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The Political Game: Can you create a gaming city?


Each week Dennis McCauley contributes The Political Game, a column on the collision of politics and video games:

At the vgXpo in Philly last weekend I was asked to serve on a panel discussing how to make Philadelphia into a video game Mecca. Tough question. Among life's imponderables, that's right up there.

At first blush it seems like a mega-long shot. Sandwiched between New York and Washington, Philly has a long-standing municipal inferiority complex. And even though it's the nation's fourth largest metropolitan area (behind NYC, Los Angeles and Chicago), this Rodney Dangerfield of a town seemingly gets no respect.

Although Philly area people are avid gamers, from a game development standpoint, there isn't a whole lot happening in or around the City of Brotherly Love. A suburban company, eGames, cranks out some nice casual fare for the PC crowd. Majesco, more familiar to console and handheld fans, is headquartered in New Jersey, closer to New York than Philly, truth be told. Maybe the most happening thing in town right now is, the Flash portal operated by Tom Fulp, who also designed the indie hit Alien Hominid.

It's not like Philly couldn't be a hot gaming town. Under Mayor John Street, the municipal government is just about to roll out a citywide wireless Internet service. How cool is that? You'd expect that kind of large-scale geek chic in San Francisco, Seattle or Austin, but Philadelphia?

And, of course, Comcast -- fat pipes and all -- is headquartered in Philly. As we move fully into the online game era, it seems like that connection could be leveraged somehow to create gaming partnerships. Although, to be honest, the giant cable provider never could figure out how to make G4TV work as a stand-alone video game network. Then again, nobody else could, either.

If the politicians really want to attract game development dollars to the city, there are some steps that can be taken. Tax breaks would help, although these would need to be enacted at the state level, since the Philadelphia city government is perpetually broke. We've already seen incentives for game developers passed by legislatures in Louisiana, Georgia and Wisconsin, to name a few.

It would also be nice if one of Philadelphia's major universities stepped up with a killer academic program in the gaming arts. There are a lot of good schools in this town -- the University of Pennsylvania, Drexel, Temple and St. Joe's, to name a few. Too many of those grads leave town when they get their diplomas, the much-lamented "brain-drain." Philly's best and brightest techies are being lured to places with sunnier climes and more satisfying opportunities.

Across the state, in Pittsburgh, Carnegie-Mellon has a great game-oriented academic program, which has in turned spawned some promising start-ups nearby. How good is CMU? A couple of years back no less a gaming deity than Will Wright told me how impressed he was with the Carnegie-Mellon program.

There is, of course, something of a chicken and egg dilemma here. Do the game companies come first and then receive city support? Or does the city roll out the red carpet on the theory "if you offer incentives, they will come?" Like most cities, Philly goes all-out to attract and support Hollywood production companies. Why not do the same for video game developers? After, all, the movie people leave town after the shoot is done. Game developers will put down roots, hire local employees and pay taxes.

Sounds like a no-brainer to me.

Dennis McCauley is Editor of and writes about games for the Philadelphia Inquirer. Opinions expressed in The Political Game are his own. Reach him at

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