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Darkest Dungeon developers find success in B.C.’s growing gaming industry

Chris Bourassa, creative director at Red Hook Studios, maker of the game Darkest Dungeon, at his home office in Vancouver on Jan. 26.

DARRYL DYCK/THE GLOBE AND MAIL

Chris Bourassa and Tyler Sigman have been living in the Gothic world of Darkest Dungeon for the past decade.

They had already been discussing the idea for the video game – their first under their startup, Red Hook Studios – for years when they launched a crowdfunding campaign on Kickstarter, which had raised more than $300,000 by the time it finished. That set off the game's development, which culminated in a successful public release last week and has already earned them several nominations in the world of independent game development.

"Chris and I are still reeling a little bit," Mr. Sigman said. "You can almost blink and think, 'Wow … did this all actually happen?'"

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Darkest Dungeon is a Gothic role-playing game, with elements of twisted Lovecraftian fiction. It was officially released to rave reviews last week on Windows and Mac computers, though some users, including Kickstarter backers, had early access last year. To date, more than 650,000 copies have been sold, including during the early release period.

Mr. Bourassa, 38, and Mr. Sigman, 41, are the latest success story in British Columbia's gaming industry, which is the second-largest in the country, behind only Quebec. Their rise comes as the provincial government focuses its energy on policies to boost the tech industry, such as tax incentives and funding for startups.

The pair had discussed the idea behind Darkest Dungeon for years, after meeting while working together as colleagues in the mid-2000s. Years later, they decided to strike out on their own, turning to crowdfunding to make that happen.

"It was a now or never moment," Mr. Bourassa said. "We realized we weren't getting any younger."

They also have plans to expand their reach to Sony's video game consoles, the PlayStation and PS Vita.

With only their personal savings, Mr. Bourassa and Mr. Sigman started Red Hook. They began working on the game after filing an application with the Canadian Media Fund, which helps fund television, film and gaming across the country, though their application to the agency was rejected.

Their decision to then turn to Kickstarter allowed them to remain independent after raising $313,000 from nearly 10,000 people in a month.

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"We didn't want to give away a huge amount of equity to an investor unless we needed to," Mr. Sigman said. "We were overwhelmed with the support we got."

Independent and small-scale game creation is becoming more feasible with the advent of non-traditional funding, and digital distribution. Game creators can now self-publish on digital storefronts, making their product available to anyone with an Internet connection.

"The number of smaller companies has jumped in the past two years," Julien Lavoie of the Entertainment Software Association of Canada said.

The 2015 report from the software association puts British Columbia as the second-largest province in terms of video-game production. On the whole, the Canadian games industry is worth more than $3-billion and has grown by 31 per cent over the past three years, according to the group. Over all, 20,400 Canadians are directly employed by the games industry, with 5,500 jobs in British Columbia.

Premier Christy Clark has taken a special interest in the tech sector lately with several high-profile funding and policy announcements. Last week, she used a government-sponsored tech conference in Vancouver to announce that computer coding would be a standard part of the curriculum taught in the province's schools. Ms. Clark has also announced money to help workers upgrade their skills to enter the tech sector and last month the provincial government pledged $100-million for startups.

B.C's Interactive Digital Media Tax Credit, or IDMTC, is available to employers, offering a 17.5-per-cent credit in labour, though comparable tax programs in Ontario and Quebec offer anywhere between 30- and 40-per-cent credit.

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Even small studios such as Red Hook, with a team of only five core members, can take advantage of the tax credit.

"The IDMTC is nice because of the simplicity in applying," Mr. Sigman said.

"But there some really aggressive tax credits in other provinces, and we've seen other projects head east."

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