Optimism for Vancouver’s VR and AR community

A new DigiBC report reveals the strengths and challenges of the world’s second-largest immersive tech ecosystem.

Photo: Lucrezia Carnelos/Unsplash

Since the late 2010s, Vancouver has boasted the second-largest immersive technology ecosystem in the world by count – runner up only to global titan Silicon Valley. More than 200 companies in the VR and AR space call the Canadian city home, thanks to the region’s strong roots in digital entertainment such as film and TV, VFX, animation, videogame design, and others. Given its relative size to the tech industry as a whole, the sector consistently punches above its weight both locally and globally.

The boom in interest for the metaverse last year spawned a similar local desire to learn more about the immersive tech companies housed in Vancouver. Beginning in July 2022, DigiBC commissioned a study to determine the size and goals of B.C.’s commercially oriented AR and VR companies (collectively referred to in the report as XR.) The aim was to collect data to support the ongoing growth of the sector, and to provide context to the oft-touted “second-largest ecosystem” figure: one that has become a talking point for even Vancouver’s Mayor Ken Sim.

Over three months, 36 of the city’s major XR companies – including Finger Food Studios, Cognitive3D, LNG Studios, and Electronic Arts – took part in the study. Here are the key takeaways from the final report.

Vancouver XR is still mostly used in entertainment

According to the survey, companies in the creative XR industry in B.C. generate two thirds of their total revenue on average from entertainment projects: an area defined by the report as arts, digital media, movies and television, museums, and similar industries. That result is as expected, given that over 90 percent of survey respondents operate with a focus on entertainment. However, the versatility of XR has led to the polled companies expanding into other industries, including education (53 percent), retail and ecommerce (42 percent), and design (37 percent).

XR careers are more lucrative than gaming jobs

While pay at the junior level (zero to two years) and intermediate level (two to six years) is roughly equal between XR professionals and those who work in gaming, the gap widens with seniority. Those who have worked more than six years in XR can expect to earn an average of $118,000, versus a game developer’s typical annual salary of $98,000. That difference is largely due to the fierce competition for senior talent, with the report finding that the higher salaries in XR helps attract people away from the videogame sector. Nevertheless, in order to attract and retain those experienced employees, both areas must offer comprehensive packages that vie with other industries.

Gender diversity, but racial homogeneity

While B.C.’s workforce is made up of 20 percent female and 80 percent male employees according to the 2016 census, the XR industry fares slightly better in the struggle for gender parity. In the immersive community, 32 percent of the workforce identified as female, which is in line with the tech industry as a whole. The XR industry, however, is overwhelmingly white. While 30 percent of B.C.’s workforce and 41 percent of the tech industry population are visible minorities, only a quarter of those working in XR identified as non-white. Given that those building immersive technologies are fashioning the worlds of the future, the sector has a considerable distance to go in order to claim that it is representative of the province, or the globe at large.

Employees are optimistic about the future

Despite the waning of interest in the metaverse following the ridicule of Meta and reports that major XR worlds are largely uninhabited – including the case of the $1.2 billion-valued Decentraland, which boasted just 38 active users – Vancouver XR companies remain optimistic about where the industry is headed locally. Over a third of respondents expected their revenue to grow by more than 10 percent over the next 12 months, indicating a general confidence in the market. Similarly, all the companies in the survey anticipated that they would grow their headcount over the same period: something the report notes should be embraced as an opportunity to further develop the industry.

Projections for talent, however, were mixed. Nearly half of respondents are not confident that they will be able to fill future positions with locally sourced talent, though 14 percent were “very confident.” By contrast, 45 percent were “confident”, and 18 percent were “very confident”, in their ability to secure experienced international talent: an indicator that there is a gap in Vancouver’s pipeline that must be filled.


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