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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

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

Well, better late than never!

When I was attending the Media Jeunes Conference 2010 last November as a guest panelist, I was asked by Dr. Lise Renaud from the Comsante’ Research Centre at the University of Quebec if I would sit down for an interview about videogames. Modest fellow that I am, they had to twist my arm! I recently received the URL for this interview.

Comsante’ hosts a blog at Cestmalade .

I hope you enjoy the interview!

When we last left the Doctor, he was attending Media – Jeunes 2010 inside the CBC/Radio Canada Mothership….

Children’s television production in Canada has not been spared from the ravages of the current economic climate. Just as video game production in Canada has suffered from a ‘perfect storm’ of economic and market driven events, the world of children’s television has suffered its own storm as well. Government and private funding for projects in the last three years shrunk dramatically – many companies laid off staff right across the country. The market is very competitive. Youth audiences are flocking to ‘live action’ series, which cost less to produce than an animated program. When you consider the success of shows like iCarly or Wizards of Waverly Place, it’s not hard to understand their impact on animated programs. But there’s another issue as well – computer graphic animation. Many of today’s brightest and best young computer animators want to work for companies like Dreamworks, Pixar, or work for computer game studios like Blizzard Entertainment. Today’s technologies make it possible for young animators to strike out on their own and post their portfolios online. The hardware and software are not that expensive.

The issue is doubly difficult for French Canadian animators in Quebec. Creating content for a Francophone audience is dwarfed by the English speaking markets in Canada and the United States. I came away from the conference with empathy for what it must be like to create content for the Quebec market. Much of French Canadian animation is co-produced with European countries and some Asian countries for international programs, including China. The withdrawal of international funding is contributing to their dilemma. The Canadian federal government launched an initiative in 2010 called the Canada Media Fund to encourage more development of Canadian content. It was interesting to note that while a large amount of money was being allocated to different types of animation and new media, there were not many French Canadian projects listed. When you compare the growing success of the video game industry in Quebec this past decade and the provincial government tax industry incentives it provided to game studios, it looks very much like the French Canadian animation industry needs to consolidate and focus on new opportunities for funding and production. They need to create a strategic plan to compete in a very tough marketplace.

(The Doctor thinks to himself – how about Et Dieu Crea’ Laflaque for the English Canadian TV audience!)

It was interesting to see how French Canadian animation companies were looking at how companies like Nickelodeon and The Disney Channel were using the internet to establish a strong online identity for branding purposes, much in the same way that video game publishers use it as well. The research information from numerous sources like Nielsen, Pew Internet American Life Project, or Statistics Canada, makes it very clear that children and adolescents spend much time online as a place to meet and play. Virtual worlds like Club Penguin, Free Realms, and even World of Warcraft are good examples. In the marketing world, you need to be where the target audience congregates to get your message across. Building a strong virtual community is important. Having an online presence that encourages your audience to visit often is quickly becoming a crucial piece of the media puzzle. Or at least, that’s what the Doctor thinks.

Qu’est-ce que vous pensez? (What do you think?).

Doctor Arkanoid

Bonjour mes amis! Le Docteur est retournee’!

Yes! The Doctor is IN! Honestly! To quote Austin Powers “I’M BACK BABY, YEAH!”. Where have I been? Well, the truth is I took a bit of a hiatus from the blog so I could finish my Master’s thesis and complete my graduate degree. I’m happy to report that after two gruelling years of blood, sweat, and literature reviews,  the thesis is complete at last! I will do a write up for you about the nature of the research later. Today’s post is about the Doctor’s visit last week to the Media – Jeunes 2010 conference that was held at the CBC Radio Canada ‘Mothership’ in Montreal, Quebec on November 18th and 19th.

