March 7 2018

Momentum on side of local video game cluster

Times Union

By: Larry Rulison

Troy A new study by the Center for Economic Growth in Albany found that the Capital Region’s video game development industry has grown to 14 studios that employ 352 people, making it one of the larger sectors of the local creative economy.

The study comes as CEG staff are preparing their first trip ever to the Game Developers Conference in San Francisco two weeks from now.

CEG chief executive Andrew Kennedy revealed the results of the study Wednesday at a video gaming forum and networking event hosted by the Tech Valley Center of Gravity in Troy, where five of the video gaming studios have their home.

A majority of the companies surveyed for the study said they planned to hire additional workers over the next 12 months, Kennedy said, adding to the momentum of the industry, which is outpacing other creative fields locally such as book publishing, public relations agencies and graphic design firms in terms of employment.

“We’re happy that there is no stop to it,” Kennedy said.

Kennedy and others in the industry, including local hero Guha Bala, have been advocating for the state to create a video game studio tax credit program that would provide incentives to companies to move to places like Troy and hire workers. Kennedy and Bala have said that there is intense competition from other states that provide such incentives to gaming firms.

Bills have been introduced in the state Senate and Assembly that would create the Empire State Digital Gaming Media Production Credit, which would be valued at $50 million a year. But the bills have yet to get out of the committee stage.

“The gaming credit is something that is needed and can level that competitive playing field,” Kennedy said.

Bala and his brother Karthik were the founders of Vicarious Visions of Menands, the region’s largest and oldest video game studio, which was sold to video game giant Activision in 2005.

Guha Bala says the next five years are critical to the local gaming industry — and whether or not it will gain substantial traction to become a nationally known, sustainable hub.

“Our industry is dynamic,” Bala said. “At its current scale in our region, we could grow it much larger, or lose it.”

The Bala brothers have doubled down on the Capital Region’s gaming industry by forming another gaming startup called Velan Studios that they located in downtown Troy. Velan raised $7 million in capital last year.

Other Troy-based video game companies are 1st Playable Productions, Lottery Rewards, Omiya Games and WB Games New York, which is part of the interactive gaming unit of Warner Bros.

Troy is also unique in that Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, where Karthik Bala went to school, has one of the best known video game development programs in the country. Animation Career Review ranked RPI’s gaming program the 10th best in the country.

The University of Southern California, the University of Utah and the Rochester Institute of Technology topped the list.

Troy Mayor Patrick Madden agreed that the local video game industry needs to grow stronger to become sustainable in Troy. And it can beat out better-known cities for talent and companies if it can do that.

“The industry doesn’t need big city infrastructure,” Madden said. “It can succeed in small cities like Troy. But it does need a network to succeed, and that is what today is about.”

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