Kabam’s big boom in Vancouver’s gaming sector

Fast-growing studio rebranding, taking over seven storeys at new downtown tower

Kabam CEO Tim Fields: we know that we’re going to be continuing to grow and we want to do that in Vancouver  | Submitted

When Tim Fields first arrived at Kabam Inc.’s Vancouver headquarters five years ago, the gaming studio seemed as compact as the mobile devices its games are featured on.

“We were in a tiny office, more or less sitting on each other’s laps even though there were only 35 of us,” recalled the CEO, who originally hails from Austin, Texas.

The mobile gaming developer has more breathing room now since expanding into new offices and hiring another 200 workers (even more employees are based at offices in San Francisco and Austin).

But even the new facilities on Alberni and Georgia streets aren’t enough for the company that broke onto the scene with the Kingdoms of Camelot mobile game.

“We want to bring everybody back together,” Fields said.

Kabam announced in November it would lease 105,000 square feet of office space across seven storeys at the under-construction Vancouver Centre 2 tower on Seymour Street.

That’s nearly one-third of the 345,000 square feet available at the 33-storey building.

“As we look over the next couple of years and start to look at our workforce planning, we know that we’re going to be continuing to grow and we want to do that in Vancouver,” Fields said.

“We believe in this region, we believe in British Columbia and we believe in the talent base here.”

He said he anticipates the 200-plus head count “doubling in size over the next few years” – one of the other major driving factors behind the upcoming move into new facilities.

Over the past few years, the studio has built its mobile gaming reputation around partnering with big-name pop culture franchises such as Marvel, Transformers and The Hobbit.

“Kabam has become a tent-pole studio in Vancouver over the past decade. They have six titles that have grossed more than $100 million, which is a huge accomplishment,” Brenda Bailey, executive director of the DigiBC industry group representing the province’s gaming sector, told Business in Vancouver in an email.

“Their singular focus on mobile and their alliance with top franchises like Marvel and Transformers has allowed them to connect with a truly global market.”

Meanwhile, last year’s departure of two Japanese gaming companies, Bandai Namco Studios Vancouver Inc. and Capcom Game Studio Vancouver Inc., has raised concerns over investment leaving the city, according to Bailey.

This is on top of changes to corporate taxes in the U.S. and the introduction last year of Alberta’s 25% incentive for the gaming industry, the province’s interactive digital media tax credit.

B.C.’s interactive digital media tax credit comes in at 17.5% – the lowest among all jurisdictions in the country, according to DigiBC data provided to BIV.

“It’s ever more important that we have studios such as Kabam and Electronic Arts continuing to expand here,” Bailey said.

With that the company is beginning 2019 with a rebranding, eschewing its previous bomb-motif logo for a more streamlined version of the letter K.

“It’s a logo that seeks to put player experience and player emotion at the forefront,” Fields said.

“While the explosive excitement that’s captured by an iconic image like a bomb is definitely one of the emotions that we want to capture … there are a number of ways a bomb can be perceived as a negative logo.”

Kabam's new logo


Another reason for the rebrand, according to Fields, is to make Kabam as attractive as possible to potential new hires.

While the city’s beauty is a pull for talent, Vancouver’s high cost of living has made it more difficult for young workers to make a go of it, he said.

And in recent months officials from the City of Calgary have been visiting Vancouver, trying to recruit talent to work in Alberta’s fledgling tech industry.

The same week the Capcom Vancouver studio closed, U.K. developer Improbable announced it was opening its first Canadian office in Edmonton, already home to gaming giant BioWare.

“There are places busy attempting to make it more attractive to staff up in significant ways,” Fields said.

“Sometimes it’s a little bit harder to convince [workers] that they want to come here. That forces me to pay higher wages. Higher wages suggest that there are things the provincial government can do with regards to tax incentives to make that more palatable.”