Local game developers earn high scores

Video games are a big business, and two Madison game developers have now earned special recognition for having two of the top games of the year.

Apple Inc.’s recently announced “Game of the Year 2015” list was lead by the game Prune, made by local developer Joel McDonald, which received top billing as Game of the Year for the iPad. A second game, Lost Within, made by local company Human Head Studios, appears 22nd on the list for iPads.

With thousands of games released in the past year, boasting two spots in the top 25 from Madison is a big win for the region’s growing gaming industry.

“Madison is ripe for attracting and growing top-notch video game talent, as evidenced by this recent ranking,” Paul Jadin, president of Madison Region Economic Partnership, notes. “We congratulate Joel McDonald and Human Head Studios, two game developers that reflect the vibrancy and growth potential of this industry cluster. We look forward to continuing efforts that catalyze this growth as Madison makes its mark on the global video game scene.”

When you consider that thousands of games were released in the last year, Jadin says it’s significant that two spots in Apple’s Top 25 ranking came from Madison. “From anchor companies like Human Head Studios to indie developers like Joel McDonald, this ranking illustrates the region’s immense talent in video game creation,” Jadin explains. “I don’t think that we would have predicted quite this level of success or critical mass five, 10, or 15 years ago, especially when you consider how radically technology and mobile devices have evolved since that time. But our gaming industry has responded and really gained momentum in recent years, and it is poised for tremendous growth in the years ahead.”

Madison game developers have been producing award-winning games as far back as the early 1990s, Eric Francksen, director of the Madison Game Alliance, notes.

Prune, from independent game developer Joel McDonald was named Apple Inc.'s Game of the Year for the iPad.

“I'm honestly still in shock,” Joel McDonald says regarding his top ranking. “These types of accomplishments aren't supposed to happen with your first game release. I feel so privileged to have landed in Madison where I've met and learned so much from a bunch of amazing game developers. It's definitely an exciting time for video games and I count myself lucky to be a part of it!”

The newly-formed Madison Game Alliance (MGA) is a group of creative minds that aims to build on the local industry assets already in place to establish Madison as a premier location for video games. MadREP — the economic development agency for the eight-county Madison Region — played a lead role along with UW–Madison’s Games+Learning+Society in forming the MGA, convening industry leaders, and spearheading the initiatives this group undertakes. The MGA is developing, branding, and leading the local video game industry cluster through regular meet-ups, strategic planning sessions, and collaborative technical assistance.

“The Madison Game Alliance was formed at a critical and exciting moment for Madison’s video game industry,” Tim Gerritsen, director of business development at Human Head Studios, says. “This group is committed to making Madison a continued competitor to gaming hotspots worldwide, and I’m confident that our critical mass of talent, companies, and resources will ensure this status. Human Head Studios is thankful to Amazon Game Studios, our publisher, for giving us the chance to show a new depth of play on the iPad with our horror survival game, Lost Within.”

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“Madison has a growing reputation as an innovation and startup hub, particularly within information technology and game development,” notes Jadin. “Any time we see local talent receiving national and even international recognition, the region becomes more renowned as a top location for technology-driven companies and talent. This bodes well for the attraction of new businesses and workforce, as well as the retention of talent and expansion of companies already here — all of which are fundamental goals of the Madison Region Economic Partnership.”

Lost Within, from local developer Human Head Studios, was ranked 22nd on Apple's 2015 iPad Game of the Year list.

The region’s gaming industry has been gaining momentum over recent years, with a handful of anchor companies like Raven Software, Filament Games, PerBlue, and Human Head Studios growing steadily in the Madison area and at least 15 additional startup companies taking root.

“What's exciting about having two local developers on Apple’s Best of 2015 list is that it draws attention to the recent growth Madison’s game development scene is experiencing,” Francksen notes. “My contacts at Raven tell me that, although no announcements have been made about their next major project, they continue to support the popular franchise, Call of Duty.”

Training and education in the gaming industry is available locally through programs at UW–Madison, UW–Whitewater, UW–Stout, Madison College, Madison Media Institute, and Herzing University. The industry is further buoyed by UW–Madison’s Games+Learning+Society, a research program housed in the Wisconsin Institute for Discovery, and the Higher Education Video Game Alliance.

Apple Inc.’s yearly ranking assesses the best iOS Apps and Games released within the App Store during the previous 12 months. It is based on Apple’s weekly Editor’s Choice rankings.

In addition to winning Apple’s Game of the Year accolade, Prune was also named TIME Magazine’s best video game of 2015.

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