May 25th, 2006

Canadian Incentives for Developers May Have Strings Attached

With the gaming industry growing at an exponential rate, many states and provinces are turning to government support through tax relief and grants to encourage game developers to stay local, and, of course, generate jobs & tax revenue. But how do you compete in a global marketplace when those same grants may require you to develop content that reflects local culture?

The Montreal Gazette recently reported the comments of Remi Racine (left), president of Artificial Mind and Movement, as he spoke at a business breakfast. Racine hoped to inform members of the city's business community about the need to provide digital-era support for the Canada's growing video game industry.

By way of example, Racine cited statistics showing that only 5% of the games developed in Montreal, by companies such as Ubisoft and Electronic Arts, are sold locally. The remainder are exported across the world, part of an industry that generates up to CDN $2 billion every year. But, still, some federal government business development grants take a parochial view, and are based on the degree of Canadian cultural portrayed in a game.

It's a well-intentioned throwback to the days when government sought to assist local media companies locked in tough competition with well-funded American counterparts.
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Supporters of Venezuela's Chavez Outraged by New Video Game

Can a video game inspire an invasion?

Supporters of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez (left) seem to think so. The Associated Press reports that some members of the Chavez regime are angry about Mercenaries 2: World in Flames, an action-oriented shoot-em-up under development by Pandemic Studios. Although not expected to launch until next year , Mercenaries 2 was trumpeted to media members attending the recent E3 expo in Los Angeles.

Members of the Chavez government are upset by the game's back story, which centers around a hypothetical invasion of Venezuela in order to seize oil assets from a crazed dictator. Real-world relations between Chavez and the Bush administration have been increasingly fractious in recent times. According to the AP, Chavez supporters in Venezuela's National Assembly believe Mercenaries 2 is designed to assist the U.S. government in building popular support for an invasion to remove Chavez from power.

"I think the U.S. government knows how to prepare campaigns of psychological terror so they can make things happen later," Congressman Ismael Garcia said.

Pandemic, however, played down the concerns of Chavez supporters. Chris Norris, a publicist for the game developer, denied that Mercenaries 2 was trying to make a political statement, but did allow that the studio's game designers "always want to have a rip from the headlines. Although a conflict doesn't necessarily have to be happening, it's realistic enough to believe that it could eventually happen."

Lawmaker Gabriela Ramirez told the AP that the game falsely portrays Chavez as a tyrant, and that Mercenaries 2 might be banned under pending Venezuelan legislation which would block children from violent video games.

"It sends a message to Americans, Ramirez said. "You have a danger next door, here in Latin America, and action must be taken. It's a justification for an imperialist aggression..

GP: Pandemic's decision to base Mercs 2 in Venezuela is a bit edgy, to be sure. On the other hand, game publishers are increasingly seeking to make players feel like they are living the news. EA's Battlefield 2, of course, features U.S. forces conducting combat missions in Iraq and China. NovaLogic's Blackhawk Down, simulated the late-90's U.S. intervention in Somalia. And GP notes that the original Mercenaries, released in 2005, was a highly-rated, over-the-top action game which posited a fictitious invasion of North Korea. In the original, players could choose to work for the U.S., South Korea, or the Russian Mafia. GameSpot has detailed preview info on Mercenaries 2.

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