Opportunity Knocks – Funding Your Game the Canadian Way

Funding your game

Jason Della Rocca of Execution Labs wrote a great article that shows how talented and passionate developers have helped create an amazingly influential and diverse games industry in Canada. He also touches upon how it’s possible to “be an entrepreneur with commercial intent, and do meaningful and innovative work.” We wholeheartedly agree and would like to take this further and show how you can do this using Canada’s extensive funding network for digital media production. I think you’ll be surprised by the opportunities that are out there.

For over 10 years, Moonray has produced digital media experiences for broadcasters and television producers. Still, we’ve always had a strong drive to create our own original content. Like every single other person who has ever played a video game before, we had an idea for a game. After much deliberation we decided it was worth taking a shot at. What now?

Well, there’s one way: quit your job and work for free. If it’s a company-wide idea, you can subsidize development by working unpaid overtime in addition to other paying work, or suspend ‘real work’ and defer or reduce salaries. Then, you hustle and promote your project and roll the dice with crowdfunding. Or, if your idea screams financial viability, you approach a publisher and try to strike a deal.

Now before we completely misrepresent the situation: not only are the above paths viable, they have in many cases resulted in fantastic games from all over the world. The passion and dedication of the bootstrapped developer is one of the uniquely impressive things about the games industry. But, and we mean this in the most compassionate way possible, if you’re in Canada (and Ontario) it doesn’t have to be this way.

Here’s an incomplete list of funding resources available for game developers in Ontario, most of which we’ve been fortunate to access in our ten year digital media career, and several of which are responsible for financing our upcoming game Debris. Although this list is country/province specific, we hope that this will push developers to look into opportunities in their regions to see what’s available. Get your acronym decoders ready, and make sure to double check this info before you submit as they are updated quite regularly.

Canadian Media Fund – Experimental Stream (CMF)

The CMF is a huge resource for producing Canadian digital media content including video games. There are three primary streams:

Experimental – Innovation

  • In their own words, this stream “encourages the development of innovative, interactive digital media content and software applications.”
  • Three stages, development, production and marketing and promotion, each with their own budgets and payment structures
  • $1.2 million cap

Experimental – Commercial Projects Pilot Program (C3P)

  • This new stream is “designed to support Canadian interactive, innovative and leading-edge digital media content and software applications which have an increased focus on potential commercial success”
  • Max of either 50% of eligible costs or $1.2 million

Accelerator Partnership Program (A2P)

  • Requires existing CMF funding
  • Designed to “connect Experimental Stream funding recipients with renowned Canadian and foreign accelerators”
  • Up to $30,000
  • You can see a full list of available accelerators here (including games-focused Execution Labs)

Notable projects who have received CMF funding in the last two years alone: Dead by Daylight – Behaviour Digital Inc., Jotun – Thunder Lotus Games, Fated – Frima Studios, Kona – Parabole, Runbow – 13AM Games, We Happy Few – Compulsion Games

Interactive Digital Media Fund (IDMF)

Part of the Ontario Media Development Corporation (OMDC), this is a large fund broken into several initiatives:

  • Production and Concept Definition: A non-refundable contribution capped at 50% of the project budget; $250k for the production phase and $50k for the concept definition phase
  • Global Market Development: Go to conventions. 50% of eligible activity costs up to a max of $15k.
  • Marketing Support: Limited to IDMF Production recipients. Up to $75k, capped at 75% of total activity costs.
  • Industry Development: Supports activities tied to established trade and event organizations (trade shows, festivals, incubators, forums, etc.). Funding amount determined during application evaluation based on a number of factors.

Notable projects: Super Time Force – Capybara Games, Halcyon 6 – Massive Damage Inc., N++ – Metanet Software, Severed – Drinkbox Studios

Ontario Interactive Digital Media Tax Credit (OIDMTC)

The Ontario Interactive Digital Media Tax Credit that compensates for eligible Ontario labour, marketing and distribution expenditures.

  • No limit on a 35% credit on labour costs
  • $100,000 cap for marketing and distribution expenses
Business Development Bank of Canada (BDC)

Although the BDC is not a fund, what it does is extremely important. The above funds can breathe life into a studio, but they require an amount of liquidity. To make sure everyone is paid on time and the lights stay on, you’ll most likely need to bridge financing, meaning covering the gaps in grant payments with cash from another source. The BDC specializes in just that.

So what?

So there’s millions of dollars worth of grants, investments, tax credits and other funding accessible to Ontario studios. If you’re in Canada but not Ontario, take a look to see if OMDC equivalents exist. If you aren’t in Canada, we’ll let you know when our immigration site is back online. But really, take a look and see what’s out there.

Knowing that funding opportunities exist is just the first step. You still need to read through the guidelines, make sure you qualify, and then start creating a proposal. Here’s a few tips that have helped us:

  • Read the guidelines carefully. Make sure you know the difference between the CMF’s recoupable investment (proportional stake that once repaid is halved for future profits) and an IDMF grant (non recoupable).
  • Talk to the agencies! Ask questions! All of these funds and associated agencies have open lines of communication that are invaluable resources if you’re looking to get funded. Building relationships with them is well within reach, and in our experience they’ve been super open and awesome to work with.
  • Set aside enough time. Make sure that you have months of lead time before embarking on your proposal. The applications are not unreasonably difficult, but they are long.
  • Be innovative.

To expand on that last point: innovation is almost always a vague buzzword, but when designing proposals for the CMF or the OMDC you’ll be faced with its true, beautiful, benevolent meaning. It’s really hard to get the above funding with cookie-cutter ideas, which should be good news for any aspiring developer.

Just for example, the CMF Experimental stream outlines four classes of innovation: revolution, differentiation, improvement and iteration. This is what it says right in their guidelines: “‘Revolutionary’ projects have the greatest likelihood of receiving CMF financing in the Experimental Stream, while ‘Iterations’ have the lowest likelihood.” They’re not kidding around! For more proof, just look at the notable projects above. Those are some good games. Let’s keep adding to that list.

Thanks for reading! Feel free to check out our game Debris or connect/ask questions on Twitter.

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