Microsoft Corp. will open a major game design studio in downtown Victoria early in the new year that could employ up to 60 people.
In an exclusive interview with the Times Colonist, the technical director of the project said Victoria was chosen for its strategic proximity to Microsoft headquarters in Redmond, Washington, and for its "livability," which will help attract the best and brightest in creative, production and design in the global gaming industry.
Chris Robertson said it also helps that Don Mattrick, the head of Microsoft's gaming division and former president of Electronic Arts, is an Oak Bay resident and didn't have to be sold on the idea that Victoria was an easy alternative to expanding in Vancouver.
"The sun shines over here, there are no hour-long commutes, housing prices are half as much ... it was an easy decision," said Robertson, an industry veteran who lives in Victoria and sold his gaming company, Blackbox, to Electronic Arts when Mattrick led the firm.
"We wanted to live where we worked and we love the community feel of Victoria ... the walkability, the village centres, the bike lanes."
Microsoft, the world's largest software company, designs games in centres worldwide with partners. But it does most of its inhouse work at the Redmond campus and in Vancouver, where the company employs 165 at its Victoria Park location.
Microsoft has been remodelling former government office space on the top floor of the Dogwood Building at 1019 Wharf St., at the foot of Fort Street, over the past several months.
The facility, to be called Microsoft Studios Victoria, will have an open, modern design and rooftop garden. Microsoft has an option for the floor below to allow for expansion of its workforce.
The site was chosen for its downtown waterfront location and proximity to seaplanes and ferries to Seattle, Robertson said.
In an email statement, Mattrick, president of Microsoft's Interactive Entertainment Division, said Victoria is well positioned as a game-design hub. "Victoria offers proximity to world-class universities, a thriving, advanced technology industry with a highly educated and skilled workforce, located in one of Canada's best communities to live in," he said.
Post-secondary institutions and the local technology sector were thrilled with Microsoft's decision, saying the company's "star power" on the global stage will put Victoria on the map and help to attract talented people.
The initial team includes Robertson, his wife and games designer Joanne Parker Robertson and former Electronic Arts veteran Eduardo DeMarta, who will be the studio director.
They aren't revealing what games will be produced in Victoria, but indicated they would be designing for several formats, including Microsoft's XBox, as well as mobile and tablet units. The XBox had a shaky start, but its successor, the XBox 360, is the fastest-growing console on the market, having recently surpassed Sony's PlayStation 3 and set to knock off Nintendo "within the year," Robertson said.