Officials Push For Video Game Industry Tax Credit

Nov 10, 2017

Local officials, video game industry leaders, and academics gathered in at the Troy Innovation Garage in Troy Thursday to discuss what a statewide tax credit would mean for the industry. 

Democratic state Assemblyman John McDonald, joined by local industry officials on a panel, spoke about the possible future for the video game industry in the Capital Region.

McDonald, a Democrat from the 108th district, wants the tax credit included in the 2018 state budget. He says proper and transparent state incentives could be a motivating force for keeping businesses and workers in the area.

Now we talk about the state of Texas, Austin, Texas specifically, back in 2008, the state of Texas made that adjustment, they made it below the line, as they say in the economy world," McDonald said. "And that 28 million investment lead to 280 million in economic activity in the first year.”   

Some of the key points raised Thursday included the expansion of the industry and jobs base, the cultivation of talent, and the retention of businesses.

Karthik Bala, CEO of Velan Studios, a Troy-based video game company that got its start less than a year ago, said he came to the region due to Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute’s Incubator Center.

"Where there's community members in a place to help an entrepreneur, someone who didn't know what they were doing, someone who wanted to build a company, people to help," Bala said. "That is the reason why I came here. The reason why I stayed here, was actually a hand-shake deal. There was mentorship as well as some angel investment money saying 'build technology companies in this region. Help build that economy.' And that became gaming, for us."

Perhaps the most well-known studio in the region, Vicarious Visions, has worked on titles such as Guitar Hero, this year’s computer version of Bungie’s blockbuster hit, Destiny 2, and a remake of Naughty Dog’s Crash Bandicoot.

Chief Operating Officer Simon Ebejer was quick to remind the panel that other states are also vying for their piece of the video game industry.

"Were talking a lot about Texas and Quebec and places like that but Connecticut has tax credits, Rhode Island has tax credits," Ebejer continued. "There are supposedly legislations working their way though Massachusetts and New Jersey and Pennsylvania. I mean all of these places are going to be ahead of us if we don't do something about it."

Newzoo.com estimates that international revenue from video games was about $91.5 billion in 2015. The research firm estimates that in 2016 the United States brought in $23.5 billion of the industry’s revenue for the year, behind only China as the top games market.

Ben Chang, the Director of the Games and Simulation Arts and Sciences program at RPI, discussed the potential impact a tax credit would have on the recent graduates of gaming programs.

"Being able to give them more opportunities to start companies, to start their own studios, to publish, to get their ideas out there," Chang said. "Whether that's with their own company or with one of the other companies here, being able to help build that next connection, that next part of the pipeline of their careers, is a really important part for us."

Not everyone thinks it’s a great idea. Democratic state Assemblyman James Skoufis of the 99th district tells WAMC News the tax credit would be another unsustainable corporate incentive.

"We have all of these tax credits, tax breaks, and tax incentives, for all these specific types of industry's and jobs," Skoufis said. "Meanwhile we look at our main streets, just about anywhere outside of New York City and they get no help from the state."

Ebejer said that the tax credit would allow companies to be more competitive with not only video game companies, but other tech giants.

"So in addition to just being able to hire more workers, I think one of the things that it can do, it can allow us in places where it's necessary, be more competitive with wages," Ebejer explained. "Were competing with the likes of not just other video game companies, but with Amazon and Google and Uber and Zappos and all of these companies for the talent that they have."

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo's office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.