Video game developers, universities pushing the right buttons

Video game developers in Philadelphia are powering up.

On Thursday the state announced that three universities, including Drexel University, will receive a total of $750,000 – that means $200,000 per university to help more fully develop video game design students and to grow the industry statewide, and $150,000 for joint projects, such as creating a yearly conference for gamers throughout the state.

Professor Frank Lee, who runs Drexel’s Entrepreneurial Game Studio, said the money will help eight student-groups create a legal LLC and develop mobile games under the university’s guidance.

“My purpose is for them to learn entrepreneurship and fail under the safety of Drexel, and ultimately succeed when they are ready to go out and create their own legal companies. And my hope is they’ll stay in Philadelphia,” Lee said.

And this will naturally, Lee said, boost the local tech scene.

Here’s why: The local startup incubators can provide space for this influx of the assumed-to-be more prepared talent, and provide them with real-world experience.

This will establish their roots in Philadelphia, Lee added, and are more likely to stay here and grow, as opposed to jetting off to California or New York.

“And then take over the world,” Lee deadpanned.

This is where the Philly Game Forge comes in, which started as a co-working space for small video game startups, but are evolving into an incubator that can offer Lee’s students space and a plan to apply their education to the real world.

Dain Saint, who runs studio Cipher Prime and helped start the Forge more than a year ago, compared the burgeoning video game scene to the city’s beer scene.

While big developers currently monopolize the talent, he sees a new wave coming.

“When you think of the beer scene in Philadelphia, we have a lot of smaller brewers doing craft brews and micro brews, and the industry is strong,” Saint said. “And nobody is saying in order for the beer industry in Philadelphia to do well, we need to bring in a Budweiser. We’re celebrating the small, independent spirit.”

“That’s our vision for games in Philadelphia,” he added. “And what’s great about that is we’ve seen it in practice now.”

Their goal for the Philly Game Forge 2.0 is to create a space to anchor these students.

“You can come here, you can go to school, you can go through Frank Lee’s program but when you get out and you’re ready to go into the real world and make a game, that’s where we come in,” Saint said.

They’re imagining a business starter kit with instructions on how to incorporate and how to budget, among others things. “I want to see these kids get out … and be able to start their own companies here,” he said.

“Make the environment conducive to growth and just allow these kids to blossom,” he said.