Capital Region’s Digital Gaming Cluster Gets One-Up in Lockdown, Large Studios Grew by 16%
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
CEG Launches GameOnNY.Org to Attract Game Development Investment, Studios and Talent
ALBANY, NEW YORK – The Capital Region’s large digital gaming studios grew their employment by 16 percent over the past year as the pandemic stoked demand for video games. The local community of indie studios also remained active, helping push the size of the region’s Digital Gaming Cluster over the 500-worker threshold, according to an annual survey by the Center for Economic Growth (CEG).
As of February, the Digital Gaming Cluster consisted of 24 studios, including seven large (>15 workers) and 17 indie (<15 workers). Together they have 507 workers, with 439 being at large studios and 68 at indie studios.1 Over the past two years, the cluster has grown from 352 in 2018 and 455 in 2019, according to CEG surveys. The region’s largest studio is Vicarious Visions, which was founded in 1991 by two brothers in high school, Karthik and Guha Bala, acquired by Activision in 2005 and merged into Blizzard Entertainment earlier this year. In 2016, the Balas formed Velan Studios, which Fast Company this month named the nation’s eighth most innovative design company.
Gaming through Pandemic
Between releasing major award-winning titles and supporting the online networks that connected gamers during lockdowns, the Capital Region’s Digital Gaming Cluster played on in the face of COVID-19. In fact, 71 percent of the studios that participated in CEG’s survey said their business increased during the pandemic. And business continues to go strong with 76 percent of respondents reporting plans to add workers over the next 12 months.
“In 2020, the Capital Region enjoyed key milestones with new product introductions in gaming: Mario Kart Live: Home Circuit and Tony Hawks Pro Skate 1 & 2. We’re starting to get global recognition for breakthrough game making that can be built on to create a gaming cluster that can become a durable economic engine for our community,” said Velan Studios President Guha Bala.
“It is truly an exciting time for game development in the Capital Region,” said Ben Chang, the program director of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute’s Games and Simulation Arts and Sciences (GSAS). “At Rensselaer, we are building on this momentum by continuing to provide opportunities for collaboration and learning, as well as a robust pipeline of talent and creativity. Throughout this pandemic, games have proven to be an absolutely vital tool for maintaining connections and enhancing education — and it has been heartening to see many of the best examples coming out of our own community.”
“The Capital Region is both a gaming hub in itself, and within a close distance of many other hubs, like Montreal, NYC, and Boston. Being close to other developers – even in quarantine – helps us work together in ways that wouldn’t be possible in other locations,” said CJ Legato, the co-founder of one of the region’s newest indie studios, Pine Drake Games.
Last year saw large studios in the Capital Region release their first games for Nintendo (Velan Studios, 1st Playable Productions). Vicarious Visions released what was recognized as the Best Sports Game of 2020 by Blog.Playstation.com, Gamescon, and The Game Awards.
“The Capital Region is a great area for game development because of the high caliber homegrown talent that comes from places like RPI, right here in our backyard, as well as other programs in NYS like RIT, NYU, SUNY, and Marist, just to name a few…not to mention the growing STEM ecosystem at the high school level in the region. The quality of the game development programs at these schools coupled with the growing game development community of creatives, entrepreneurs, and full development studios make the Capital Region a magnet for high quality game development,” said Vicarious Visions Studio Head Simon Ebejer.
Big news from the past year and for the year ahead includes:
In 2020, Vicarious Visions in Colonie studio released the highly successful remastered collection – Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 1+2, which became the fastest selling game in its franchise after selling 1 million copies in its first two weeks in September. Having recently merged into Blizzard, VV this year will contribute to the industry’s most critically acclaimed games.
In 2020, Velan Studios in Troy studio released its debut title in partnership with Nintendo: Mario Kart Live Home Circuit. This year Velan will launch its second original title in partnership with Electronic Arts: Knockout City.
In 2020, PUBG MadGlory in Saratoga Springs studio launched several new updates and modes to Player Unknown’s Battlegrounds last year. The updates included two very popular player statistics and achievement systems and a Ranked Mode, which provides more competitive PUBG players to match in-game and have more intense and challenging gameplay.
