North Carolina Economic Development Guide


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Case studies impact games have on cognition and memory. The lab is halfway through a four-year study of how game-playing might help preserve the mental capacity of the elderly. The National Science Foundation is funding the $1.2 million project. There is also visible support at the community level. Local leaders in the southern Wake County town of Fuquay- Varina recently created SPHERE, a shared-business space roughly halfway between RTP and Fort Bragg that offers game-development startups furnished offi ces, Internet access, a design studio and a conference room for $300 a month. At Durham's historic American Tobacco Campus, Joystick Labs provides a business incubator for game-develop- ment teams. Joystick evaluates program applicants based on their game idea outlines. If accepted, teams may receive up to $25,000 in cash and free access to studio space in downtown Durham for as long as it takes to complete their product, which is typically three months. In return, Joystick takes an equity stake and shares in the royalties. "These are fi rst-time game developers who have an idea for a game," says John Austin, managing director and head coach at Joystick. "They have no experience running a business or shipping a game." In addition to the design space, teams receive a free license to a game-development engine, along with assistance from a bank and law fi rm that have partnership agreements with Joystick. Technical support and marketing advice is available through an advisory board Joystick assigns for each team. Advisers are chosen from the ranks of established game-development companies in the region, and their expertise is matched to each team's needs. Some Joystick teams, which have names such as Lab Rat Studios and Mighty Rabbit Studios, are gearing up to ship their products and relocate to their own commercial space. "Teams get exposure to people who have done all this before," Austin says, noting that it is not diffi cult to fi nd willing mentors among the Triangle's game companies. "Since most of the companies in the area are small, it's good to have that kind of collaboration." But in the end, Joystick is about more than community development. "We have investors, and those investors are looking to make money." Entrepreneurial-support systems such as SPHERE and Joystick Labs are crucial to the future of North Carolina's digital games and simulation cluster, says John O'Neill, founder of Spark Plug Games LLC, a developer that employs 14 in Cary. "We're seeing a tremendous amount of startup activity that is supporting the growth of interactive media in the Triangle," says O'Neill, who started Spark Plug Games in 2008. He anticipates that new companies will form to serve and support the growing number of game developers. "Bigger companies will continue building high-profi le products here." But he also expects smaller companies similar to his to emerge. Spark Plug makes games that can be downloaded as smartphone applications or played on social-media sites such as Facebook. "This area is really fostering the creation of those new ideas and those new companies." The approval in 2010 of a new state incentive tailored for digital-game compa- nies of all sizes should help the cluster Epic Games' Gears of War 3 sold 3 million copies in its fi rst fi ve days on the market. The fi rst two installments of the game have sold more than 13 million copies. 32 North Carolina Economic Development Guide

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