Most Canadians aren't aware that Vancouver's booming high-tech industry has made the city an international draw for computer geeks. Vancouver has become the Silicon Valley for video games, a hugely successful spin-off of the film and television industry of the '80s.

Out of the film and TV industry grew a thriving animation industry, which naturally fed into a digital appetite to create or provide production support for video games, 3-D technology and web marketing. Video games, in particular, have become an essential part of the economy.

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There are an estimated 3,500 people and about 145 companies working in B.C. in the video game industry, according to figures provided by non-profit industry association New Media B.C. As for animation, the industry holds strong in Vancouver. California's Pixar Animation Studios — creator of blockbuster feature films such as Toy Story and the winner of 24 Academy Awards — recently opened a studio in Vancouver.

And much of the area's growth has occurred in the last five years, with a bunch of acquisitions and new micro-sized offshoot businesses springing up. If the industry were illustrated as a family tree, Electronic Arts would be its patriarch. In 1991, the California-based publisher set up EA Canada in Vancouver. EA was one of the first companies to develop and publish video games, and it became the granddaddy of the industry, drawing talented developers to Vancouver who eventually splintered off and formed their own companies.

Despite some layoffs due to the downturn last year, the video game industry is filled with entrepreneurial survivors who are just as likely to work for someone else as launch their own start-up. As well, unlike conventional music recording or newspaper industries, the digital industry can instantly adapt to the changing needs of the consumer.

Take a look at one-time Silicon Valley web marketer Brian Shuster, the guy behind those irritating pop-up ads. He also pioneered banner advertising on the web, and ran a successful venture as a webmaster for pornography sites. The Montreal-raised Shuster is now based in Vancouver, where his company Utherverse has launched Virtual Vancouver, a 3-D social networking game in the same vein as Second Life (but using different technology). More recently, he launched a real estate service for house sellers and developers to showcase their products using his 3-D technology online. Shuster oversees a staff of 60 and has 250 volunteers from around the world.

Shuster left Silicon Valley five years ago, and went in search of a new base. He looked around Europe and Australia, but settled back home in Canada, where he discovered the industry had flourished since he'd left. Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver all have thriving high tech industries.