(Photo by Stephen Babcock)
Technical.ly's Editorial Calendar explores a different topic each month. The July 2016 topic is gaming. See gaming coverage from all five of our East Coast markets here.
For years, Hunt Valley has been the center of video game development in the Baltimore area. The Baltimore County suburb continues to be a focal point for the gaming world, exemplified by the recent success of Big Huge Games’ DomiNations and the studio’s subsequent acquisition by a South Korean gaming giant.
But amid the surge of entrepreneurial energy that has boosted Baltimore’s startup scene in recent years, video game development is becoming more visible in the city, as well.
"Hunt Valley is where the professional developers are, and the city is where the indie developers are."
It’s one sign of the intersection of the tech and creative communities that’s becoming more evident.
Gabe Pendleton, a developer who founded BaltimoreGamer to highlight game development in the area, breaks it down like this: “Hunt Valley is where the professional developers are, and the city is where the indie developers are, the up-and-comers.”
Those upstarts are forming companies and community, and benefit from some of the same existing infrastructure that’s helping the startup community as a whole. Pendleton pointed out that the two communities are largely made up of distinct groups of people, pointing toward a future where the city and county scenes both exist, rather than one replacing the other.
Based on a conversation with Pendleton and reporting over the last two years, here’s a look at the elements that make up the Baltimore city video game scene:
1. Companies are key to any viable industry.
Highlandtown-based Pure Bang Games has been an anchor since opening in 2010 and has established a business working with bigger brands and making its own games. More recently, Sparkypants moved from Hunt Valley into the city and opened a new studio in Station North’s Centre Theatre — a sign of an increasing tech focus in the creative center. Mindgrub has roots in games, and also moved into the city last year.
2. Companies want to be close to sources of talent as they grow.
The Baltimore-D.C. area has long been a gaming hotbed, but universities have been taking a particular interest in building the pipeline in recent years. In Baltimore city, MICA and the University of Baltimore each offer game design–related programs. UMBC is also leveling up, encouraging students to launch games and supporting a team of student devs in Microsoft’s Imagine Cup.
There’s also a recognition that kids love games, so they may enjoy exploring development as a career if it’s introduced early. That was on display at events like Code in the Schools’ Game Jam over the last few years. The access org also opted to move in on the same floor as Sparkypants so it could take advantage of potential for internships and education.
3. New companies are also forming here.
The university programs also address the business side of game development, showing these sources of talent can also lead to new companies. Take MICA grads Karen Chang and Cole Pritchard, whom we met showcasing at Gamescape. They formed Studio 217 and have a pair of games in development. With Brinkbit, another set of MICA grads is looking to provide a platform for other game devs to build games. Brinkbit went through ETC’s AccelerateBaltimore program, and landed investment from TEDCO.
4. Events are key.
It’s true for the larger Baltimore startup scene’s rise, and it’s no different in video games. Facilitating connections is super important.
At Artscape, Pure Bang Games founder Ben Walsh brings indie devs together for Gamescape every year. Pendleton said BaltimoreGamer events, which have highlighted conversations about women in gaming and building a game business, have seen consistently solid turnout with topics that take a wider lens than just development. BmoreVR, a virtual reality meetup organized by Balti Virtual cofounder Will Gee and Greg Aring (both of whom have gaming credentials), is also gaining traction in showcasing the cutting-edge tech.
So what’s next?
Startup scene leaders always talk about needing wins to grow. In the wider tech world, exits are a big deal. Getting acquired or going public can play a role in the game world, but seeing a wildly successful game is a sure way of reaching new heights. In Hunt Valley, the success of Civilization was key to putting the area on the map. Pendleton said Baltimore city’s scene would get a big boost from a similar hit. Here’s to that.
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