WB Games New York in Troy studio primarily provides engineering/middleware expertise to support online gameplay of many popular WB titles including Mortal Kombat 11, Injustice 2 and Shadow of War.
In 2020, 1st Playable Productions in Troy studio shipped the Cooking Mama game for the Nintendo Switch and the Election 2020 edition of the Fiscal Ship. To help people stay positive through the trials posed by 2020, 1st Playable also won a grant through RPI and New York State to develop a lighthearted wellness BINGO Apple app called Just Five Things for iPhones and iPads. This year 1st Playable will develop its first PS4 game.
Wolfjaw Studios in Troy studio builds scalable backend services for large-scale multiplayer games. It increased its revenues and employment in 2020 and expects that trend to continue this year.
In 2020, ZEPHYRx in Albany studio released a new healthcare app for monitoring respiratory patients at home. ZEPHYRx this year will be releasing more video games for respiratory health.
Last year saw the emergence of new indie studios in the Capital Region (Pine Drake Games) and several local studios teamed up for a game (Catapult Games, CAGE Studios, Gaming Insomniacs). Several studios launched games last year and several more plan to release games in 2021.
“The game development community in the Capital Region is fantastic, I’ve found a group of like-minded indie developers to share ideas and creations with and many mentors and advisors in the larger local studios to give advice and guide us,” said Jordan Faas-Bush, co-founder of ToothPike Games.
“The Capital Region is home to a number of fantastic game studios and game development organizations with a broad array of different goals and foci. Although the game development community in the Capital Region is growing and quickly at that, it has maintained a close-knit community feel with a generous spirit of collaboration that has helped the game dev sector realize greater success, from the individual to the corporate level,” said Muse en Lystrala, executive director of Queenship Game Studio.
Big news from the past year and for the year ahead includes:
Pine Drake Games in Ballston Lake is one of the region’s newest indie studios. Last year it released its first game, Apotheker. This year it aims to release a demo for its second game, The Phantom Keeper, as well as start a Kickstarter campaign.
Trojan Duck Games in Troy last year completed 90 percent of the script and 50 percent of the art for its first game, Super Upbeat. This year it plans to develop a playable prototype.
Queenship Game Studio in Troy in 2020 completed its second digital product (Return to Self: An Anxiety Management App). This year it will complete its second game (Open Spaces – Deluxe + DLC), as well as a third and secure funding and publishing for the new Open Spaces.
Clockworks Games in Troy has been working on an AI toolkit to be submitted to the Unity Asset Store. Founder Brion Sacharan started a YouTube video series on AI in Unity: Humanoid AI in Unity – YouTube
Vorpal Enterprises in Troy in 2020 completed a successful crowdfunding, beta release and product launch. This year it plans to grow the use base of its online tabletop Vorpal Board gaming platform.
ToothPike Games in Niskayuna last year publicly announced its game Load Roll Die, released a demo for the game, and took part in the spring 2021 Steam Games Festival. In 2021 ToothPike will be releasing the full version of the game.
Catapult Games in Schenectady last year partnered with the Schenectady Police Department and local social justice organizations to develop a virtual reality de-escalation training tool. Catapult also partnered with CAGE Studios and Gaming Insomniacs in Schenectady to develop Fight for Humanity: Air Dominance. In 2021, Catapult plans to go to market with the de-escalation application.
Jahnel Group in Schenectady has a burgeoning game development division that builds backend distributed services, integrations with web- and console-based AAA game clients, and disaster solutions, suspicious activity monitoring and other solutions. In 2021 it will add development and engineering hires as well as a significant number of new clients and projects.
Rumblecade in Troy plans to release of two games on PC / Mobile in 2021.
Tuna Cat Studio in Troy last year We made more progress on its game, Mastery. In 2021 the studio will continue to make Mastery and explore more game seeds.
To help accelerate this momentum, CEG has launched www.GameOnNY.org to showcase the region’s digital gaming assets to attract investment, new studios and talent. The website, supported with funds from National Grid, features information on Capital Region Digital Gaming Cluster stats and studios.
Later this year CEG will be promoting the regional Digital Gaming Cluster at the Game Developers Conference (GDC) in July and the Montreal International Games Summit (MIGS) in November.
