TORONTO - Canadians are increasingly getting a first crack at playing mobile games created by big U.S. developers, which might be a good sign for those who have been frustrated that new tech products often hit Canada long after they are released in the U.S.
A couple of years ago Google Canada head Chris O'Neill mused about the potential of having our nation's plugged-in populace used as test subjects for the world's newest technologies.
While Google still hasn't taken any steps toward fulfilling O'Neill's vision, other tech giants have. Facebook recently launched a new feature enabling free phone calls through smartphones here in Canada first. A few weeks earlier, Nintendo said it was releasing a new low-cost version of its Wii console, the Wii Mini, exclusively in Canada.
And in the world of mobile gaming, a slew of companies have found that Canadian users are the perfect guinea pigs for their apps.
Kabam, which recently purchased the Vancouver-based Exploding Barrel Game studio and has a game based on "The Hobbit," has been tapping into Canadian gamers to test their apps since Day 1, says spokesman Steve Swasey.
"We do so because it's a market that closely replicates the U.S — common language, the same time zones — and ... it's a smaller market so it's not as broad of a potential audience, which is appealing for a beta (test), you want to have a more controlled market," says Swasey.
Canadian users are given early access to games to find any quirks or bugs that need to be worked out. Their enthusiasm for each game also helps predict whether the title is likely to be a hit.
"What we're able to find in our beta test is if there's going to be an evolving and growing market for our games based on what the players in Canada are doing. And when we are able to determine whether the games are really going to take off or do well, then we launch it and make it a worldwide game," says Swasey.
"But we don't take a game to Canada unless we are pretty certain we're going to launch, we just want to give it a field test for a couple of weeks before we actually launch it."
While Kabam's games are free to play, users can also pay for add-on upgrades and the Canadian test is also seen as a predictor of how many users might choose to pay for extras. The number of Canadian gamers willing to pay have been similar to what's eventually seen in the U.S. market, Swasey says.
Other mobile gaming companies including Zynga, Ngmoco and BashGaming have also used Canada for early testing and Swasey says other types of U.S.-based tech companies could also benefit from looking north.
"I think it makes sense for the broad Internet industry," Swasey says. "(Canada and the U.S) are very common societies and common populations so I think it does make sense."