What are your thoughts on what’s happening in gaming in Louisiana?
There is an interesting movement going on within the gaming community of New Orleans and Louisiana. With a few smaller gaming companies already in place, a number of yearly conventions that focus on technology occurring, a lot of support companies which sprang up when the film industry started taking off, and the support of the of state and local organizations in their commitment to fostering the industry, there is certainly a strong foundation for a successful future. Furthermore, given that many of the area’s colleges and universities have either launched or are in the process of launching game curriculums, there will be more organic growth available in the future from the local talent pool as well.
Why did you decide to open a game studio there?
Gameloft has been searching for an opportunity to expand their presence in the US for quite some time. The big reason behind locating in New Orleans with the expansion has been in our ability to find competitive pricing, which allows us to have a unique hook when recruiting. And given our ability to attract top tier talent to the area we can honestly say that the decision was the right one. Overall, we feel that between having talented people work on our games and being located in such a unique and distinctive environment will allow the staff to reach their full creative potential.
Can you talk about the studio’s size today and how you plan on growing?
Currently, we have our launch team and are in the process of filling out our support staff. Over the next six to eight months we plan on hiring aggressively and building the studio to more than 40 people. And in the next 10 years, we would like to max out somewhere around 140 total people in the studio. But in the end, we make sure the team sizes and compositions match what the scope and scale of the games we are working on demand, and will adjust these plans accordingly.
From a development perspective, how many titles do you plan on making there and will you focus on a particular genre or type of game?
While the New Orleans studio will certainly focus on game production, there are no limitations on the types of games that will be created. We are not restricted to the creation of mobile games. In fact, Gameloft provides content for Xbox Live Arcade, PlayStation Network, Facebook and a variety of other downloadable mediums as well. And while we may start with established internal IPs, the primary goal of our creative team (and Gameloft as a whole) is to always create games that are new, high in quality and will be enjoyed by as big and diverse of an audience as possible.
What are the advantages of the region?
The biggest advantage we found in New Orleans and Louisiana was the commitment of our local and state partners. Across the board, our experience with the state and local partners in the area has been outstanding. When we started looking for a new site location in the U.S. the Louisiana Economic Development approached us and was very informative about the tax incentives offered by Louisiana to digital media companies. And not only were they were useful throughout the entire process, but an essential partner in making this new studio a success as well.
How active has the government been with your move?
As we started honing in on New Orleans as our final site, one of our major concerns was whether or not we would be able to attract people to the area. At that point, the FastStart team stepped in to help us with multiple recruiting initiatives that helped us to gather over 1,500 resumes in a one month period. This not only helped us to make a case to our upper management that we could, in fact, recruit people to the area but have a successful studio as well.
How has it been finding local talent there?
Depending on the area of focus, the talent pool is quite deep here. For example, we have had a lot of really great submissions from local candidates who are typically coming from an art and/or programming background. On the other hand, the one area we have not seen as many applicants, has been game designers. Thus, while we found that it isn’t the same type of talent pool that one may find in one of the game development meccas in the US, there are a lot of programs in place and coming down the line at the state’s many colleges and universities that we expect to certainly increase this talent pool in the upcoming years.
How easy is it to get people to relocate to the area?
Overall, there has been a lot of interest in New Orleans and we have actually received a lot of quality applicants, which is comparable to what we see in our other studios. And while we have not experienced too many difficulties in relocating people to the area, the challenge we often have is in having a bad perception about the area. If someone hasn’t seen the area themselves, it’s hard to illustrate the improvement the city has experienced in the last five years and the direction it will be going over the course of the next five as well. But in the end, we have been able to successfully recruit everyone that had these issues once they saw the city for themselves.
What do you like about New Orleans?
What don’t I like about New Orleans! This city has a wealth of culture and history, amazing food, and friendly and intelligent people all wrapped up in a big city feel without all the drawbacks. The quality of life here is really top notch, and the cost of living here is not what you would find in other cities where the game industry is so big. The area itself has such a unique appeal that we are able to offer a unique atmosphere for the people we relocated. New Orleans is a city with great history and culture. There is really no other city in the US that is similar with the big city feel in a small package.
Can you give us a sense of the tech and gaming companies there and what the atmosphere is like? Does it compare to any other city?
While there are already a few smaller gaming companies in place and at least one other major game developer/publisher, New Orleans is just starting to touch its potential to host a successful gaming economy. The opportunity for growth within the city, and state, is boundless as they continue to build new programs within their schools and attract new talent from out of state.
What are your thoughts on how far the region has come since Katrina?
To be honest, we weren’t really sure what to expect when we first came to the New Orleans. We had a lot of questions about how the Greater New Orleans area was being rebuilt post Katrina, what type of people the city was attracting and if there was a foundation from which we could start growing a game development community. What we found surprised us. In addition to finding a number of talented and creative individuals who are very passionate about whatever they are working on (e.g. schools here which are developing game development curriculums and are eager to have our input so their students are well equipped to succeed when we hire them), we also found a city that is vibrant, beautiful and committed to growth and attracting the type of people and companies that will help the area continue to thrive.
What else do you feel New Orleans needs to do turn that area into a thriving development community like we see in Austin, Raleigh-Durham, San Francisco, Montreal and other cities?
New Orleans really just needs to continue doing what they are doing right now; recruiting companies like Gameloft and continuing their commitment to growing the local digital media industry. With such a collective will to do that right now it is important that the foot doesn’t come off the accelerator on that point. The big issue is the area has yet to hit the critical mass of industry veterans and professionals that some of the larger markets currently experience. That said, all those markets were at some point in the same situation so there is a definite path laid out for those involved on how to continue the growth. New Orleans will really take off when we do not need to look outside for new hires but can hire form the local talent pool almost exclusively. And as more of the graduates of the digital media programs enter the work force and other companies expand to the area we can focus on organic growth rather than relocation growth.