“Being located near three major cities – New York, Boston, and Montreal – allows us to offer an affordable to place to work and live with the Adirondack Mountains near by all the while we can be in a major metro to meet with clients in a casual day trip. Additionally, the critical mass has started to occur where recruiting someone to work here is easier as they know there are other jobs in the sector that are available,” said Mitchell A. Patterson Jr., studio director of Wolfjaw Studios.
“The Capital Region game development is great because of the passion of this community. When you love what you do, your work will shine,” said Catapult Games Studio Director Dane Jennings.
The Capital Region’s game development talent pipeline is also expanding. The University at Albany last fall launched an interdisciplinary, three credit micro-credential in eSports, designed to provide an overview of the industry and provide hands-on experience with broadcasting, streaming and other relevant technologies. Last January, UAlbany launched its first game design and development course and a second will be offered for spring 2022. As the university works toward a game development degree program in the near future, its College of Emergency Preparedness, Homeland Security and Cybersecurity (CEHC) is also utilizing game development tools and emerging technologies such as virtual reality for student and faculty research in the areas of “serious gaming,” training and simulation.
“Not only is the University at Albany increasing course offerings in game design & development, other areas of advanced technology including data visualization, cybersecurity, artificial intelligence, interactive user experience and data analytics provide students interested in pursuing careers the interdisciplinary gaming industry with unique and in-demand skills. With the international reputation the Capital Region is building in digital gaming, we hope to continue to build partnerships providing research, internship and career opportunities in this growing industry,” said Michael Leczinsky, CEHC professor of practice and head coach/director of UAlbany’s eSports team.
RPI is also expanding GSAS, which Animation Career Review ranked the 20th Best Game Design School for 2021. Last year the university launched the M.S. and Ph.D. in Critical Game Design, a groundbreaking graduate program that combines game studies scholarship and research with the creative and technical practice of game development. Other digital gaming highlights at RPI included:
- Converting of the Level Upstate games entrepreneurship program to an all-virtual format in summer 2020. The 2020 cohort had 17 participants from 5 companies, both local and from across the state, including Toothpike Games, R&R Soup, NO! Studios, Sheep’s Meow, and Mudita Heart.
- Running a competition for small businesses creating games and gamification technology responding to the COVID-19 pandemic. Submissions included an app to help people manage the stress of the pandemic with mindfulness and self-care, as well as an app using gamification to enhance a home medical device to improve pulmonary function.
- Partnering with Questar III BOCES and the game studio Vicarious Visions on a teacher training program, resulting in development of new BOCES curriculum in game design.
- Using state-of-the-art technology in video streaming and virtual reality, Rensselaer held the popular annual GameFest event entirely online for the first time in 2020.
SUNY Schenectady also launched an associate’s degree for Programming in Game Design in fall 2019. This program positions students well to transfer to four-year colleges while also laying the groundwork for students who may wish to enter the field as they work toward completing a bachelor’s degree.
“The Capital Region of New York educates some of the best game developers and designers in the industry at our local colleges, and we have been able to retain many of them to stay in the area to produce world-class titles. The gaming cluster now has momentum and presence that cannot be understated due to its a strong sense of community support, engagement, and production of some of the biggest games in the world,” said Clarke Foley, the director of operations of PUBG MadGlory.
1 CEG conducted this survey in February 2020, with 17 of 24 known active studios responding. When possible, for several studios from which responses could not be obtained, CEG estimated their number of workers by tallying people listed on LinkedIn as currently working for them.
The Center for Economic Growth (CEG) is dedicated to driving economic growth in New York’s Capital Region that consists of eight counties and 1.1 million people. As a the nonprofit regional economic development organization, we do this by attracting investment and talent; growing manufacturing and workforce capabilities, leveraging industry clusters, and developing the entrepreneurial ecosystem. We work in tandem with partners and stakeholders to prepare the region to compete and move high-impact strategies and projects forward. An affiliate of the Capital Region Chamber, CEG is supported by investors in business, government, education, and the nonprofit sectors who are committed to sustainable economic growth and shared prosperity. For more information, visit www.ceg.org.