Albany

Capital Region’s video game development cluster continues to grow

Details on HV Gamer Con 2019 highlighted at same time as survey results
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ALBANY — The video game industry has strong prospects for continued growth in the Capital Region, the regional economic development agency reported Monday.

The Center for Economic Growth said 21 development studios with a total of 418 employees responded to its 2019 survey. The five large studios among them accounted for the bulk of the workforce: 340 employees, a 5.6 percent increase from the 2018 survey.

CEG President Andrew Kennedy said digital entertainment continues to grow as an industry in the region, and while it is not a huge job sector, it provides one more facet in an economy that is attractive in part because of its diversity.

Also Monday, organizers of HV Gamer Con 2019 announced a broadcast partnership with N3rd Street Gamers, an esports infrastructure company. The event will be held March 30 and 31 at the Albany Capital Center and is billed as the largest esports tournament yet staged in upstate New York. Eighteen colleges have committed to participate, including Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute and Siena College.

N3rd provides hardware, tournament administration and broadcast services to gamer communities nationwide, with a goal of increasing accessibility to esports and social, career and competitive opportunities for gamers. N3rd’s 2019 National Championship Series will total more than 1,000 esports events nationwide.

Kennedy said colleges have played a key role in development of the Capital Region’s video game development cluster, providing a pipeline of new talent and support for young companies all the way back to the formation of Vicarious Visions.

“I think it was that initial spark” that led to the cluster that now exists, he said.

It continues today through such initiatives as the Digital Gaming Hub at RPI and SUNY Schenectady Community College’s new Programming for Gaming Development degree program.

“We’re situated to help develop this cluster,” Kennedy said. “It’s clearly an area in which we see growth.”

He added that the skills and talent needed for video game development are transferable to a range of other high-tech settings, though there is a particular mix that is suited to video games.

“You need to have someone with the technical skills to make the games and keep pushing the envelope,” he said. “As part of that, those individuals need to have a creative sense.”

Vicarious Visions, now part of Activision, announced a major Capital Region expansion of workforce and footprint in August. Activision in February announced a dozen job cuts in the Capital Region as part of a much larger global reduction in workforce.

Kennedy said he saw that as a blip rather than a sign of lasting weakness.

SURVEY RESULTS

Here are some highlights from the 2019 CEG report on video game development in the Capital Region:

  • The Capital Region digital gaming cluster is a “broad and vibrant ecosystem” of large studios, small independent studios and startups.
  • Five large studios — defined as those with 15 or more employees — have a combined workforce of 340.
  • Sixteen small studios have a combined 78 employees; eight of them are based in homes.
  • Academic programs at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, the University at Albany, Hudson Valley Community College and SUNY Schenectady Community college contribute to a “robust talent pipeline.”
  • Among the impediments to growth cited by the 21 companies responding to the survey were lack of startup support, small employment base, lack of a state video game tax credit and the high cost of doing business in New York state.
  • Eleven of the small studios expressed interest in relocating to a game development incubator space, if one is created in the Capital Region.
  • All five large studios plan to hire new employees over the next 12 months, and will rely heavily on recruiting at colleges including RPI, Champlain College and Rochester Institute of Technology.
  • Eight of 16 smaller studios plan to hire more employees or contractors over the next 12 months.
  • Digital marketing is the need most commonly cited by studios (11), followed by need to hire artists/animators (eight) and need to hire developers (six).
  • Several of the small companies will release their first games in 2019, including Bork Bork Studios and Spoony Bird, both in Troy.

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