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State’s video game industry gets boost

Institute hopes $500,000 grant helps create jobs

By Steve Holt
Globe Correspondent / September 27, 2011

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An institute founded to advance the state’s video game industry has received a $500,000 federal grant to help jump-start companies and train workers.

The five-year grant was awarded to the Massachusetts Digital Games Institute, which was established this spring at Becker College in Worcester to bolster the state’s $2 billion-a-year industry.

The grant is significant for the institute, which was founded with $200,000 from Becker and the state-run Massachusetts Technology Collaborative. Congressman Jim McGovern, a Democrat from Worcester, said the federal funds will help cement the institute’s role as an industry advocate as the state’s video game sector grows.

“What we want to make sure, when the next wave builds, that people see that there’s an infrastructure already in place in Worcester,’’ McGovern said. “We want this to be the video gaming corridor of not only the Northeast, but the country.’’

Becker College offers an academic program in digital game development that was ranked among the top 10 in the nation by Princeton Review Inc., a test prep and online learning company. Tim Loew, executive director of the institute, said in the first year, the federal grant will be used for marketing, workforce, and business development, and to launch a series of working groups to aid entrepreneurs seeking to start or grow video game companies.

The grant will feed the state’s video game industry with new talent and ideas, thus creating jobs, according to Loew. “This industry is totally driven by talent,’’ he said. “By building a better talent pipeline, we can put Massachusetts in an incredibly advantageous position.’’

Massachusetts game companies employed 1,295 people in 2009, the most recent figures available, according to the trade group Entertainment Software Association. That places the state’s game sector fifth in size, behind California, Texas, Washington, and New York.

Nearly 20 Massachusetts higher-education institutions offer degree programs or individual courses in digital game design and development. Launched in April, the institute is attempting to create jobs by connecting the digital games industry, higher education, and the public sector. “At the very core, the goals are jobs, jobs, jobs,’’ said Massachusetts Lieutenant Governor Timothy P. Murray, the former Worcester mayor, who helped launch the institute. “What can we do to create and grow jobs in this sector? Building the workforce through training and development, linking students with internships.’’

The institute and Becker College will partner with seven private video game and interactive media developers that will provide resources and personnel to support the institute’s initiatives.

Michael Pachter, research analyst for Wedbush Securities in Los Angeles, said the idea of a digital gaming institute “makes sense’’ in Massachusetts because of its higher-education options and the number of developers who already reside here.

“These are high-wage, high-profile jobs,’’ he said. “These are the kinds of industry jobs you want to attract.’’

The news is good for an industry that has slipped in recent years, compared to other gaming hubs like California, said Michael Cavaretta, an attorney who represents gaming companies. The institute will be a central office for the industry, he said, and should raise awareness of the state’s ability to support a thriving gaming economy.

“One of the ways California is ahead of us in the digital games industry is in venture capital,’’ Cavaretta said. “Having a working group that focuses on capital in the digital game industry will be helpful to educate and bring a level of comfort to investors in the industry.’’