What I said at the hearing

by BostonPostMortem Board on March 18, 2008

in Boston game news

The hearing at the State House was a bit confusing. There were a number of bills up for consideration, and a couple of hundred people who were there to support and/or protest one or another bill. After about an hour and a half of presentations on other laws, I was suddenly called as part of a panel of speakers; we had someone there from the ESA, the ESRB, a local company who rents video games, someone representing game sales, and me representing the local game creation industry. The entire panel had 8 minutes to present.
My prepared remarks are after the break — but they were intended to take 3 minutes to present. I tried to keep the entire presentation under 2, so I skipped large sections of it. My best recollection of the parts I left out is highlighted in blue.

Thank you for having me here today.

My name is Kent Quirk, from Acton, MA. I make games. I’ve been a software engineer and entrepreneur in Massachusetts for the past 25 years, and I’ve been making educational and computer games since about 1995.

The Massachusetts digital game business is not a new industry. During the 1980s, one of the top computer game companies in the world was Infocom, based in Cambridge. In the 1990s, Massachusetts grew a variety of powerhouse game developers like Looking Glass and Papyrus. Many of those former leaders are today running other game companies in Massachusetts.

During those early years, however, one of the things missing from the Massachusetts game industry was a sense of cohesion — an economy where individuals could move between different companies as their skills and the companies changed. Many developers and graduating students left Massachusetts in search of friendlier climates for game development — places like California and Texas.

Some of us wanted to change this. In 1997, a few Massachusetts game developers and I started meeting on a monthly basis. The organization that we named Boston Post Mortem has grown into a leading chapter of the International Game Developer’s Association, and we believe it to be the largest regular meeting of any local game industry group in the world. Our monthly meetings in Waltham draw between 100 and 150 local game developers and students.
We have more than 70 local game companies on our list of Boston-area game developers, from large to small. Harmonix, based in Cambridge, created two of the hottest games in recent memory — Guitar Hero and Rock Band, which together have earned more than $1 Billion in revenue.
Other companies are small but still significant. Glymetrix, based on the North Shore, is working on “seriousâ€? games to help people to manage their diabetes. Conduit Labs in Cambridge just raised $5.5 million in venture capital for casual multiplayer social games. I work for the Massachusetts office of Linden Lab, and we’ve grown from 3 people to 15 people in the last 9 months.
Worcester Polytechnic Institute has probably the best undergraduate game development program in the country — offering a multidisciplinary program that blends computer science with art, sound, music, and storytelling. Several other universities in the area are also providing graduate or undergraduate degree programs related to computer games. It’s a valid and growing area of academic research, and Massachusetts is leading the way.
The overall impact of the digital game business to the Massachusetts economy is currently estimated at more than $300 million annually, with somewhere between 1500 and 2000 employees. That’s about 4 times the size of the film production industry in Massachusetts.
And they’re good jobs — the average salary in the game business is over $77,000 a year. We’re quiet, and we don’t pollute. We take the best, the brightest, and the most creative art, music, and technology students from Massachusetts universities and give them reasons to stay in Massachusetts. Someone I hired as an intern in 1999 is now the CEO of a Massachusetts game company with 32 employees.
Game development is a significant, creative business that we really should promote in this state. This very committee is considering ways to encourage creative technical industries in Massachusetts.
Ten years of concerted effort by a lot of people has begun to create the perception that Massachusetts is a great place to make games — but it’s a recent change, and still tentative.
A bill like H.1423 sends a strongly negative message to a growing but fragile economy that Massachusetts does not want to be a friendly place to run a digital game business. This is exactly the wrong message to send. Please, I urge you to reject this bill and instead, send the message that Massachusetts not only cares about the game industry, but wants to promote it.
Thank you for your time.

Overall, I was pleased; the committee seemed attentive and interested in all 5 presentations. The ESA representative did a good job of presenting the legal issues related to such laws, along with the fiscal implications.

If you haven’t had time yet to contact your representative, there’s still time.

Kent

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