Vancouver lures Asian tech companies looking for close connection to U.S.

Just as Microsoft (NASDAQ: MSFT) and Sony Pictures Imageworks expand their Canadian footprint and set up larger offices in Vancouver, Asian tech firms, too, are catching on to the West Coast city.

Workers at Beijing-based FunPlus Games. The Chinese company expanded its Vancouver office earlier this year and plans to double its workforce in the near future.

Just as Microsoft (NASDAQ: MSFT) and Sony Pictures Imageworks expand their Canadian footprint and set up larger offices in Vancouver, Asian tech firms, too, are catching on to the West Coast city.

China’s FunPlus Games, Singapore’s IGG.com and Japan’s DeNA Studios are among the East Asian companies that have bolstered their B.C. workforces over the past year or so.

“Clearly they’re scanning the globe to find out where they should set up to develop that international creative culture that they’re looking for. When they look and see some of the big American firms that have landed here, there’s no question it has a positive impact to them,” Vancouver Economic Commission CEO Ian McKay said.

“Of course, the big American firms are here for another reason, and that is they’re looking at what’s being locally, organically grown out of Vancouver.”

One of Japan-based Sony’s (NYSE: SNE) subsidiary visual effects (VFX) studios was headquartered in California up until late May. That’s when Sony Pictures Imageworks announced it was relocating its home base to Vancouver, where a satellite office already existed.

The VFX studio announced plans to double its local workforce and employ as many as 700 people in new offices under renovation at the Cadillac Fairview building in downtown Vancouver.

Meanwhile, Microsoft will be Imageworks’ neighbours in the building. The Redmond, Wash., company announced in early May it would also double its workforce in the city and add about 400 new positions.

McKay said Asian companies have been drawn to Vancouver due to its proximity to both Asia as well as the tech hubs along the U.S. West Coast. He added the ease of immigration and the city’s reputation for livability have made Vancouver that much more appealing.

Beijing-based FunPlus had its first North American office in San Francisco before hiring artist contractors to work in Vancouver.

Earlier this year, the company expanded its Vancouver operations to include a fully-fledged studio with designers and engineers.

This occurred just as the company responsible for Family Farm announced in March it had raised $74 million in venture capital funding.

Ji Gu, FunPlus Games studio director in Vancouver, said the office has about a dozen employees as of August but is hunting for a new facility that could accommodate as many as 30.

“The atmosphere and the amount of talent here already built up a good foundation for us to set up such a studio,” she said, adding the location is a big factor.

Working in the same time zone as the San Francisco office, which is a 2.5-hour flight away, allows the international teams to work more efficiently, according to Gu.

“And a flight to our headquarters in Beijing, which I do almost monthly, is a mere 12 hours,” she said. “It’s a lot better than flying from Toronto.”

 torton@biv.com

@reporton