As this report has detailed, New York City’s video game industry has been gaining ground in recent years and offers considerable potential for even more growth. But the Bloomberg administration has thus far failed to incorporate this emerging sector into its overall economic development strategy. Neither the Economic Development Corporation (EDC) nor the Department of Small Business services (SBS) has devoted staff or created initiatives intended to support companies in this sector. Indeed, 76 per cent of companies that responded to our survey said they had never interacted with the city, and most who had cited negative experiences.
In a sector largely comprised of small firms, it is understandable that the city has not offered broadly based tax breaks or other traditional economic development inducements. But there are smaller, easier and less expensive actions—from appointing a digital entertainment liaison to hosting regional gaming conferences—that other cities have seized upon where New York has not. EDC staffers have not yet attended a meeting of the local IGDA chapter, traveled to gaming trade shows to promote New York’s video game sector or attempted to convene an industry confab in the five boroughs—all common steps in cities that have developed video game clusters. The city of Boston hosted a conference called “Powering Up: Boston’s digital game industry” and Georgia’s Department of Economic Development co-sponsored the first-ever Southern Interactive Entertainment and Game Expo.
To its credit, EDC did conduct an internal study of the video game industry in 2007, examining both nationwide trends in the sector and what had been happening in New York. Ultimately, EDC officials concluded that the industry was too small to merit a major investment of their time and resources. “The sector isn’t big enough,” said one former city official who has seen the internal EDC study. “If you come up with 5,000 jobs and that’s 100 companies, you have to put that in context of the city’s economy as a whole. This is a big economy, and a couple hundred jobs here and a couple hundred jobs there just don’t move the needle.”
Given the rapid pace of change in technology industries, however, video game executives say that EDC’s analysis is now outdated—as the subsequent local growth of the industry demonstrates— and argue that what makes this sector worthwhile is its potential for future growth. “I thought they were shortsighted,” says Fortugno, who met with city officials and heard their conclusions. “I think there’s a lot of potential for games to get bigger and bigger. It’s a longer term investment, but I think the city is missing an opportunity.”
While little has happened yet, EDC officials we interviewed said they would be interested in concentrating on the video game sector as part of a larger strategy to grow technology industries in New York, and added that the agency is currently working to develop such a strategy. Additionally, the Mayor’s Office of Film, Theatre and Broadcasting has expressed an interest in the gaming sector, given its similarities to film. Commissioner Katherine Oliver says that she and her staff have been “exploring new media and reaching out to various digital companies.” This June, the office will host the Internet Week festival, which, according to Oliver, “promises to be an energizing showcase for all of the various forms of digital media that will be involved.”
With rising numbers of people around the world succumbing to the video game craze, the gaming sector is poised to be one of the fastest-growing parts of the entertainment industry in the years ahead. New York city could easily capture a modest share of this growth. As a global leader in related entertainment fields like film and advertising, new York already boasts a foundation of more than two dozen game development companies—more than all but a handful of other cities in north America.
Admittedly, it’s unlikely that the video game industry in new York city will ever grow to rival the city’s finance or health care sectors in scale or significance. But the sector clearly has the potential to create hundreds, if not thousands, of new jobs—an opportunity the city cannot afford to let pass by. The following recommendations will better position new York to stake a larger claim on this burgeoning industry:
1. Integrate the gaming sector into the city’s overall economic development strategy. During the Bloomberg administration’s tenure, EDC has smartly attempted to incorporate a wider range of industries into its overall economic development plans than the city had in the past, cultivating sectors from biotechnology to film. EDC now ought to develop a framework for supporting the video game sector. This doesn’t have to include major tax incentives to gaming firms; there are a number of small steps the agency could take to help home-grown video game companies get to the next level. These include:
o Dedicate a staffer to supporting the video game sector. EDC could create a video game desk, as the agency has for other industries such as bioscience and media in assigning one or more agency employees to act as liaisons. This would provide agency officials a better ongoing sense of the industry’s problems and needs and would inform potential plans to provide assistance. Alternatively, EDC could set up a new unit to support emerging high-tech industries and include video games among the sectors it aims to help.
o Develop a relationship with the local chapter of the International Game Developers Association and reach out to businesses in the city’s video game sector. Currently, few of new York’s video game companies have had even a single interaction with city or state economic development officials.
o Attend gaming industry trade shows and conferences as part of an effort to promote New York as a destination for the gaming industry. Government officials from several other cities and states routinely set up booths or send representatives to national and international gaming events to tout the benefits of setting up shop in their area. EDC currently does this with other industries, including biotech.
o Help bring one of the major gaming conferences to New York, or hold a regional conference here.
o Advertise in game trade publications to promote New York as an attractive place to start and grow video game companies.
2. New York’s universities must expand their video game programs. The city’s colleges and universities today offer many more video game programs today than five years ago, but none of these grant degrees in the technical side of the field. Filling this void would help to ensure an adequate pipeline of talented programmers for new York’s video game companies. At least one local university should take the lead in developing a technical game design degree program.
3. Universities and local companies should forge closer ties. Developing ongoing relationships between the city’s university leaders and executives from local video game companies would help guarantee that students enrolled in gaming programs are adequately trained in the tools, procedures and practices that match local industry demands, and might provide local graduates an advantage in the job market within the industry.
4. Create a centralized, online recruiting vehicle for New York’s game industry. This project could be run by the IGDA or a separate body, and would serve as a one-stop shop for local companies to find and attract talented workers to new York, as well as for workers looking to land jobs here. Publishing a steady stream of job ads would also send the message that gaming work is available in new York.