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Not playing around

As Madison strives to rebrand itself as a technology hub, the local electronic games sector is helping lead the way.

Graphic by Gear Learning

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From the pages of In Business magazine.

Even if video games, like Trix cereal, were ever really just for kids, those days have long since passed.

According to the 2017 Year In Review Report by SuperData, a market research firm focused on the electronic games’ industry, the gaming industry saw global revenues of $108.4 billion in 2017. The U.S. video game industry’s share of that was a record $36 billion in revenue in 2017, up 18% from 2016, according a separate report from the Entertainment Software Association and The NPD Group. The U.S. video game industry is also one of the nation’s fastest growing economic sectors, providing more than 220,000 jobs.

Madison has been consciously remaking its image as a technology hotspot not just in the Midwest but nationally, and the local electronic games industry is at the forefront of those efforts.

With at least 25 game design studios in Greater Madison, and more peppered across the Badger State, the Madison Games Alliance rebranded itself the Wisconsin Games Alliance in 2017. The renaming makes strategic sense, according to Jennifer Javornik, executive director of the Wisconsin Games Alliance and head of sales for Madison’s Filament Games. While the group’s membership is still primarily local, developers from cities like the Wisconsin Dells and Green Bay often participate in meetups and other gatherings.

Last fall, the Wisconsin Games Alliance held its first formal conference, M+DEV, the Madison Game Development Conference, to provide a gathering place for game developers in the state, the region, and beyond to discuss and share the latest information on the science, art, mechanics, and business of making games.

Local game developers note Greater Madison has been a major player in the gaming industry for decades, and is poised for continued growth for the foreseeable future with companies offering a diverse array of content across all platforms.

“Madison is highly connected to the global game development community,” says Tim Gerritsen, head of studio for Fantasy Flight Interactive. “The tools for releasing games to your audience allow you to do so globally, either directly or through partners. Raven Software is part of Activision, the largest game development publisher in the world. Human Head Studios is working with partners in Canada, China, and Japan. Fantasy Flight Interactive is part of Asmodee, a global gaming company out of Paris.

“Beyond that, you have smaller teams able to sell their wares directly to customers around the world through digital distribution systems like Steam, Good Old Games, the Apple and Android app stores, and directly via their own systems if they so choose,” Gerritsen continues. “Nobody working in games in Madison is doing so in a vacuum, and we’re all part of the global games community.”

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The local game developers IB spoke with all grew up with a love for various forms of gaming, but they also share another bond — none of them quite expected to land a career developing video games.

In Neverland: Lost Adventures, from developer Lost Boys Interactive, players are free to world build and make mischief as Lost Boys.

Gerritsen was a Russian linguist in the U.S. Navy and has a Russian language degree from the Defense Language Institute in Monterey, Calif. He also graduated magna cum laude with a B.A. in history and a film minor from the University of Wisconsin–Milwaukee.

Dan Norton, founding partner and Chief Creative Officer for Filament Games, never seriously considered game development as a career path. A lifelong gamer, his original plan was to get into a graphic design field.

Michael Beall, the director of Gear Learning at the Wisconsin Center for Education Research, had an atypical path to a game development career, which he believes is a strength. Before his career as a game designer, he was a U.S. Marine, a welder, a boat builder, and a cabinetmaker.

Shaun Nivens, CEO of Lost Boys Interactive, went to the university for computer science, and his career took him on a bit of a diversion through IT and product management, mainly in the broadcast industry, before he circled back to his earlier ambition of working in the gaming industry.


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