call-in program BC Almanac to discuss the wonderful world of free apps for mobile devices. The guest host for the program was CBC National reporter Duncan McCue. This was my second appearance on BC Almanac – I first visited with them in March, 2013, to discuss the controversy caused by a recent alumni of Port Moody Secondary School who created a 3D level of his school that was playable using the Counterstrike game mod. The discussion this time around was decidedly less intense. What I really enjoyed was listening to people from all over British Columbia calling and tweeting about what apps they liked using on their mobile devices. It’s hard to believe how ubiquitous apps and mobile technology have become in people’s lives since Apple originally released the iPhone in Canada back in 2008. Google recently released the results of a study that surveyed 1000 Canadian smartphone users. They reported that the average smartphone has approximately 30 apps, 8 of which are paid apps. The majority of apps on their smartphones are free. In 2012, the consumer survey organization JD Power and Associates reported that the top ten uses of smartphones in Canada (in order) were texting, photography, email, Facebook, weather, games, web search, maps, news, and music.

Apps and smartphones are a serious going concern in Canada. While preparing for my interview with CBC Radio, I discovered the results of a fascinating study called The Apps Economy in Canada, released in October, 2012, by the Information and Communication Technology Council. It reported that 13 million Canadian smartphone users spent $675 million dollars on apps and broadband subscription services for 2012, compared to the global base of 1.2 billion smartphone users who spent a whopping $25.97 billion dollars. There are 51,700 people involved in Canadian app development, 15% (7,755) working here in BC. The Canadian app development industry generated $775 million in revenues for 2012.

You can listen to the CBC segment about free apps here (it starts at approximately 20:45).

Doctor ArkanoidDoctor Arkanoid

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CounterstrikeYou know the old adage ‘the more things change, the more they stay the same‘? The same can be said for the videogame industry. I’m fairly certain that 99.9% of North Americans didn’t realize that August, 2012, marked the 40th anniversary of the first commercial videogame console, the Magnavox Odyssey. Not only that, it marked the the 40th anniversary of the coin operated arcade machine Space War!, distributed by Nolan Bushnell. I vividly remember walking into a penny arcade on Government Street in Victoria, BC, Canada, when I was 12 years old in the the summer of 1972, inserting my hard earned quarters into that machine, and feeling supremely ripped off that it was too hard to play! I mean, the nearby Undersea Gardens aquarium had a Sega UFO electronic arcade shooting game that was much more satisfying because I could actually advance several levels!

Videogames have been around for 40 years, so you would probably think that everyone is used to them by now; they’re accepted as a legitimate form of entertainment. Well, hold onto your tinfoil hat, Sparky, because it just ain’t so. I never cease to be amazed by the controversies videogames continue to elicit from the general public after all these decades. Yes, decades. The latest episode took place last week, when a group of recent high school graduates from Port Moody Secondary School created an accurately detailed 3D level map of their school that could be played using the Counterstrike mod developed from Valve Software’s Half Life engine. Co-incidentally, Counterstrike was first created in Surrey, BC, (of all places) by Minh ‘Gooseman’ Li back in 2000. I’ve designed many 3D levels commercially, so I understand the mindset of where these young guys were coming from. In fact, they explained on their website that they built the level as a way of showing their school spirit. This was done with the intent of creating a virtual space where they could bond.

Unfortunately for these kids, they naively made the mistake of posting a video of this level on the Internet without thinking about how anyone who doesn’t like or understand first person shooters (and they exist in large numbers) might react to seeing their local high school being used as a battleground, especially given the recent tragedies at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Connecticut, or the movie theatre in Aurora, Colorado. To the students’ mind, this was a Counterstrike map – no big deal. To their teachers, parents, and the RCMP, there was nothing entertaining or nostalgic about it.

Speaking as a former professional videogame developer with 22 years of experience, a long time gamer, and as a responsible ‘middle aged’ man, I think the reaction of some teachers and parents was completely overblown and utterly exaggerated. What I heard and saw were overly sensitive adults who don’t play or understand video games at all. They make up their minds based on sensational media stories that use large amounts of emotional hyperbole. These adults make emotional statements about a video game they have never played that have no basis in fact.

