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John Ruch Posted by on December 1, 2016.

Video game industry ‘ecosystem’ gets local boosts

As Georgia’s video game industry booms, so are local efforts to help organize and sustain it.

An October conference at Sandy Springs’ Launch Media Network brought a hundred professionals together to share ideas, and in November, DeKalb County debuted a Film, Music and Digital Entertainment Commission.

Andrew Greenberg, executive director of the Georgia Game Developers Association and a member of the new DeKalb County Film, Music and Digital Entertainment Commission

Andrew Greenberg, executive director of the Georgia Game Developers Association and a member of the new DeKalb County Film, Music and Digital Entertainment Commission

The efforts all are about developing “the media of the 21st century” the way metro Atlanta in the previous century developed the likes of CNN and Turner, said Andrew Greenberg, who is one of the new DeKalb commission’s members as well as executive director of the Georgia Game Developers Association.

Launch Media is a video game journalism, marketing and social networking company that recently moved to Sandy Springs from Buckhead. On Oct. 12, it hosted a conference called “Exploring the Ecosystem of the Gaming Industry.”

“The purpose of the event was to unite Atlanta leaders, businesses, universities and game development studios to meet one another to discuss the impact of the gaming industry and its growth in Georgia,” said Launch Media spokesperson Kathryn De Shields.

Among those attending were officials from the Georgia Department of Economic Development; professors and students from Georgia State, Kennesaw State and SCAD Atlanta; and leaders of the state’s biggest gaming companies.

“Launch Media is not only producing jobs in Georgia, but they are supporting opportunities for students, companies, and gaming enthusiasts,” said Asante Bradford, the Department of Economic Development’s liaison to the digital entertainment industry.

A video of the conference shows officials discussing the Georgia boom, with more than 113 game development companies operating in the state, up from eight in 2005, with an estimated $550 million economic impact.

One of the biggest is Alpharetta’s Hi-Rez Studios, makers of the hit game “Smite.” A combat game, “Smite” has become an e-sport that has highly skilled players competing for prize money in tournaments fans can view online or on TV.

Advertising art for the video game "Smite," made by Alpharetta's Hi-Rez Studios.

Advertising art for the video game “Smite,” made by Alpharetta’s Hi-Rez Studios.

Todd Harris, chief operating officer of Hi-Rez, said at the Launch Media conference that his company started with four employees and now has 275, with plans to add 75 more in the next year.

While “Smite” turns a few players into well-paid e-sports athletes, Harris said that gaming can connect people to coding and computer jobs in general.

“Gaming is basically a gateway for many people into technology,” he said at the conference. “For many people, games are what light that fire.”

Launch Media is planning another conference, with the Game Developers Association, next spring.

The new DeKalb entertainment commission is intended to foster the partnerships and mentoring that draws employees into the industry and provides opportunities for them closer to home, Greenberg said.

Stephen Johnston Sr. left, and his son are partners in Stephen Jr.'s company, Launch Media Network. (Special)

Stephen Johnston Sr. left, and his son are partners in Stephen Jr.’s company, Launch Media Network. (Special)

“DeKalb County was the epicenter of the gaming industry in Georgia” in the 1990s and 2000s, he said. Back then, he was lead developer of “Vampire: The Masquerade,” an extremely popular tabletop game created by White Wolf, a company based at the time in Stone Mountain. And today, “The county is home to astonishing number of creators,” including 600 film union members, he said.

But the challenge is building more job opportunities closer to home with gaming companies like his own Holistic Design, Inc.

Greenberg said that Launch Media is a strong local asset because of its knowledge and ability to publicize Georgia’s independent gaming companies in a media market that tends to focus on California’s success stories.

“A lot what happens in the South gets lost,” he said.

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