Microsoft opens Black Tusk video game studio in Vancouver

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The tide of Vancouver’s video game industry is flowing again, but this time it’s in a more positive direction. Microsoft Studios announced today (November 29) the existence of Black Tusk Studios.

Mike Crump heads up the new studio. The industry veteran has been quietly adding employees to the team for the past year. On the phone from his office on Cambie at Robson, in the Crosstown area of downtown, he said that they’ve already run out of space and will be moving to a new location on Beatty in the new year.

“We’re about 50 people right now and we’re looking to nearly double in the next year,” he explained. He is actively recruiting through the studio’s website.

While other publishers have been decamping for Toronto and Montreal, where tax credits are at least double the 17.5 percent available to B.C. studios, Microsoft is committed to B.C., according to Crump. Black Tusk is Microsoft’s third game developer in the province, after Big Park and Microsoft Studios Victoria.

“Tax credits are a challenge,” admitted Crump, who added that Microsoft is engaging with governments to re-establish “a strong local industry”. But Crump said there were other reasons to open Black Tusk in Vancouver, including the city’s history as a hub for game development, its deep talent pool, and its proximity to Microsoft headquarters in Redmond, Washington.

“Microsoft’s commitment to Vancouver goes beyond tax credits,” said Crump.

Black Tusk has been tasked with coming up with Microsoft’s next entertainment franchise. “We’re building the next Halo here in Vancouver,” quipped Crump. And the game that’s in the works—it’s already been green lit by Microsoft—is intended for whatever succeeds the Xbox 360.

Crump wouldn’t provide a timeline for the game’s release, only saying that as it was a AAA title, it would require a bigger team and longer development cycle. “It’s in the preproduction phase,” he said. “We’re fleshing out the game and proving technologies and processes.”

He said that it’s important to recognize that the video game industry is changing. “The sands are shifting,” he said. “We need to explore new models of where AAA is going.”

Consumers, he said, are engaging in entertainment across platforms and they are always connected with myriad devices. “What’s really exciting for us is the convergence between games and film and the blurring line between them,” said Crump, who believes that digital characters are poised to cross the uncanny valley. “They will allow for a deeper emotional engagement than we’ve ever seen before,” he said.

Because they work for the same company that makes the hardware their games will run on, Crump expects his studio to take risks that other developers can’t, or won’t. “We can think big and act big,” he said. “The whole reason Microsoft Studios exists is to showcase the Microsoft entertainment platforms.”

Black Tusk takes its name from the mountain in Garibaldi Provincial Park. Crump said the peak is considered challenging to ascend, which resonated with what he hopes his workshop can create. He’s not a climber himself. “Building the studio is thrill enough for me,” he said.

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Mac&Cheese
This news comes as a surprise as Microsoft Studios laid off 35 Vancouver game programmers in July. Yet Black Tusk (owned by Microsoft) has been "quietly adding employees to the team for the past year." Can anyone explain this?
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GioVanni
What is there to explain? Some projects are green lit, others not. Sometimes you can reallocate, sometimes it doesn't make sense. All big companies go through this. [Disclaimer - I don't work a Microsoft but have seen my share of this at EA]
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