Jeb Wallace-Brodeur / Staff Photo Game developer Chris Hancock of Montpelier, right, owner of game design firm Tertl, explains a game to Jill Hart of Landmark College in Putney during a demonstration of Vermont gaming developers at the Statehouse in Montpelier on Wednesday.
MONTPELIER — Some Champlain College gaming design and development majors say many of their gaming industry peers would like to stay in Vermont after graduation, but the industry in the state lacks the job opportunities that Montreal, Boston and New York City offer.
To change that, a group of legislators wants to find $75,000 in the budget to help grow the video game development industry in Vermont in a way that’s similar to how ski resorts are marketed and supported.
“We want to help grow and, in fact, jump-start this industry,” Sen. Anthony Pollina, a Progressive, Democrat and Working Families Party legislator from Washington County, said Wednesday at a news conference at the Statehouse.
The money could be used to advertise Vermont’s game development possibilities in gaming industry publications, pay for internships, and help pay for certain private sector representatives to attend video game conferences and promote Vermont as a place to do business, according to Sam Andersen, executive director of Central Vermont Economic Development Corp.
There is already a small base of game developers in Vermont with offices in Burlington and Montpelier, for example, but there’s plenty of room for growth, and legislators hope the proposed money for gaming development efforts would expand that existing base.
In the capital city, an educational technologist and a gaming industry professional have been working on their projects recently in a shared workspace called Local 64, above a downtown candy store. While they share workspace, they also share an interest in the gaming industry’s future in Vermont.
Chris Hancock, the educational technologist, has been developing educational games and tools for his own business, Tertl Studos LLC. In the past when he has attempted to fill job openings, he hasn’t found enough qualified applicants in the area, requiring him to train students to do the work.
Edmar Mendizabal, the professional video game developer and adjunct professor in the Champlain College Division of Communication and Creative Media, has been doing work for GameBlocks, a firm based in South Pasadena, Calif., that provides online services to gaming companies. He also works on his own business, an independent game development company he co-founded, called 2Dawn Games, Inc.
Mendizabal also founded the Vermont Game Developers Association last year, and he’s hoping to promote the state to grow a talent pool of around 100 people. Such a base of talent, the thinking goes, could be an effective incentive for existing out-of-state gaming companies to come set up shop here in Vermont.
Mendizabal knows how tough the game industry can be. He has traveled to major conferences in the past, like the Game Developers Conference in San Francisco, but even though he networks and finds himself with business cards galore, he feels like an ant in an ocean of competitors, just one of hundreds and thousands who are looking for talent and ideas.
Advocates of the proposed funding, like Andersen of the CVEDC, suggest that financial stipends of around $500 could make it possible for more gamers and game developers to attend similar conferences, professional journeys that they might otherwise not be able to afford. These individuals would be networking across the country and helping get the word out about Vermont as a good place to be for the gaming industry.
Although recent market research studies have indicated that U.S. sales for video games and gaming hardware declined in 2012, the global gaming industry was reported to be worth $70.5 billion in 2011 and is expected to grow to $117.9 billion in 2015 — that’s according to a report by Albany, N.Y.-based Transparency Market Research.
“We want to make the buzz, create the buzz, that is going to continue to make Vermont the destination for these young professionals (as they) engage in this industry,” Pollina said at Wednesday’s news conference. He later suggested that some of the money might even be directed to Vermont hosting a major gaming conference of its own.
Officials yesterday also suggested that, if appropriated, the money would likely be administered by the state’s Agency of Commerce & Community Development.
East Calais resident Jackie Weyrauch is a veteran of the gaming industry. After working in the business in Los Angeles, she relocated to Montreal to follow the industry there before landing in Vermont. Weyrauch has been involved with casting theatrical parts for video games, which has included audio work with Insomniac Games, Inc. titles, such as the “Ratchet and Clank” and “Resistance” series.
In underscoring the industry’s economic implications, Weyrauch said the reach of the industry spans across numerous sectors beyond just entertainment.
“It’s encompassed a vibrant dynamic range of entertainment, education, social, medical and business applications, from massively successfully multiplayer games, such as ‘World of Warcraft’ and ‘Minecraft,’ to social phenomena, such as FarmVille (on Facebook) and Words With Friends,” Weyrauch said.
“They’re making our way into how we live our lives,” she said, “Into how we spend our free time, how we learn, how we do business.”
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