Tech round-up for November 3: Amazon and Microsoft increase presence in Vancouver, new numbers on economic impact of Canada's video-game industry, Super Mario Odyssey sells Switches

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Categories Consumer technology | Video games

This week, the numbers are in and Canada’s video-game sector is bringing in big bucks. Plus, why you’ll want to get a Nintendo Switch for Christmas. But first, Amazon and Microsoft are building out in Vancouver.

Amazon opening second Vancouver office, hiring another 1,000 people to work there

Cities across North America are vying to become the home for Amazon’s second headquarters, but the company already has a significant presence in B.C. It employs 1,800 people across the province, with more than 1,000 in Vancouver and a significant number at fulfillment centres in Delta and New Westminster.

This morning, at its offices at 510 West Georgia Street in downtown Vancouver, Amazon announced the opening of a second corporate office. The company has secured 150,000 square feet of space at 402 Dunsmuir that will accommodate an expected 1,000 employees.

“We’re still hiring,” said Amazon’s Alexandre Gagnon.

Gagnon, the vice president for Amazon Canada and Mexico, said that about 90 percent of the staff at the existing Vancouver office are software engineers, and that the company is one of the largest employers of software engineers in Canada.

Premier John Horgan took the opportunity to talk about the continuing need for affordable housing, transit, and investments in post-secondary education, which he said his government promised to address and would continue working on.

The Honourable Carla Qualtrough represents the riding of Delta and is the federal minister for Public Services and Procurement. She remarked that Canada’s immigration system makes the country an appealing place for companies to set up offices. “It’s great that global leaders like Amazon see Vancouver is a place to invest,” she said.

Jesse Dougherty is the general manager of Amazon’s Vancouver operations. While Dougherty was born in Vancouver and raised on the Sunshine Coast, he worked in Seattle for some 10 years after graduating from UBC. “I always wanted to come home,” he explained, “and wanted to find a way to contribute here.”

In addition to the new corporate space, Dougherty announced a $25,000 donation to B.C.‘s First Nations Technology Council. The money will be used to purchase laptops for indigenous students to use during programs, which they will keep afterwards.

The donation is only the first step in a parternship, explained Dougherty. Amazon will continue to support the Council with mentoring and coaching.

Executive director Denise Williams said that technology “has the power to be an equalizer” and that the Council is working to ensure that “all 203 First Nations communities in B.C.” get equal access to digital technology.

Microsoft in Vancouver

Microsoft also had some announcements about its presence in Canada. The company is adding 50 people to Microsoft Vancouver in its mixed-reality division, which includes work on virtual (VR) and augmented (AR) reality experiences like those that come from its HoloLens.

High schools in B.C. are also getting access to the TEALS program, which pairs computer science professionals with teachers who want to teach computer science but may not have the knowledge or skill base. The program, which previously has only been offered in the U.S., uses curricula from UC Berkeley and the University of Washington.

Microsoft is also partnering with BCIT to develop courses and degrees in mixed reality.

Super Mario Odyssey is why you want a Nintendo Switch in your house

Nintendo expects to sell a total of 17 million Switch consoles in its first year since release. That’s an astonishing number of units, and is more than the company sold of its Wii U in more than five years. Nintendo Canada says that so far this year, the Switch is the best-selling console in the country.

The hardware, which is portable if you want it to be, is excellent. But it’s always the games that make consoles sell, and with the release of Super Mario Odyssey last week, Nintendo has provided gamers with another reason to pick up a Switch. That game has sold more than a million copies in the U.S. alone in just a few days.

The game stars the popular Mario, and brings a more open world experience to the game, giving players opportunities to roam around the colourful and varied environments and encouraging exploration.

With new mechanics enabled by the motion sensing Joycon controllers, Odyssey is a thrill to play.

Video game industry in Canada a major economic force

The Entertainment Software Association of Canada this week released a report with the latest numbers on the impact of the industry on the national economy.

With nearly 600 studios across the country employing nearly 22,000 people full-time, the research, conducted by Nordicity, found that the sector contributes $3.7 billion to Canada’s GDP. The average annual salary of employees is $77,300.

While development of mobile games has diminished, there is lots of activity in the VR and AR space.

And premium, blockbuster games are still being made in Canada, like Assassin’s Creed Origins, developed by Ubisoft Montreal, which released last week, and EA’s upcoming Star Wars Battlefront II, for which the single player experience was created at Motive Studios, also in Montreal.

There are significant independent developers across the western provinces, too, in Winnipeg, Regina and Saskatoon, and Calgary and Edmonton. And, of course, Edmonton is home to the venerated BioWare, which makes some of the best role-playing games ever created.

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