Making a Play in Digital Games

New York State Powers-Up its Gaming Industry with University-based Digital Gaming Hubs

From the early years of coin-powered arcades and home Atari systems, to today’s fully-immersive virtual reality worlds, digital gaming has established itself as a global industry; and New York is now a key player, with a $276 million share of that world market. Clearly, digital creativity thrives here.

New York has long been home to some of the most recognizable game creators, including  Take-Two Interactive (“Grand Theft Auto”, “NBA 2K”), the parent company of Rockstar Games, which recently announced the highly-anticipated sequel to “Red Dead Redemption.” Likewise — prior to being acquired by games giant Activision in 2005 — Menands, N.Y.-based game developer Vicarious Visions brought rock concerts to living rooms around the world with their groundbreaking “Guitar Hero” franchise.

And now, three New York universities have received state support to establish a network of Digital Gaming Hubs, which not only look to add funding for further growth of New York’s digital gaming sector, but also incentivize game developers to go beyond entertainment and towards applications in fields like healthcare and education.

The hubs at New York University (NYU), Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI) and Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT), will each receive $150,000 in funding per year over a three-year span. The goal: to build a network that attracts talent to the state, while keeping promising game development students in New York after they graduate.

“There is tremendous talent and creativity in games, both here in the Tech Valley region and throughout New York State,” said Ben Chang, associate professor and director of the Games and Simulation Arts and Sciences Program in the School of Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences at RPI. Chang cited examples of that creativity, including, “university researchers discovering new ways of using games in education and healthcare, non-profits teaching game design to kids and building creative communities, and game developers of all kinds constantly reinventing the medium.”

Since the grants were announced in early 2016, the three schools have been working to establish foundations for long-term growth. Andrew Phelps, Director at the RIT Center for Media, Arts, Games, Interaction & Creativity (MAGIC), envisions a two-step approach: creating a “hub” of staffing and technological resources, and then using events, media and engagement tools to gather and connect talented developers and entrepreneurs.

“One of the biggest problems in our area is that there is actually a lot going on, but no one knows or meets each other, and so new entrepreneurs and visitors walk away without a sense of all the deep resources and connections the region already has in this area,” Phelps said. “So the first step is kick starting that community.

“Over time, there will be less of a focus on initial meet-and-greets and communication building, and more on funding individual connections for existing and future work,” Phelps added. “But the first step is to highlight what is already here.”

In addition to outreach and community-building, the Digital Gaming Hubs’ objectives include providing resources and mentoring to encourage students and entrepreneurs to enter the growing industry, and to assist existing companies with gaming concepts, technologies and trends. Events designed to help the gaming community will also help to foster digital game innovation, and ultimately bolster the industry’s economic impact in New York.

At NYU — where an established core of the NYU Game Center’s mission has been to support local game developers through a program of professional, public and community events — university leaders are working to expand the school’s game incubator by creating more public programming and energizing the games industry in New York City. NYU Game Center Department Chair Frank Lantz said the NYU hub will be located in Brooklyn, a focal point of New York’s growing game industry, where it will connect “talented developers and industry partners.”

Although the Digital Gaming Hubs are housed at universities, RIT’s Phelps sees a need to start even earlier.

“Long term, we should aspire to nothing less than a community that supports entrepreneurship and creativity in digital arts and media from K-through-12 through professional business incubation and everything in-between,” he said. “Getting from here to there won’t happen overnight, but we are optimistic about the eventual ability of programs like this to capitalize on the talent, culture and resources of New York State.”