I’m standing in the middle of the Boston Convention and Events Center staring at a “Plants vs. Zombies” booth surrounded by people, thinking my 9-year-old was missing-out. Out of nowhere, someone slaps something on my wrist.
I look down and see a red snap bracelet. I look up and see a woman in full zombie costume limping away. I had been “bitten” as part of a digital gaming company’s promotion at PAX East, one of the largest digital-gaming conventions in the world, and it seemed like the most normal thing in the world at that moment.
PAX, which ran March 22-24, was full of giant video game displays, fans dressed up as characters ranging from new-world aliens to old-school Mario Brother Luigi, and lots and lots of zombie. It was also full of companies from Massachusetts, highlighting a fast-growing and successful sector in our innovation economy.
Massachusetts has its share of big video game giants – Warner Bros. and subsidiary Turbine are in Needham and “Rock Star” was born and bred in Cambridge – but as the digital gaming industry shifts, Massachusetts and its entrepreneurial gaming companies are shifting with it.
Back in the “old days” – just a few years ago, games were predominantly played on desktop computers or on consoles like Xbox. And while there are still plenty of people playing games on their TV, more and more people are turning to their smartphones and tablets to play games. When you consider the ubiquitous “Words with Friends” and the popularity of “Angry Birds,” it’s no surprise that many digital-gaming companies are looking at tablets and phones as the platform for their game.
At PAX East, there were about three dozen Massachusetts with booths, showing off their new games and giving the tens of thousands of visitors to the convention the chance to try something new. There were games that made you move monkeys around to the beat of music, games based on “Game of Thrones” and more than one game that included – yes – zombies. These are games being created by entities of all shapes and sizes — including companies already established and looking for their next game, and two brothers who are creating a game in their spare time that will be available later this year.
These 36 companies at PAX represented just a slice of the digital gaming industry in Massachusetts. According to MassDiGI, as of September 2012 there were at least 124 companies, organizations and institutions in the state’s gaming sector, employing more than 2,000 people. Even better, over the last three years the industry has increased jobs almost 80 percent — and 39 percent plan to hire in the next year.
At the Executive Office of Housing and Economic Development and through our Creative Industries Director Helena Fruscio, we support the creative industries – including digital gaming – through a number of different ways. Our creative industries are a disparate group – ranging from traditional artists like painters and sculptors to designers and video game creators. Like other creative industries, the digital-gaming sector is looking for help in networking, and gaining access to capital and marketing services.
In Massachusetts, we are blessed with a well-educated, innovative workforce which is creatively making the newest and best things in a variety of fields, and that includes video games. It’s those brains that make our digital-gaming cluster one of the biggest and most influential in the country. And the industry (fully alive and decidedly not zombie-like) isn’t out to eat those brains — it’s prepared to use them to move their companies and their industry into new frontiers.
A sampling of some of the digital gaming companies at Pax East can be seen in this brief video: