Japan and the West Coast are the video game industry’s classic leaders, but a new, fresh challenger is climbing to the top of the leaderboard: New York City.
The growing Big Apple business ranges from the small, independent studio Dots, which makes the popular mobile game “Two Dots,” to major players Avalanche (“Just Cause 3”) and “Grand Theft Auto” creators Take 2 Entertainment.
“On a tech front, New York is standing on its own ... and then there is the creative side,” said Paul Murphy, co-founder and CEO of the midtown-based Dots. “New York has a set of industries, marketing, art, that we can draw on. We think this is the best place to [make games].”
The Entertainment Software Association, which represents American game companies, ranked New York State as the fourth-largest home to video game companies, with 50 developer and publisher groups operating in the state and more than 8,000 employees in 2012, the latest year for which figures were available. The average gaming employee compensation is $94,747, and the industry added more than $1.2 billion to the state’s economy, according to the association.
These numbers represented a jump from 2009, when there were 32 game companies and about 5,500 employees in the state.
The city’s Economic Development Corporation said about half of those New York jobs are located in the five boroughs. The majority of city companies are independent developers who work on smaller games mostly for mobile phones that generate millions of dollars in revenue, according to the EDC.
Murphy said he had revenues in “double digit millions” in 2015 and he recruited most of his 41 employees from New York.
“I think we are creating a strong revenue stream for New York,” he said of the indie game industry.
Mathiew Nouzareth, CEO and co-founder of FreshPlanet, creators of the game “SongPop,” pointed to the city’s support for startups as a key factor in the industry’s growth.
Assets like digital.nyc, the online hub for tech entrepreneurs, students and employees, as well as new engineering programs, make it easier for companies to assemble teams ready to program and code games.
“Everyone is in New York. We don’t outsource anyone,” Nouzaeth said.
New York’s diverse range of talent beyond the tech industry serves game makers well. Artists, writers, musicians and marketing specialists have played an increasing role in the industry.
“That’s a very strong reason to want to come to a studio in New York,” said Damon Branch, who co-created “Organic Panic,” a console puzzle platform game set to release March, in a small Brooklyn studio.
There’s room to grow, experts say, both in terms of the talent pool and in financial incentives, and schools and elected officials are working to close the gap with the industry’s geographical leaders.
NYU’s Tisch School of Arts began its MFA program at the NYU Game Center in the fall of 2012 and its BFA program three years later.
Dylan McKenzie, the Game Center’s program coordinator, said that students from various backgrounds, such as “people who worked on submarines, lawyers and architects,” have been part of the program and gone on to work with gaming companies like Disney and Avalanche.
McKenzie said the center hosts events like Playtest Thursdays, where game creators can meet with instructors and present works in progress, in an effort to grow the industry.
“The benefit is that we put different people together over a common interest,” he said.
Justin Hendrix, the executive director of NYC Media Lab, a consortium of schools, organizations and city offices, said programs like the Game Center help all New York businesses, because the training can go a long away for any industry.
“The type of storytelling in games is not linear like other mediums are, and that’s going to be important for the future of media,” he said. “It’s going to be gamers who bring that into the mainstream.”
State Sen. Marty Golden (R-Brooklyn) said he is working on legislation that would give New York game companies tax breaks similar to the ones awarded to film and TV organizations. California and Texas, which the ESA ranks first and second in terms of overall video game production, have similar economic programs and are home to big name studios such as Electronic Arts and Activision.
“They are putting out incentives that are worthwhile and we have to be either competitive or get out of the game,” he said.