Business

Triangle Game Conference highlights region's growing appeal to videogame sector

Posted April 30, 2009 7:30 a.m. EDT

— The Research Triangle’s growing videogame industry opened its first “Triangle Game Conference” Wednesday, and Alexander Macris, who helped organize it, has a unique perspective.

Macris not only moved operations for his company, Themis Media, to Durham but also launched an online game-focused magazine, The Escapist, and is the program director for the two-day event.

The region’s highest profile company, Epic Games in Cary, is the developer of two multi-million copy selling hit franchises, “Gears of War” and “Unreal Tournament.” Plus, its Unreal game development engine is one of the industry’s most widely used.

More than 30 gaming-industry companies operate in the RTP area and employ more than 1,000 people. Additionally, games education is big business at both Wake Tech Community College and North Carolina State University.

In fact, according to Macris and the local chapter of the International Game Developers Association and the Triangle Game Initiative, which are partnering for the event, the Triangle is the third largest game development hub in the country.

Macris talked about the conference and why the RTP area is becoming such a draw for the videogame industry.

What factor(s) led you to decide to organize the games conference?

It was a collective sense among the leadership of the Triangle game companies that we needed to better promote the Triangle’s place in the game industry. There are more than 30 game companies in the RTP, and the Triangle is the game engine capital of the world, and a hub for pioneering work in 3D graphics, serious games, online gaming and more. But that hasn’t been broadly acknowledged outside of North Carolina. We founded Triangle Game Initiative as a not-for-profit to promote the regional game companies, and Triangle Game Conference is TGI’s flagship event.

Why do you believe the Triangle has become such a hub for videogame developers and related industries?

The Triangle is a low cost, high quality of life region with home prices that are less expensive than comparable hubs such as Austin, Seattle, Boston or San Francisco. The Triangle area remains a place where a game developer can buy a house for a reasonable value and have a reasonable expectation of appreciation. And RTP was voted #2 Best City to Live, Work and Play by Kiplinger’s (July 2008), and #1 Best Place to Live in the US by MSNBC (June 2008).

RTP has one of largest concentrations of game development companies in the US. Game companies attract more game companies. And the Triangle offers close access to the world’s best game engine providers. It also has a very strong IGDA chapter, as well as two trade associations devoted to the industry: Triangle Game Initiative (TGI) and North Carolina Advanced Learning Technologies Association (NCALTA).

It is home to technology companies such as IBM, Cisco, Red Hat and others that touch the game industry through crossover applications, overlapping talent pool and IT services. And it has a great source of talent at the local universities and community colleges. The Triangle’s community of higher education faculty are proactive in recruiting game industry professionals to serve in advisory roles.

Moreover, the Triangle has taken advantage of tie-ins with military, medical and educational industries to become the world leader in serious games and advanced learning technology, developing new interactive applications for military training, medical assessment and education. U.S. Army Special Operations Command, located 60 miles southwest of Raleigh, has significant interest in partnerships with RTP game companies for the development of simulation and training software. Two of the largest universities in the state, The University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill and North Carolina State University, are both pursuing federal funding (National Science Foundation, DARPA) in partnership with local game companies to create new games technologies for use in advanced personalized learning software.

Finally, business fundamentals are very good here. Business 2.0 famously called Raleigh the “Number One Next Boom Town." It’s the #1 Best Place for Businesses and Careers, according to Forbes (2008). The Triangle area is the #4 Major Market in the South, according to Southern Business & Dev (Winter 2008). As a major hub for technology, we benefit from the presence of several major venture funds, including Southern Capitol Ventures, Intersouth Partners, Hatteras Venture Partners, and Aurora Funds.

All of these factors contribute to the Triangle’s current status and future prospects to grow even further.

You relocated your own firm to Durham from the Northeast. What factors led you to decide to do business in the Triangle?

It was most of the same criteria I mentioned above. The major ones were the low cost of living, the concentration of game companies and the strong IGDA chapter, which made for valuable networking.

What are your primary goals in putting on the conference?

To bring together the best and brightest in the industry for resource sharing and career building and to put the Triangle on the map as the East Coast hub for the gaming industry.

Are you pleased with the participation you have received from area companies, universities and other agencies?

Absolutely. We started this Conference in the midst of the worst economic downturn of my lifetime, and it was incredibly gratifying to see all of the local leaders and businesses get involved, despite the recession. That speaks to the strength and growth in the area more than anything.

What are some of the biggest challenges developers face?

Finding and retaining great people is a challenge for every developer. That’s why it’s all the more important to be working in a hub with a great talent pool.

What do you see as the big opportunities?

I think that the continuing adoption of video games as the entertainment of choice by an increasingly broad swath of the population is an enormous boon. It creates multiple roads forward for a developer: They can pursue casual downloadable games aimed at mature women. They can pursue gamer snacks like Travian aimed at hardcore gamers seeking bite-sized entertainment in a favorite niche. They can pursue big, AAA games for a big audience. They can pursue Wii games for the family. Depending on the studio’s size, resources and aptitude, there’s a market for them. Small indie studios, guys in their basement, medium sized pro developers, and huge world-class shops can all flourish.