Keeping game development in New York State

“Brain-drain.” It’s a term that’s been tossed around my city of Rochester, New York for a long time. All Rochesterians, businesses, and educators alike are aware of it. It’s the idea that folks come from around the world to receive our education (especially in video game development), and then inevitably leave for work elsewhere. And in most cases, it’s the West Coast. Why? Because right now, that’s where the video game industry is.

I, admittedly, was one of them. A few years back, I left Rochester for Seattle, Washington — which at the time, I didn’t really have a reason or intention; I just wanted to go. Of course I knew Nintendo was there, and so was Microsoft, but I hadn’t known initially going there that I’d somehow end up working at the former. It was also there where I gained a newfound appreciation for Rochester. While in Seattle, I had crossed paths with a few people who went to school at Rochester Institute of Technology, and then left after graduating to work for Microsoft, Bungie, or one of the other 250 game studios in Seattle. Hearing this not only brought a much needed enthusiasm over Rochester, knowing that my small home city was pumping out credible talented individuals, but also left me begging the question: “What are they doing here? Actually, what am I doing here?” Eventually, I came back.

Now, I need to put all my cards on the table here: I am not a college educated individual. I went to a community college briefly for a degree in fine arts, but never finished that degree. With that said, I may not have educational credibility to my name, but there is credit to my work (more on that in this post). I’m also not claiming that Rochester will benefit from having my brain, but it is clear that Rochester can be more than just a hub of education, but a city of great minds, and it needs all it can get.

The brain-drain also goes beyond upstate New York, but all of New York State. In fact, New York State is just about ready to do anything to keep our young minds here. New York State governor Andrew Cuomo has created a free-tuition initiative specifically for SUNY graduates. As long as they stay in New York State after they graduate, they don’t have to pay their tuition. That is, unless they come from a family with more than a gross income of $125,000.  It’s a major catch. The plan has been met with opposing thoughts, and rightfully so: it’s pretty slippery. I don’t know if keeping graduates prisoner here is the answer, but the optimist in me wants to think it might be the nudge to shift where the industry grows next, even though, really, it’s a cheap trick.

There are efforts being made elsewhere, with less restriction to a graduate, such as the NYS Game Dev Challenge hosted by R.I.T. (I’ve mentioned this in past posts, and plan to elaborate more on it soon). The challenge is currently happening, with submissions closing on April 24, 2017. The contest is open to anyone who is a New York State resident (hobbyists and students alike).

Lastly, there’s the not-as-mentioned, as much they should be, Vicarious Visions. An Albany-based AAA game development studio that’s currently developing Destiny 2 and the Crash Bandicoot N’ Sane Trilogy.  I had the pleasure of listening to Vicarious Visions’ producer Kara Massie speak at the NYS Game Dev kickoff event, hearing her inspiring story of moving around the world from Canada to England, until she finally settled in Albany at Vicarious (her presentation can be watched below). So in short: there’s things happening here, cultivating a game industry all-its-own. It’s just a matter of educating others that it exists.

Rochester is a moderately small city, and aside from being known as a place to be educated on technology, medicine, and game development, it is probably most famously known for its culinary monstrosity the garbage plate. We can do better. And hey, don’t get me wrong – I love garbage plates. But what if we were the city of game development and garbage plates? That sounds a bit more enticing to me. And in a weird way, they kinda seem to go hand in hand.

– Kurt

Also, I nearly forgot. I started a Twitter account for VGCandC. So please, follow it.

I wrote this while sitting at Ugly Duck Coffee and listening to Future Islands’ The Far Field. “Cave” was a song that stuck out to me in particular.

What I read this week: Rumble by John Arcudi and James Harren.

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