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As Conference Begins, Austin Officials Mull Game Biz Incentives

The start of this week's Austin Game Conference has sparked local discussions on how to attract more developers to the Central Texas city.

As reported by the Austin American-Statesman, a volunteer organization known as the Digital Media Council is working with government officials to attract gaming talent - and hold on to local companies in light of competition from gaming hubs like Seattle and Los Angeles.

"The major new product driver for every single one of our high-tech employers is video games," said City Council member Brewster McCracken (left). "So if you have to become a global leader... you better pay attention to this industry."

Local leaders are concerned that they will lose gaming companies just as the industry seems poised for both a next-gen upswing and explosive growth in the online sector. Parks Associates, Dallas consulting firm, predicts that the online gaming market will quadruple - to $4.4 billion - by the end of the decade. Major online players NCsoft (City of Heroes) and Sony Online (Everquest II) currently call Austin home.

Austin officials plan to release an economic-impact study on the game sector later this month. They are clearly concerned about competition from other states - such as Georgia and Louisiana - which are courting developers with tax incentives. (of course, Louisiana's video recent disastrous foray into video game legislation would seem to negate the positive effect of tax incentives).

"Our lead in online gaming," said famed developer Richard Garriott (Ultima series), "is very tenuous because there are other cities that are so far to date being more successful at the business-education connectivity to support this industry."

Other officials expressed a desire to help raise the industry's oft-tarnished reputation.

"We have to get past the fact that (sex and violence) is all there is when it comes to video games," said Texas Film Commission director Bob Hudgins. "We've got to educate (the public)to the point where they understand that the United States Army is a huge user of video games. I mean, we have to sell that this is about homeland security."

"We really are an industry, not just a bunch of gamers," added Gordon Walton, whose BioWare studio is located in Austin. "It is a valid art form and entertainment form, and we are trying to grow up. Part of that growing process is interacting with the political process."

Tags: austin, bioware, bob hudgins, brewster mccracken, conference, gordon walton, richard garriott, texas film commission
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