And now, for something completely different.
If you don’t care about the industry in MA, then feel free to skip right on to our other content, but if you are a game developer, designer, artist, producer, etc. or know someone who is, then I encourage you to take a minute to read up on why tax incentives are becoming such an important issue.
Last night, I attended the Massachusetts, Evolved event put on by the New England Games Special Interest Group of the MIT Enterprise Forum (NE Games SIG). I want to talk about why I feel that it was such an important event, and what I feel needs to happen to continue moving this conversation forward.
As a bit of background, this conversation really got rolling when Curt Schilling and his gaming company, 38 Studios, up and left Massachusetts for greener pastures in Rhode Island- $75 million in loan guarantees greener, to be precise. With the exodus of an estimated 200 high-tech jobs, MA legislators started to take notice.
There are two sides in this issue, of course. On the one hand, you have a burgeoning industry with a lot of potential to become hugely profitable for the state, and on the other hand the state has limited resources and doesn’t want to play favorites among specific industries when offering broader, but smaller, incentives to all businesses might prove favorable (and politically safe). Incentives have been offered to a few industries in MA in the past (biotech, green, movies), with varied results. But the movement of 38 Studios has prompted lawmakers to ask, can we afford to lose these companies?
Last night’s event was moderated by Rodney Brown of Mass High Tech, and consisted of a panel comprised of Rep. Vincent Pedone, as well as Eric Nakajima from the state’s office of economic development, Dr. Ian Davis from Rockstar New England, Ken Surdan from Turbine, and Mike Tinney from CCP North America.
One of the most critical points that was made in the evening was brought up by Davis, who pointed out that video games are a project-based industry in which the largest costs are salaries. When a studio takes on a large project, they can hire a large team, but when the project ends, the funds dry up unless there is another project waiting. Creating tax incentives would help to smooth out the cash flow issues that game companies face in between projects, and allow them to employ more people for longer.
Surdan and Pedone pointed to the fact that Massachusetts has some of the greatest universities incubating some of the most talented minds in the industry, just to ship them off to other states. With all this talent in the area, why not make the ground more fertile to plant some seeds?
Tinney had a unique perspective, as CCP is located in Atlanta, GA, which offers tax incentives for video game companies. Tinney said that the incentives have allowed CCP North America to bring jobs in to the studio that might have otherwise been given to CCP’s other studios outside the US. And Georgia isn’t alone– seventeen other states offer financial incentives to video game companies.
Most importantly, State Representative Vincent Pedone (Worchester, Dem.) has drafted a bill that will create significant tax incentives for gaming companies. The details of the legislation are still in progress, but I called Rep. Pedone’s office and they kindly sent us an outline of the current draft (subject to change), which you can download and read here.
I personally encourage you to get involved with this issue in whatever way you can. Call or write to your local Rep., and let them know that this issue is important to you. Go to the Boston Globe editorial article from this past Monday and leave a comment in support. Blog about it, tweet about it, facebook it, whatever– just get the word out there that this issue is important and you want your voice heard.