Microsoft is planning a major game design studio in downtown Victoria, B.C. some times early in the new year that could employ up to 60 people.
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.
Chris Robertson, the technical director of the project in an interview with the Times Colonist, 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.
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 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.
"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," quoted Robertson as saying.