B.C. digital tech group celebrates 20 years

B.C. digital tech group celebrates 20 years

Digital media industry group says VR, eSports gaining ground in Vancouver

By Wanyee Li for Metro

When B.C.’s digital media industry group was first created 20 years ago, there was no Google, no smartphones, and no social media of any kind.

But the province has managed to become an industry leader since then, attracting giants such as Microsoft and Sony Pictures Imageworks to set up shop in Vancouver. Homegrown businesses such as Electronic Arts and Hootsuite have also garnered success.

“We have moved from scrappy startups and one big gaming company and self taught innovators to well financed startups, global domination in digital entertainment and a world class graduate digital media program,” said Catherine Warren, board director of DigiBC.

There are currently 170 video game development studios in Vancouver, according to DigiBC.

New and growing sectors in Vancouver include virtual and augmented reality, novel payment systems, eSports, and advancements in social content distribution, according to Warren.

Meanwhile, Hollywood North continues to attract companies in the entertainment industry in what Warren characterizes as the “shiny front end of digital media” but she acknowledges there is potential for other tech companies to come to Vancouver as well.

“Vancouver would be a wonderful choice for Amazon. And any other large, multi-national digital media companies,” she said, in a nod to the ongoing posturing by various North American cities to win Amazon’s affections after it announced it would build a second headquarters.

Coming to Vancouver is usually an easy sell for prospective tech workers, and diversity in the work force helps companies compete on the global market, said Warren.

“By bringing in talent from all over the world, we have given our region a huge advantage.”

When asked about whether the high cost of housing can prove challenging to some workers, Warren said the Centre of Digital Media, a tech education hub in East Vancouver, offers student housing to its graduate students to ensure they have a leg up.

The Masters of Digital Media program offered at the centre is a partnership between UBC, SFU, BCIT, and Emily Carr and has graduated about 400 students since it opened 10 years ago.

Half of the graduate students in this year’s class are women but in Canada overall, women still hold less than a quarter of jobs in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math sectors), according to Statistics Canada.

Warren acknowledged the industry still has a lot of work to do on that front.

“It is still difficult for women entrepreneurs to raise money in tech,” she said.

“The important thing to know is when companies do bring them into the top ranks, they also benefit from higher financial returns. So promoting women is good for business.”

This article first appeared in Vancouver Metro on September 11, 2017