In early September, my graduate supervisor, Dr. David Kaufman and I were having our usual thesis review coffee klatch. David mentioned to me that the Alliance for Children’s Television (ACT) was holding their annual conference for 2010 in Montreal and were looking for someone who could contribute to a panel discussion about the positive messages provided by digital media, including video games. He felt that I might be a good candidate given my background and experience, so I contacted the conference co-ordinator and made a submission. After several e-mails and phone discussions with Sylvie Lamy from ACT, I was accepted as a panel member. I was very excited because I believe that the positive side of video games does not get enough discussion compared to the frequent media coverage of the ‘AAA’ 3D hyper realistic commercial franchises like Assassin’s Creed, Call of Duty, Gears of War, Grand Theft Auto, Halo, {insert your favourite ‘M’ rated 3D action/fighting/shooting game here}. I also thought that participating on the panel would give me an opportunity to understand the current state of children’s digital media in Canada. There was one other benefit – ACT would take care of my expenses. This was music to a starving graduate student’s ears!

Preparing for the conference was challenging because I wanted to be relevant to the audience of media and television people in attendance. Another challenge was trying to fit my presentation into a window of 12 minutes! The great thing about discussing video games is that there’s never a lack of useful material. The trick is to find content that is meaningful and relevant. I found a really nice trailer from PBS on Youtube for Video Games Live. I selected a clip from the first two and half minutes.

The members of the panel were an interesting mix. We had an opportunity to have a very scintillating conference call the week before. As the sole member from the Pacific coast, I had to get up on a Friday morning at 7:00 a.m.! But our discussion paved the way for a fascinating session in Montreal. Amy Friedman from Redhead Consulting discussed working with licenses in digital media through her involvement with Nickelodeon. She showed some interesting public service announcements about cyberbullying. Dr. Carla Seal-Wanner from Flickerlab presented interactive film making students did using her company’s software for the Global Climate Summit in Copenhagen in 2009. Dr. Judith Gaudet discussed media and health education using the series Ramdam. The moderator was Mathieu Baer, the producer of Zooville for CBC Radio Canada. All of them were very knowledgable digital media professionals. I felt a bit humbled to be sitting alongside these individuals. I also had the challenge of being the last member to speak on the panel. The mission became very straightforward – keep the audience entertained at the end. After all, video games are about fun and excitement, n’est-ce pas?

Tomorrow I’ll give a recap of the interesting issues I learned about at the Media Jeunes 2010 Conference.

Doctor 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

Kim Jong ilI’m fairly sure that I’m not the only one who feels like the world is going off the rails these days. Global recession, global warming, religious radicals, Kim Jong Il, Balloon Boy, Carrie Prejean self destructing on CNN Larry King Live – and now video game developers in Vancouver and around the world are being scorched by a firestorm of layoffs.  Echoing inside Doctor Arkanoid’s massive cranium, I hear the lyrics from the famous Phil Collins song ‘Land of Confusion‘:

Ooh Superman where are you now?

When everything’s gone wrong somehow.

The men of steel, the men of power,

Are losing control by the hour’.

On November 9th, the Reuters news agency reported that Electronic Arts announced a major round of layoffs affecting 1500 staff worldwide, including 900 game developers, 500 publishing support staff, and 100 administrative staff, with the Burnaby Studio being significantly affected. This is the EA mothership’s second major round of layoffs. In January, 1200 staff were laid off, including the closing of Black Box Studios, creators of the Need for Speed series. Reuters also reported that EA recorded its 11th straight quarterly loss for the period ending in October, 2009. This news attracted the attention of CBC Radio, who invited the good Doctor to provide a diagnosis of what’s currently happening in the video game industry.

