Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Game incubator switched off

Federal, provincial funding pulled from non-profit centre in city

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It's game over for North America's first video-gaming-industry incubator.

Fortune Cat Games Studio (FCGS), a not-for-profit Winnipeg centre that broke new ground when it was launched four years ago, is closing its doors within the next two months after failing to secure any private- or public-sector funding for 2011.

And it doesn't look like it will be replaced any time soon, even though spokesmen for two of the firms that graduated from the centre said there's still a need for that kind of service.

"I think Winnipeg and Manitoba need some sort of program," said Tom Kaminski, president of Tomkorp Computer Solutions, which spent nearly two years in the incubator and is on the verge of launching its first game.

"I think there's a lot of value in it," said Khal Shariff, CEO of Project Whitecard Inc., another successful graduate of the studio. "There are all sorts of ways for that program to continue without closing it down. They should hand the reins over to someone else."

But the FCGS's executive director said he can't see the incubator being revived any time soon.

"If it starts up again, it will probably be in 10 years' time," Ryan FitzGerald said in an interview.

The studio relied on federal and provincial monies. The federal funding dried up about a year and a half ago and FitzGerald said the provincial funding was ending this year.

He said both levels of government are cutting back on their spending in an effort to reduce their recession-induced deficits. And provincial officials also felt the studio wasn't living up to expectations.

"I cannot blame anybody (for the studio's pending closure). The worst thing I can say is that we had the right idea, but bad timing for federal reasons and provincial reasons and for industry reasons."

He said North American video-games-industry players he approached for funding said they're also still hurting from the global economic downtown.

"They said come back in a year... but that would be too late," FitzGerald added.

The provincial government said in a statement Monday it provided a total of $662,954 in funding to the Fortune Cat Games Studio between 2005 and 2010.

"A number of companies were incubated through the Fortune Cat Games Studio and have gone on to success in developing commercially viable products, including Complex Games, Myzan Research, Nightshift Interactive, Perentie Games, Project Whitecard, Red Reptile Studios, Tomkorp & We Heart Games," it said.

The province said it continues to provide support for the digital-media industry through the Manitoba Interactive Digital Media Tax Credit (MIDMTC), a refundable Manitoba corporate income tax credit of up to $500,000, or the equivalent of 40 per cent of eligible labour costs, for an eligible interactive digital new-media project.

FitzGerald said he was hired last September to develop a new business strategy for the studio. Instead of focusing on helping start-up video-game developers develop a product, he thought the FCGS should be helping firms who already have products get them to market and to grow their businesses.

But that was going to take time and money -- two things the FCGS didn't have, he added.

Kaminski said his company wouldn't have developed its Clones video game without the help of the FCGS. He said he'd like other start-up game developers to have that same opportunity.

Michael Legary, founder and chief innovation officer for Seccuris, a local firm that provides security and other support services to gaming companies, is a former FCGS board member. He agreed a lack of money was the studio's biggest problem.

Another was the small size of the industry. He estimated there are fewer than 20 video-game developers with three or more employees operating in the province at the moment.

murray.mcneill@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition August 10, 2010 B3

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