Move over Austin; Georgia aims to be the next big thing for game studios

When you think of game development meccas, your mind immediately points to Austin or San Francisco, right? You might even think of Seattle, or Boston too, but what about Georgia? That's right, the state most commonly-known for The Dukes of Hazzard, Jimmy Carter and peaches is fast becoming quite a hub for gaming technology and development studios lately.

Not only does the state play host to gaming services such as Gametap and lottery giant Scientific Games, but they also house online gaming companies such as Hi-Rez Studios, Cartoon Network's latest online project and the North American divisions of CDC Games and EVE Online's CCP, who recently merged with Georgia's own White Wolf Studios. Electronic Arts operates an R&D lab in one of North America's premiere design schools: Savannah College of Art & Design in Savannah, Georgia. In fact, you may be surprised to hear that Georgia's video game industry is currently 60-companies strong, employing approximately 2,000 game professionals.

"The state is tired of watching these highly-skilled graduates leave the state in search of quality jobs on the west coast... after receiving a top-notch education within the state."

So why are we telling you all of this? With so many other larger game development hubs out there, why are we focusing on the Georgia scene? Well, there's been an interesting development recently concerning the government's involvement with the gaming and online entertainment industry in Georgia. Following a tax code enacted in 2006 that offered up a nine percent tax break for entertainment companies located within the state, a more recent incentive has been passed that would extend the benefits to "as much as" thirty percent income tax credit on spending of at least $500,000 for video game producers. This has put Georgia in the nation's top spot for tax incentives regarding game development studios.

It's not simply all about the money though. According to a press release from Georgia's Film, Music & Digital Entertainment board, the state is well-positioned for the growing gaming industry due to its young population and critical mass of graduates in computer design, engineering and animation through Georgia Tech and Savannah College of Art & Design. The state is tired of watching these highly-skilled graduates leave the state in search of quality jobs on the west coast in their field, after receiving a top-notch education within the state.

Speaking with Mike Tinney, the president of Atlanta-based CCP North America, we asked him for his views on the Georgia development scene and why CCP chose to establish their North American headquarters in Georgia. Was it simply the merger with White Wolf, or did the state's tax incentives for the gaming industry help a bit?

"CCP merged with White Wolf, a GA based publisher, and chose as a result of that merger to base their North American operations in Atlanta." Tinney explained. "This decision was made before the tax incentive was unveiled (although we'd heard rumors that the state was looking into this). What the tax incentive did do however was encourage us to grow our GA based operations in ways we hadn't initially considered. Now the North American office supports both World of Darkness and EVE projects and we're taking advantage of the credit on both titles."

"We have video game professionals moving here from all over the world and they're buying houses, and having more disposable income than they did when they were living in apartments on the West Coast."

We went on to ask Tinney's opinion on the future of the area, and if he sees the development boom increasing over the years. "The insider's scoop says "yes". I expect there will be a few more announcements made in early 2009. How could there not be? Georgia now has the best tax incentive in the country for video game development. Further studios can resell that tax credit if they are not able to fully use it themselves. The state is fully engaged in making this a very hospitable environment for game design. Atlanta is a very hip and cool metropolitan environment with one of the best costs of living in the country. We have video game professionals moving here from all over the world and they're buying houses, and having more disposable income than they did when they were living in apartments on the West Coast. Many of our hires just out of college have the option to buy instead of rent. That's just unheard of in California.

"The climate here is great for growth, and the attitude of the studios in the Atlanta area is highly supportive. The studios are all pulling for one another, because we know that each and every success story that comes out of the Atlanta game development industry is good for the game development climate here in the long term. The State of Georgia has put its money where its mouth is and perhaps more than any other state in the US is striving to make Georgia, and Atlanta in particular, into the best area in the country for game development. I believe what we've seen so far is only the beginning."

"I believe what we've seen so far is only the beginning."



Another prominent game studio located in the Atlanta area is Hi-Rez Studios, who is currently working on what they've dubbed a "spy-fi" MMO, mixing the best elements from science fiction with an action-packed PvP multiplayer online game. Their views on the Georgia video game development scene mirror those of CCP's Tinney, and they expect greater opportunities as the area's hub status increases. We were fortunate enough to visit Hi-Rez earlier this month, and talk with Executive Producer Todd Harris and Associate Producer Michal Adam about their thoughts on the Georgia development scene and about their upcoming game, "Global Agenda". We toured the facilities, met the team and got some hands-on playtime with this exciting new game. You can look for that interview, and more information about their new MMO very soon on Massively.

So, while the state still remains slightly under-radar to gamers who have come to expect a west-coast flavor to all of their entertainment, we'd advise you to keep an eye on Georgia and what it has up its sleeve. When it comes to generous tax incentives, a mild climate and one of the lowest costs of living in the country, it only makes sense to take advantage of these benefits while the industry is still young. We hope this article has helped open the public's eyes a bit to the future of our favorite hobby's development, and let those interested in game design and creation become aware of the amazing business incentives being established by the U.S. government on a state-by-state level.

We'd also like to thank everyone whose guidance and expertise helped shape this article, including CCP North America, Hi-Rez Studios and Asante Bradford, the Digital Entertainment Liaison for the State of Georgia. For further reading into Georgia's game development scene, check out the Georgia Game Developer's Association website and Georgia.org.
This article was originally published on Massively.