Up Front: June 2010

Game boy

In April, an organization called the Triangle Gaming Initiative held its second annual conference in Raleigh. Even in challenging economic times, the event was a success, drawing more attendees and sponsors than the previous year. According to the conference website, “With more than 40 gaming companies employing more than 1,000 people in the Triangle — one of the largest concentrations of game-development companies in the U.S. — the Triangle region is a center of innovation for the gaming industry.” That got me to thinking: What about the rest of the state? What weight do recruiters give it compared with other growth industries.

A few inquiries provided the answer: not much. Which led to another question: Is this a generational thing? My generation — Gen X, born in the 1960s and the ’70s — was the first to be immersed in video games. If you didn’t grow up with them, can you fully appreciate their impact on, much less their potential for, growing the economy?

Think about what has happened the last 35 years, since the industry began evolving out of the electronic ooze that was Pong, which begat Space Invaders, which begat Defender, and so on. Arcades sprang up in shopping malls across the nation, with video games sucking down kids’ quarters faster than Pac-Man munched up blue ghosts. As the ’80s progressed, video games came into homes, with devices such as the Atari 2600 and ColecoVision. A glut in the market led to concentration on design and development, which gave rise to Japanese companies such as Nintendo. As technology advanced, video games played their part in driving the PC industry and the emergence of the Internet. As the Atari generation grew up, it didn’t abandon an industry that matured with them, with adult-oriented games such as Grand Theft Auto and Doom. Video games have moved beyond entertainment into the education, defense and health-care industries. In 2009 — a tough, tough year by all standards — the U.S. video gaming industry pulled in a record $19.7 billion of revenue, according to The NPD Group, a Port Washington, N.Y. -based market-research company. That’s serious business.

And our state seems ideal for it. The Triangle offers access to talent, but so do Charlotte and the Triad with their wealth of highly educated, techno-savvy workers. The East’s huge military presence is an asset. The Army actually uses combat video games to recruit soldiers. How do you think those people controlling the drones blasting Taliban and al-Qaida leaders in the mountains of Pakistan developed their joystick skills? Fayetteville and Jacksonville would be naturals for companies involved in these systems.

Not being tied to the traditional industrial infrastructure, game developers could locate wherever they pleased, including scenic cities such as Wilmington and Asheville, which offer ample access to the creative class. Add quality of life, climate and the geographic diversity that this state offers, you’re swinging a serious recruiting tool. Other Southern states such as Texas, Florida and Georgia are pursuing this industry. It’s time we get in the games.