Big Viking Games co-founder and CEO Albert Lai is convinced that HTML5 Messenger Instant Games are the future of gaming.

He's betting the bank on it. And if his track record is any indication, he may well be right on the money. Lai is a serial entrepreneur, who created and sold five successful Internet companies before deciding that what he really wanted to do was create a gaming company.

The question was: where?

"I could easily have set up BVG anywhere in the world," he says. "Once I made the decision to start the company, I travelled all over – the U.S., Asia, Europe, even South America -- investigating locations. I was very strategic about it. In the end, Ontario was the only place that offered precisely what I needed: a very strong creative and technical talent pool and strong government support. The fact that Toronto is a cosmopolitan city, with terrific Chinese restaurants, was a bonus."

Lai set up shop in London, Ontario in 2011 with a staff of four, and expanded to Toronto shortly after. From the start, the company focused on mobile instant games using HTML5.

"We saw the potential of the technology and how it will define the future of mobile gaming and entertainment," says Lai. "We started researching and investing in it more than five years ago, and we've built an HTML5 engine that allows us to create instant games of the same calibre that can be downloaded from the App Store, only we distribute them on the open web or through myriad distribution channels such as social networks and messengers."

A young man wearing a jacket and jeans playfully shooting with a nerf gun in each hand.
Albert Lai aims to build BVG into a multi-billion dollar company.
A screen shot from YoWorld that shows a tree lined street populated by comic book style characters.
BVG acquired YoWorld from Zynga, updated it and saw a 40% lift in daily active users.

BVG's catalogue of games that include Galatron, and Fishworld have been played by 60-plus million people worldwide and raised BVG's profits by nearly 50%, compounded annually, over the last five years.

And that's just the start, says Lai who is looking to turn BGV into a multi-billion dollar business. "The goal is for BVG to be the first $10-plus billion dollar mobile entertainment/media company born in Canada."

How specifically has Ontario played a role?

From talent to tax credits, Ontario delivers what game companies need to succeed

"Games are created and made by people and Ontario's talent pool is second to none," says Lai. "Ontario has world-renowned colleges and universities, like Sheridan and Waterloo, turning out grads in all areas of gaming. And immigration policies make it easy to recruit talent from abroad."

Then, there is the Ontario Media Development Corporation. It provides tax credits and financial aid to game developers, including the Interactive Digital Media Fund, which covers 50% of a project's production budget up to $250,000 and 75% of marketing activities up to $50,000.

"These funds are invaluable for companies such as mine," says Lai. "They also say a lot about how important the government considers this industry is to the economy."

For the first five years, BVG grew without any outside financing by way of VC or equity financing. But in November 2016, Lai was ready to go to investors – and he had no trouble finding them in his own backyard. BVG secured almost $22 million from the Royal Bank of Canada, Export Development Canada and the Business Development Bank of Canada.

Although he's on the hunt for another $60 million to grow the company, this first round means he can double his 100-strong workforce – and keep developing and publishing even more Triple A instant games on new and multiple platforms for the seemingly insatiable marketplace.

A photo of the company's team members in front of a Big Viking Games Life banner.
The BVG team has over 100 Vikings and is actively recruiting.
August 21, 2017
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