N.S. video game industry on the hunt for workers as pandemic drives up sales

As industries across the province shed jobs in response to COVID-19, the video game industry in Nova Scotia is recruiting.

The industry is looking to hire dozens of new employees as people staying at home due to the pandemic drive up video game sales.  

“I wouldn’t think of a couple dozen jobs in a place like Nova Scotia, during what could classify as the worst economic situation that we’ve had in 75 years, as being small,” said Jayson Hilchie, president and CEO of the Entertainment Software Association of Canada. “I think that’s phenomenal.”

The association represents major video game manufacturers as well as small developers across the country. 

Jayson Hilchie is president and CEO of the Entertainment Software Association of Canada. (Submitted by Jayson Hilchie)

There are more than 20 video game studios in Nova Scotia employing around 300 people, according to the Interactive Society of Nova Scotia’s website. The society advocates for video game development and works to foster collaboration in the local industry.  

Video game studios like Ubisoft and HB Studios that help produce massive video game blockbusters like Assassin’s Creed and PGA Tour have offices in the province. 

HB Studios in Lunenburg made the golf game PGA Tour 2K21 that was the top-selling game in the U.S. for awhile, said Hilchie. HB has hired 16 employees in the last year or so, and is still looking to fill seven or eight other jobs. 

The company wants to hire game engineers, 3D animators, technical animators and production support, said James Seaboyer, CEO of HB studios.

“For the last year and a half we’ve been on a recruitment drive, we’re always looking for talented people,” said Seaboyer, “If anything we’ve increased our efforts to recruit.”

Alpha Dog Games is a game developer that focuses on mobile games. The studio is based in Halifax. (Scott Munn)

Alpha Dog Games in Halifax makes mobile games for cell phones. The company was recently acquired by video game giant Bethesda Softworks, which has published games like Fallout, Doom and Skyrim.         

Bethesda is expanding Alpha Dog’s workforce. 

“We were acquired late 2019 by Bethesda at the time we were a studio of 12  and we’re on the trend to double our size this year, and continue to double our size in the next few years to a larger studio,” said Shawn Woods, co-studio director of Alpha Dog games. 

Across the country the video game industry employees roughly 22,000 full-time workers, according to the Entertainment Association of Canada. (Alpha Dog Games)

Woods also serves as a director with the Interactive Society of Nova Scotia. He said other studios like Ubisoft and Redspace have been adding workers.

“From what I’ve seen it looks like there’s been dozens of new jobs in the video game industry in the last year and a half or so, and that continues to go up,” said Woods,”It’s an exciting time for Nova Scotia to be on the trend to keep going up.”  

Shawn Woods is the co-studio director of Alpha Dog Games in Halifax. (Charles Plant)

The video game industry across the country is expanding, too. Quebec already has 13,000 jobs in the industry and is fighting to fill 2,000 more, said Hilchie. 

In 2020, video game sales were 25 per cent higher than they were in the previous year. Across the country, the video game industry pulled in about $3.5 billion in sales in 2020, according to Hilchie.   

When the pandemic forced many people to stay home, they turned to video games to fill their time and stay connected to friends and family through online gaming. 

Virtual Villagers 2 is a game created by Gogii Lighthouse Studios in Halifax. (Gogii Games)

Many people began playing video games for the first time and many others started playing for longer periods of time, according to Hilchie. 

“People … are using video games as an outlet to communicate and socialize with their family and friends, and that trend has gone across the board,” said Woods.

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