Given the current climate about shootings on school and post secondary campuses in North America, I understand why the police were asked to investigate this situation. But I believe it was unwarranted and needlessly contributed to public hysteria. In an increasingly paranoid society, the last thing we need are police investigating people who play video games as potential homicidal maniacs. Peer reviewed empirical research evidence shows that there is no causal connection between playing video games and school shootings. But many adults keep wanting to believe a connection exists. Thankfully, the police investigators recognized that the students were not planning something sinister. It’s too bad that some parents, teachers, and Port Moody municipal politicians were not as rational in their assessments.

Time and again I’ve heard people claim that first person shooter video games are literally the devil’s handiwork. If this claim were true, then I should be a raving homicidal maniac who would have decimated entire cities by now! I’ve played all the classic first person shooters for over 20 years and I can tell you that they’re masterpieces of art, music, and narrative for their times.

CBC Radio invited me to appear on their call in program BC Almanac, to discuss first person shooting games. I also appeared on a news segment for The National.

Doctor ArkanoidDoctor Arkanoid

The doctor is astounded to report that flying pigs were spotted soaring over a snow covered Sahara desert today!

Unfortunately, it was still raining at Cypress Mountain on Vancouver’s North Shore.  The organizers for the Winter Olympics are now planning to make mudboarding an official event 😉

The British Columbia provincial government announced on Wednesday that a 17.5% labour tax credit will come into effect starting August 1, 2010 for video game companies. While the Doctor is glad to finally see the industry receive a tax credit after many years, I can only say to the politicians ‘WHAT TOOK YOU SO LONG?

I have a hypothesis!

It’s fair to say that most politicians don’t play video games or understand the current state of the industry. Their experiences are primarily rooted in the days of Atari, Pacman, and Space Invaders. They are not exactly ‘technologically literate’. For several years, the industry lobbied the government for some form of tax incentive to keep companies from leaving and setting up shop in other provinces, or other countries. I spoke to a provincial cabinet minister in 2008 about why there were no tax credits for video game developers. The minister replied that because the industry was so successful in BC, there was no need for a credit. I explained at the time that BC video game companies generated more revenue than the highly tax credited BC film industry ($1.2 billion compared to $940 million). The minister waffled when I made that point

The doctor notes that Premier Gordon Campbell has used the video game industry for political advantage on several occasions. I remember him being filmed by CBC television on billionaire Jimmy Pattison’s yacht while schmoozing with homegrown video game titan Don Mattrick. Campbell was also filmed by CBC while visiting EA’s massive Burnaby campus during the 2009 election. When the studio was officially opened in 1999, former Prime Minister Jean Chretien was filmed there as well.

The BC video game industry began in the early 1980’s as a small cluster of  cottage companies. Today it is a recognized global powerhouse of creative talent. People who work in the game industry usually make better than average salaries. The current economic recession, the cost of living, the rising dollar, and increased global competition are affecting BC video game companies to attract and retain talent. The major BC game studios are controlled by publicly owned game publishers in Europe and the United States. If they and their shareholders feel that developing video games in this province is not a viable economic proposition, they will leave. Hopefully this tax credit will provide some measure of confidence for them to maintain their current level of operations.

The new video game labour tax credit is a start. But when you compare 17.5% to Quebec’s 37.5% labour tax credit, it is clear that more collaboration between government and the video game industry needs to happen for its long term health.

How about a new Olympic video game Grand Theft Muk Muk? 🙂

Doctor Arkanoid

The TyeeIt’s May Day! Time to dance around the maypole and celebrate Doctor Arkanoid being included in The Tyee’s BC Blog List!

If you’re interested in all things West Coast happening in ‘Lotusland’, then be sure to visit The Tyee.

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Anthony Gurr and Doctor Arkanoid - Revelations From the Inner Sanctum!, 2009. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Anthony Gurr and Doctor Arkanoid - Revelations From the Inner Sanctum! with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.