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Thursday, June 13, 2013 - 1:44pm

Gaming Industry Worries State Cap Will Hurt Growth

CCP Games in Decatur is not your typical workplace. It has an industrial, loft-like feel and buzzes with the sounds of hard drives, servers and mouse clicks.

The Ikea-like, modular furniture is on wheels so that teams of engineers and artists can rearrange their workspaces into different configurations to work on their latest projects.

“Every two, three weeks you know, depending, we’ll actually have people physically move around the office to go sit with their new teams and it’s kind of cool,” explained Ned Coker, CCP’s Public Relations Specialist. “It keeps things fresh.”

Most of the employees dress in t-shirts, jeans and tennis shoes. That includes the company’s lawyer.

“I was in an AC/DC concert t-shirt the other day,” laughed General Counsel Bill Winter. “I’m very lucky.”

Winter is responsible for overseeing a lot of the “suit and tie” operations of the company, including how the company uses its state-issued interactive production tax credits. Just like the film industry, companies in the gaming industry can receive tax credits of up to 30 percent for their production expenses in Georgia. He said the credits have helped the company grow from about 30 employees in 2007 to over a hundred today.

Programs at Georgia’s colleges and universities are also growing.

The Princeton Review recently named Savannah College of Art and Design as having one of the best game design programs in the country along with the University of Southern California and Drexel University in Pennsylvania.

In Fall 2004, before the tax incentives, SCAD’s program had 165 students. Drexel had 164. In 2012, enrollment at SCAD had grown just shy of 400 students, while Drexel hovered at about 180. Drexel officials said their numbers could be larger, but they maintain a small, selective program. Pennsylvania is also selective, offering tax incentives for film production, but not for gaming.

Luis Cataldi, the Chair of the Interactive Design and Game Development program at SCAD, said the growth of the industry in Georgia has led to more internship and job opportunities for undergraduates.

“Being able to graduate from an institution like SCAD and have opportunities right in your own backyard is a wonderful thing,” said Cataldi.

However, some in the industry worry that all the growth is ending.

In 2012, lawmakers passed changes to the interactive production credits, capping them at just $25 million total starting this year.

Representative Ron Stephens, R-Savannah, was in favor of the cap because he said with the current system, it is too difficult to track how many jobs a gaming company creates.

“Whenever we passed the film bill, it’s very easy to go over to the set and watch these people make the film,” said Stephens. “But it’s another thing altogether whenever you’re creating video graphics and games, which can be done quite easily over the internet.”

But Winter argued the gaming industry is better for the state than movies or television because games take 3 to 5 years to develop, rather than just weeks of on-location shooting.

“You know, people like going to the film sets, [because] it’s cool. You see the movie stars. You see the background,” said Winter. “You know, you come to our offices and I mean, we’re fortunate because we have good offices, but a lot of offices are just a room full of engineers. It’s not as exciting as the film industry.”

While the growth of the film industry may be more visible to every day Georgians, the Georgia Game Developers Association maintains that gaming is profitable for the state. On average, Georgia’s 2,000 gaming industry employees make $85,100 per year. In 2005, the state had just eight game development companies. In the first quarter of 2013, there were more than 80, according to the GGDA.

Stephens said lawmakers will probably revisit the gaming cap during the 2014 legislative session. However, by then, it could be too late. The state Department of Revenue could not estimate how much the state gives out in gaming incentives each year because this is the first year the gaming incentives are being separated from the film credits.

Companies may not know if there are any credits left until they file their taxes in April.