Weekly Regional Business Intelligence

Written by Kieran Delamont, Associate Editor, London Inc.

A decade after its PC beginnings, Digital Extremes takes Warframe mobile

Warframe, the popular video game franchise created by London-based developer Digital Extremes, branched out into mobile gaming this week. The third-person shooter game (which at one point had upwards of 70 million players) has been active for over a decade, but this is its first foray into mobile gaming, a result of a partnership with mobile gaming specialists Nitro Games, based in Finland. Digital Extremes creative director Rebecca Ford told online tech site Mobile Syrup that “our strange little sci-fi free-to-play game continues to live on, so mobile was the next logical step from a business sense, but also just from a community sense as well to get more people in.” The game is now available on Apple iOS, with an Android version slated for release later this year.


The upshot: These days, it isn’t Xbox or the PC that dominates the gaming market, but mobile gaming, which is responsible for half of the sector’s entire revenues. So, even given its decade in existence, why not take Warframe ― once dubbed the most popular video game you’ve never heard of ― to a new audience? “I am really optimistic that new people are going to give Warframe a try and just become charmed with our weird little game we’ve made.” Ford told gaming site Pocket Tactics, adding that the game’s legions of loyal fans are also a target market. “I’m hoping that veterans like myself will really benefit from just having the portability and the usability of a Warframe mobile client to do the things that Warframe asks you to do a lot, which are time-limited alerts, events, clan engagement, anything like that.”

Read more: Mobile Syrup | Pocket Tactics

Building permit values decline across all building types in 2023

A staff report headed to the city’s Planning & Environment Committee last week summarizing building permit activity and value in 2023, with declines being recorded in all sectors of London’s construction market. According to the summary, at year-end 2023 a total of 3,591 permits had been issued in the city, with a construction value of $1.2 billion, representing 1,726 new dwelling units. Compared to the same period in 2022, this represents a 14 per cent decrease in the number of building permits, with a 24 per cent decrease in construction value and a 33.6 per cent decrease in the number of dwelling units constructed. Residential permit values led the pack in declines, dropping from over $1 billion in value in 2022 to $706 million in 2023. All three non-residential components — industrial, commercial, institutional — also saw permit values drop.

The upshot: If there’s some good news to be gleaned here, it’s that the city’s permit value exceeded $1 billion for the eighth year in a row (city hall issued $1.6 billion in building permits in 2022, just $300,000 shy of 2021’s record of $1.63 billion). There’s also optimism in the residential sector that interest rate relief, combined with a concerted push from all government levels to build more housing, will see more shovels hitting the ground in2024. On the commercial side of things, most of the positive vibes for the coming year are likely to be derived from the industrial sector. Available supply remains very, very tight (hovering just above one per cent vacancy), and with Volkswagen’s PowerCo battery plant development in St. Thomas drawing supplier interest from near and far, it’s likely that purpose-built and speculative development will see gains this year.  

Read more: London.ca

Farväl Masonville. Ikea boxes up its mini-store concept and heads south

It’s still a far cry from the full-fledged store that was once promised, but Ikea’s mini-store (officially called a “plan and order” outlet) is moving from its current location in Masonville Place to the Wonderland Power Centre at 3120 Wonderland Road South next month. According to Ikea Canada, the new location will open on March 6. “We’re excited to bring an elevated planning experience to our London neighbours…and help them take the guesswork out of planning the space of their dreams,” said Ikea Canada’s business development and transformation manager, Inna Romagnoli. The current outlet in Masonville Place will close as of this Sunday.


The upshot: Ikea seems to be having some real success with this scaled-down concept, which it introduced in part to compete with online retailers Amazon and Wayfair. “Our ambition was to test and evaluate the concept and determine whether to scale up or move on,” said their spokesperson Meghan Hogan, speaking to the London Free Press. “We’ve seen a positive response from customers for the service provided at the current London location and are excited to be scaling up with the opening of a new, bigger plan and order point location.” The company also pointed to some internal research suggesting that up to 50 per cent of Canadians are “looking to either move or renovate their homes in the next two years.” 