CBC Radio EA Layoffs

EA isn’t the only Vancouver video game developer to lay off staff and close studios in 2009. Most people didn’t know that the cell phone giant Nokia established a game development centre in Richmond several years ago for the NGage portable media player. Nokia folded its operations and laid off 100 staff. With the merger of Activision and Vivendi Games into Activision – Blizzard in the fall of 2008, Radical Entertainment dismantled two of its four game teams, laying off 120 people. The South Korean game company Nexon, creators of the online game Maple Story, shut down their Nexon Human Nature Studio run by Alex Garden, former co-founder of Relic Entertainment. 90 people were laid off. Walt Disney’s Propaganda Games let go of 36 staff. Backbone Entertainment was closed, Hothead Games laid off staff, Relic Entertainment let people go, and Microsoft’s game studios in Redmond, Washington released several hundred people as part of an overall staff reduction.

According to the Canada Entertainment Software Industry Report released in March, 2009, there were approximately 5,842 game developers working for 61 game companies in British Columbia. While it’s hard to say exactly how many unemployed game developers are looking for work in the Lower Mainland, the Doctor is fairly certain that between 1500 and 2000 creative, talented individuals are anxiously seeking new opportunities. In fact, I was contacted this past week by two former game development students I worked with at the Art Institute of Vancouver. Both of them were recently laid off and trying to find another position with a game company.

In Hollywood, they say you’re only as good as your last movie. In Vancouver, you’re only as good as your last profitable video game.

Take it away, Phil Collins:

Doctor Arkanoid Doctor Arkanoid

Anthony Gurr VancouverThe June 2009 issue of University Affairs Magazine is available and the good doctor is featured in the Opinions section with an article called Faculty Need to ‘Walk the Talk’. The idea for this piece was hatched last September when I spoke to my graduate supervisor over the Internet using Skype. I was doing an online search for essays and papers about health education which I posted to a wiki so he could access them from his comfortable chateau in Chamonix, France,  high in the French Alps.  I mentioned to him how amazing it was to be discussing this project and viewing the materials online from two different parts of the planet at the same time. After a quarter century of working with computers, I still continue to be amazed at what the technology allows people to accomplish. That discussion led to an idea about writing the opinion piece and sending it to the editor at University Affairs Magazine – Canada’s national publication for faculty teaching in the colleges and universities. I submitted it on a Tuesday afternoon and an hour later received a reply from the editor asking if she could use it in an upcoming issue. Several revisions later, the article was finally approved for publishing. It’s my first time writing for a national magazine, so I’m feeling a bit humbled and pleased at the same time.

What? Doctor Arkanoid displays humility? Impossible 🙂

Doctor ArkanoidDoctor Arkanoid

Anthony Gurr VancouverOn Saturday, May 23rd, the Vancouver Sun newspaper published an opinion piece written by Andrew Cohen called “Should We Adopt the Danish Way of Life?”. He wrote about how their society provides free tuition for students who decide to study  at university. Graduate students are also given a  salary if they study for a Master’s or a Doctoral degree. I almost dropped my coffee mug when I read those facts! What an enlightened approach to provide a university education to everyone that wants one! I have always believed that people who want to attend college or university to further themselves should not have to carry massive loads of debt in the process.  As a graduate student, you commit yourself to several years of specialized coursework and training about how to conduct research and engage in academic writing. The research thesis is the final test. It’s a demanding, rigourous assignment that isn’t for the faint hearted. Paying graduate students a salary is not only generous, it shows an appreciation and understanding of the commitment they’re making to their course of studies. Educated people are a society’s most valuable resource.

I was moved to write a letter to the editor about Cohen’s op-ed piece. Imagine my surprise to see it published in today’s edition of the Sun. You can read my letter here:

Canada Could do More for its Graduate Students

I think this passage from Chaucer’s literary masterpiece The Canterbury Tales sums up my thoughts about being a graduate student:

Yet, and for all he was philosopher,
He had but little gold within his coffer;
But all that he might borrow from a friend
On books and learning he would swiftly spend,
And then he’d pray right busily for the souls
Of those who gave him wherewithal for schools.
Of study took he utmost care and heed.
Not one word spoke he more than was his need;
And that was said in fullest reverence
And short and quick and full of high good sense.


Doctor ArkanoidDoctor 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.