Incentives bolster Texas video game industry


When the Texas legislature passed a set of film production incentives this spring, the big news for many in Hollywood was not that it included a grant program that gives up to 5% of the total in-state spending on a video or computer game project, capped at $250,000 per project -- it was that Texas had a video game industry, period.

"They have a very strong video game industry here, and no one knows it," says Randy Pitchford, co-founder, president and CEO of Software, based in Plano, Texas, a suburb of Dallas. "So, in one sense, (the incentive) makes it easier for that word to get out, and it makes Texas seem like an interesting and exciting place to be."

According to the Texas Film Commission, Texas is currently home to 70 video game development companies. The bulk of these are based in and around Austin and Dallas. The Dallas contingent, led by 3D Realms (formerly Apogee Software) and id Software, is known for pioneering the first-person shooter genre with such games as "Wolfenstein 3D," "Doom," "Quake" and "Duke Nukem 3D," while Austin developers tend to specialize in role-playing games (RPGs) and massively multiplayer online role-playing games (MMORPGs) such as the "Ultima" series, created by now-defunct Origin Systems.

"Origin Systems is sometimes called Origin University," says Quoc Tran, an associate producer for the Austin arm of South Korean computer gaming giant NCsoft, "because so many people got their start at Origin and moved off to form other studios in Austin," including Critical Mass Interactive, Junction Point Studios (recently acquired by Disney Interactive) and the now-defunct Digital Anvil. Video game giants such as Blizzard Entertainment (makers of the popular "World of Warcraft"), Sony Online Entertainment, BioWare Corp., Amaze Entertainment and Aspyr Media also have offices in Austin.

"Austin was already what I would describe as well-primed for this industry," says Origin co-founder Richard Garriott, who now heads Destination Games, which has partnered with NCsoft to create the highly anticipated new MMORPG "Tabula Rasa" (due Oct. 19). "Computer games are the quintessential high-tech art," adds Garriott. "Prior to gaming we already had high-tech companies like IBM, 3M, Texas Instruments, National Instruments, Samsung, Advance Micro Devices and Dell. And Austin has always had a thriving music and arts community. So when we first moved the Origin offices here to Austin, we had programrs, artists and developers beating down our door wanting to join what they immediately recognized as a big part of the future."

While Texas is a fertile ground for video game companies, most of the creative talent is harvested from out of state and sometimes out of the country. 3D Realms co-founder and CEO Scott Miller says he makes no special effort to recruit locally.

"We just basically put ads on the Internet on special sites like," Miller says. "Our whole thing is we just want to find the best people, regardless of where they come from."

Enticing talent to the searing flatlands of Texas from gaming hotbeds like California might seem like a challenge, but as former Los Angeles resident Pitchford learned, the Lone Star State does have some strong selling points, including no state income tax and dirt-cheap real estate.

"I've got a 6,000 square-foot home in Plano that probably costs as much as a three-bedroom house in Van Nuys," Pitchford says. "I'm not kidding."


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