Read more: Ikea Canada | London Free Press

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YMCA seeks partner to revitalize downtown branch

The YMCA of Southwestern Ontario is looking for a partner organization as it looks to “revitalize” its downtown London Centre Branch, which has operated at 382 Waterloo Street for over 40 years. The YMCA is looking for “potential community partners to help respond to members’ and the community’s evolving needs,” it said in a press release. “As we envision the next 40 years and beyond, it has become evident that there’s an opportunity to modernize and enhance this location in response to our community’s evolving needs,” said Andrew Lockie, CEO of the YMCA of Southwestern Ontario. “We believe that with the right community partner, we can revitalize Centre Branch YMCA.” Details beyond that are slim, but that seems to be by design: the YMCA said it wants to see what community partners come forth before it plots out a concrete direction.


The upshot: As the Centre Branch manager pointed out to CTV News London, the YMCA has been moving towards a funding model focused on collaboration with community organizations and development partners, rather than traditional fundraising methods. “We’ve learned that’s how you get these things done,” general manager Colin Galloway said. “It used to be that a YMCA would fundraise a certain amount and buy a plot of land or have it donated…but we know now that the way forward is to work with partners; they could be social service partners, they could be development partners for the development of housing concepts.” As a low-cost provider of services with deep ties to many communities across the country, the Y sees itself ideally placed to help cities respond to many of the social crises they are facing. “That’s what this is about,” said Lockie. “Maintaining and enhancing our downtown offering so we can best support those who rely on us.” The Y added that its call for expressions of interest is a first step in a years-long process, and no major operational impacts to the Centre Branch, which has almost 3,000 members, are expected as the process unfolds. 

Read more: CTV News London | YMCA

Fanshawe union warns of cuts to contract faculty

The Fanshawe College faculty union said it is bracing for the impact from the recently announced cap on international students. There is “a very high proportion of contract faculty at Fanshawe, and their employment is significantly contingent on the availability of the work,” Mark Feltham, president of OPSEU Local 110, told the London Free Press. “We may see less of that work being available.” This is still speculation, though; Feltham added that the college is still unclear on how student enrollment numbers will be affected by the cap. “We have absolutely no information on what cuts Fanshawe will experience,” he said. “I think it would be unrealistic to expect we would have no cuts, but we don’t know how the province is going allocate the reduced share of permits that will be available in Ontario.”


The upshot: The fallout and the debate around the international student cap is likely going to be a long and drawn out one. “The issue is obviously going to impact jobs,” said Earl Blaney, a London-based immigration consultant, who has been critical of the increased reliance colleges have had on international students. For their part, Ontario colleges counter that cuts to post-secondary funding from the Ford government have effectively forced them down this road. “If [the provincial government] is not going to give us grant money and they are going to freeze the tuition at a reduced rate, and we’re in a high inflationary environment, [colleges] don’t really have a lot of choice,” Feltham said. “I would put this back on the province and say they need to fund post-secondary education.” 

Read more: London Free Press

Pioneering Fitness Forum to give way to residential units

The groundbreaking Fitness Forum in the city’s south end looks to be throwing in the towel, per a planning application submitted to city hall. The proposal would see the gym at 900 Jalna Boulevard replaced by a 78-unit stacked townhome residential development. However, the plan is still a ways off ― Fitness Forum’s owner, Alec Pinchin, told CTV News London that he plans to operate the Fitness Forum “well into 2027.” A public meeting for the development is planned for March 19, which should give the community a bit more of an idea about the timeline.


The upshot: To be a bit speculative, this has the hallmarks of a retirement plan for Pinchin, who founded the Fitness Forum all the way back in 1985 (the property was sold in 2022 for $3,900,000). And it does have its place in the history books: at the time, Fitness Forum was one of the first membership-based gyms in North America to expand the concept beyond weights and treadmills, adding elements such as a running track, racquet courts and a pool. The gym received numerous awards over the years, and while Pinchin never expanded the concept beyond the single club, it served as a model for numerous chain-based fitness facilities in the years since it opened.  

Read more: CTV News London | London.ca London.ca

Dispatch: February 23, 2024

A summary of recent business appointments and announcements, plus event listings for the upcoming week.

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