MIT BIG Conference Recap Part Two: Gaming in Boston

Last week TriplePoint attended the 3rd annual MIT Business in Gaming conference in Boston. This series will break down some of the biggest and best ideas into tasty, digestible morsels.

Gaming has but a few celebrities, and Ken Levine is certainly among their top ranks. The BioShock creator and Irrational Games founder joined a panel of fellow Bostonians to discuss the highs and lows of the Massachusetts video game industry. While it still lags behind the California juggernaut and other top gaming states like Texas, Washington and New York, Boston and surrounding areas have seen major growth in the last year; this comes without state tax incentives that are now available to developers in approximately 20 states, from Hawaii to Maine.

  • Recognition is Key – Levine opened by describing the public’s view of the industry shifting from “hostility to benign ignorance.” It’s our job, as citizens of the gaming world, to help improve this perception by taking ourselves and the business more seriously. This includes everything from legislation to financing. Levine observed that when Ben Affleck shoots a movie in Boston, the entire town is at his beck and call, but gaming revenue is growing rapidly and recognition is soon to follow.
  • Games are Made by People – Other entertainment industries like music and film do a great job spotlighting their talented artists. Big stars are the backbone of both industries, but even the most passionate gamer would be hard-pressed to name gaming celebrities beyond Shigeru Miyamoto. IGDA President Gordon Bellamy points out that “games are a performance craft.” Mainstream celebrities like Jimmy Fallon and pitcher Curt Schilling (38 Studios) help to deliver some much-needed star power.
  • City Hall is Listening – While it’s not there yet, legislation is in motion to support the Boston games industry. One example is the proposed “Made in MASS” bill, where locally-developed games (that sport the Made in Mass logo on their splash screen) stand to receive a 2.5% additional kickback on sales from the state.

While the panelists had mixed opinions overall, it’s hard to argue Boston’s foothold in the industry. Besides big studios, they are also home to the Princeton Review’s fourth highest-rated school for game design, Becker College.

Outside of the states, Canada is another huge draw for gaming talent, and an obstacle for local studios. Provinces like Vancouver and Ontario are fast-rising stars, but Boston won’t go down without a fight.

Boston Globe tech reporter and local industry hero Hiawatha Bray (@GloveTechLab), also covered the event.

Speakers included:

Ken Levine – Irrational Games
Bob Ferrari – Sanrio Digital
Tim Loew – Becker College
Jon Radoff – Disruptor Beam
Gordon Bellamy – IGDA