Howard Donaldson, President, DigiBC

Howard Donaldson, president of the Digital Media and ?Wireless Association of B.C. (DigiBC) talks about his transition from Disney and decision to stay in B.C.

Howard Donaldson, president of the Digital Media and 
Wireless Association of B.C. (DigiBC) talks about his transition from Disney and decision to stay in B.C.

After selling the studio he co-founded, Propaganda Games, to Disney Interactive Studios Inc., video game entrepreneur Howard Donaldson became vice-president of studio operations with his new corporate parent, travelling all over the world scouting other studios for the California media behemoth to gobble up. But his passion remained with the industry in B.C., so he helped found the B.C. Interactive Task Force in 2009, which was responsible for the new media tax credit the B.C. government approved last year. Then Disney left B.C. and he had a choice: follow the money to L.A. or follow his first love and stay.

Why did you choose to stay in B.C. rather than follow Disney to California?

I’ll tell you the truth: it would have been great to go to California, but I really like Vancouver. I’m established here and I have a lot of contacts here. This is an opportunity for me to help the community and the industry here. With my experience, I have the skill set to build a stronger industry here.

But it must have been a financial sacrifice. Was that a hard decision?

It was hard because I was making significantly more money with Disney. I’m hoping that can be replaced over time, but just not in the short term. So it is hard, but for me it’s just where my heart is and my passion and what’s going to make me feel happy and feel like I’ve done something good. 

Is it just a matter of doing whatever makes you feel good?

Well, it’s more than that. I feel a greater responsibility and a passion for utilizing the skills that I have to help the industry. I wouldn’t have been able to do that in Los Angeles. It’s an opportunity that’s in front of me that puts me in a position where I can influence the direction of the industry.

Your predecessor, Michael Bidu, says he left to go back into business. You’re an entrepreneur at heart; do you see yourself going back into business after this?

I do see myself going back into business and I’m being presented with opportunities all the time. But even as an industry association president, I see it as my role to work with our members and help them be more competitive. I haven’t stepped too far away from it, and if I do, then we’re not really doing our job as an association. 

For you to do your job well, how long would you have to stay in this position?

A couple years. In a couple years I can build up an organization that’s sustainable. 

You were doing a lot of the kinds of things DigiBC does on your own. Why do industry organizations matter?

They’re important because they bring the industry together. There are hundreds and hundreds of companies operating in the space, and we help centralize a voice and represent the industry, not only to government, but with other businesses. 

Where do you see the industry going in the next couple of years?

Overall, the outlook for digital media is very good. It’s projected to grow at 12 per cent a year, versus traditional media growing at less than three per cent, with some of the sectors declining. Video games and online applications are growing at over 10 per cent per year and the overall outlook for all media and entertainment is five per cent. So it’s growing at twice the rate of the overall industry. And if you look at wireless and mobile applications, they’re growing at between 15 and 20 per cent per year.

But mobile applications have only been around for two years; what does that tell us about the rest of the industry?

Well, the other thing that’s going on is that these industry sectors are converging, which is the reason that we need an industry association more than ever, because our companies need to start collaborating and working together. And that’s happening. For example, if EA wants to come out with a Facebook game for FIFA [soccer], now they’re using some other company that has some expertise in that area. And all sorts of relationships like that are happening.

Those recent EA layoffs cloud the sunny outlook a bit, don’t they?

If you just look at the console gaming market versus online and wireless for the last few years, the market has been declining, slipping because of the recession but also affected by the Sony PlayStation 3 not being successful. I think it just has to do with the temporary decline in the console market and it’s going to recover long term. But it’s going to recover in a different way because of the growth of online and wireless applications. The way we play games is going to change in the future, but the overall market is going to grow.

Do you see it as a challenge that DigiBC, as the product of a merger, covers such a broad range of businesses? 

In my view, we’re all in the digital media space now. A lot of these industries and companies are converging and technology is causing this convergence. So there’s actually a need for these different groups to start working with each other more closely. For instance, wireless is now a very big component of video games because Apple changed the business model.