Canada is home to some larger-than-life video game studios, such as the Edmonton-based BioWare, which has created game franchises including Mass Effect, Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic, and Dragon Age. Ubisoft, the French video game publisher, has multiple locations throughout Canada including Montreal, Quebec City, Halifax, Winnipeg, and Toronto, and has delivered award winning games such as the Assassins Creed series, Tom Clancy’s Rainbow Six games, and the Far Cry franchise. Smaller or “indie” game development studios also find their home in Canada, including Extremely OK Games, whose breakout game Celeste won several awards as well as Game of the Year nominations from various outlets, and the studio Red Barrels who continue to develop the popular Outlast game franchise.
According to WePC the video game market was worth $178.73 billion in 2021, rising from $159.3 billion in 2020. Growth was driven in part because of additional pandemic lockdowns.
The barrier to entry in the video game development industry has lowered, with independent game studios, known as indie studios, being widely supported and popularized on storefronts such as the Nintendo eShop, Steam, the PlayStation Store, the Microsoft Store, the Apple App Store, and the Google Play Store.
In this article, we look at the funding programs offered by federal and provincial governments that support studios with the conceptualization, development, and promotion of Canadian-made video games. If your business is eligible for these programs, we can discuss next steps for finding eligible funding programs for your gaming projects.
Canadian Federal Funding Programs for Video Game Development
Most video game developers will have one or multiple games being worked on at any given time and can cost anywhere from $500 to $300,000,000 to develop. With the cost of developing video games varying greatly, it’s no wonder that government funding incentives exist to help with the creation process and increase the scope and polish of games of all sizes. The following section describes the top incentives and funding programs offered through the Canadian federal government.
Funding for In-Development or Published Video Games: The Scientific Research & Experimental Development (SR&ED) Tax Credit
The Scientific Research & Experimental Development (SR&ED) tax incentive program provides a retroactive tax credit from four to 12 months after a project’s approval. This program is a retroactive tax credit that only applies to completed projects and costs that have already been incurred. Expenditure coverage differs between each program.
Amount: Tax credit of up to 69% of labour and overhead costs, 36% of contractor costs, and 45% of material costs. All expenses must be commensurate with the needs of the scientific research and experimental development activity taking place within the company.
Eligible Businesses: Organizations must be conducting experimental development or basic/applied research in Canada and be capable of tracking and reporting resource allocation to eligible research activities.
Eligible Projects: The SR&ED program can include labour costs, external contractors’ costs, materials, and overhead costs that directly relate to the eligible project. Projects must attempt to resolve an obstacle, challenge, or technological uncertainty and be focused on exploratory research.
Those businesses eligible for funding can apply up to 18 months from the end of the tax year that the expenses were incurred.
Funding for Innovative Video Games and Game Engines: NRC IRAP
The National Research Council (NRC)’s Industrial Research Assistance Program (IRAP) is a business research grant offered through the Canadian federal government designed to support the research and development process of innovative made-in-Canada technologies with a level of technical risk and uncertainty. This program would be relevant to those developing an innovative new game or software that is seeking to have its research and development supported through government incentives. The intellectual property (IP) created during the project must stay with the applicant.
Amount: Grants of up to 60-80% of internal labour costs and subcontractor expenses.
Ontario Government Funding for Video Game Development
Ontario is home to many video game development studios such as Rockstar Toronto, Capybara Games, and Ubisoft Toronto. These studios have created massive hit games achieving global popularity, accounting for a significant portion of the province’s economic activity and the Ontario provincial government has taken notice. As a result, the province offers multiple long-standing funding programs to kickstart and expand the development of new video games, as well as promote and export Canadian-made games to new markets.
Funding to Accelerate Video Game Development: Ontario Interactive Digital Media Fund (IDM)
Ontario’s Interactive Digital Media Fund (IDM) is a provincial government grant program that supports digital media developers to conceptualize new digital media products, as well as develop and commercialize those products.
Amount: Provides up to 50% of costs to a maximum of $50,000 for concept definition projects, or up to 50% of costs to a maximum of $300,000 for digital media projects in the production phase.
Tax Credits for Ontario Video Game Developers: Ontario Interactive Digital Media Tax Credit (OIDMTC)
The Ontario Interactive Digital Media Tax Credit (OIDMTC) is a refundable tax credit that can be put towards eligible labour, marketing, and distribution expenses. This program is open to established Ontario-based corporations that develop interactive digital media. The OIDMTC is administered by Ontario Creates and the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA).
Amount: Up to 40% of eligible labour, marketing, and distribution expenses towards internal activities, with up to 35% for fee-for-service arrangements.
There is no overall funding cap for this program, however funding towards marketing and distribution expenses are capped at $10,000 per product.
Canadian Federal Funding Programs for Published Video Games
Once a video game has been developed it must compete with the other games listed on multiple storefronts. This includes both retail shelves, as well as virtual storefronts such as Steam, Epic Games, PlayStation Store, Nintendo eShop, Microsoft Store, and more. Therefore, the Canadian government is introducing funding programs to help with the promotion of games that have been released.
Retroactive Funding for Completed Video Games: The Scientific Research & Experimental Development (SR&ED) Tax Credit
As listed above, the SR&ED program provides retroactive tax credits for video game projects that have been published. Learn more about SR&ED funding, as well as stacking funding with Provincial and Territorial SR&ED variants.
Promoting Your Game in Foreign Markets: CanExport SME
Amount: Up to 50% of project expenses to a maximum of $50,000 in grants.
Eligible Businesses: For-profit businesses must be incorporated for more than three years, with less than 500 employees, and have between $100,000-$100M in Canadian annual revenue.
Eligible Projects: Market research, IP/product certifications, marketing tools, and website SEO. Trade show and travel related costs for new markets, however these costs may be ineligible if there is a travel advisory in those markets.
Apply for Government Funding Grants, Loans, and Tax Credits
Whether your video game development studio is conceptualizing a new game, developing a game, or planning the promotion of a game launch, there are Canadian government grants, loans, wage subsidies, and tax credits that might be relevant.
If you believe your business may be eligible for funding through one or more of these programs, contact a member of the Mentor Works team for application assistance. Our team of government funding writers provide an estimated 95%-time savings compared to organizations that write funding applications in-house.
Video game development studios are a fantastic fit for receiving grant funding through the IRAP program, as well as tax credits through the SR&ED program. Get to know both programs and how your business can access them by downloading our free IRAP Vs. SR&ED Guide.