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Digital Entertainment Changing the Game in Baton Rouge

Kathi Vieser Bianco (Oct/Nov 09)
Amidst the antebellum homes and Old South traditions that are characteristic of Baton Rouge, Louisiana, something decidedly 21st century is also becoming a part of the city's culture: video games. An initiative by the state and city to create a video game and digital development hub in Baton Rouge has brought in two major gaming companies - Electronic Arts (EA) and Nerjyzed Entertainment - with others expected to follow. Local officials say the goal is to reach 3,000 industry jobs in Baton Rouge over the next 10 years.

Last year, California-headquartered EA - which is known for such titles as the "Rock Band" series, the "Sims" series, and the "Madden NFL" series - partnered with Louisiana State University (LSU) in Baton Rouge to create a global quality assurance center at the university. That testing facility employs both full-time game developers and part-time testers - many of them LSU students. "We have many people in the company that got their start in quality assurance that are now in senior positions," says Philip Holt, an EA vice president and studio general manager.

Holt, who worked with state and city officials on the deal to bring the company to Baton Rouge, says Louisiana's capital offered the company an ideal combination: low cost of living, a talent pipeline fed by several prominent universities, and what Holt calls "the best set of incentives in the country for the game industry"- a 25 percent tax credit for qualified production expenditures and an additional 10 percent tax credit for payroll expenditures for state residents.

Local economic developers Chad Cornett of the Baton Rouge Area Chamber and Stacey Simmons, Ph.D., of LSU's Center for Computation & Technology say the city began exploring the idea of positioning the city as a hub for game development and other digital industries three years ago. Using Montreal, Canada, as a model, officials began to develop a strategy for attracting digital development companies. "We worked hard to understand the nature of the industry before we went looking for it," says Cornett. "And we listened, intently, to what the industry wanted."

Cornett and Simmons say they learned that digital development companies are driven by talent more than by product, and this is key to what makes the Baton Rouge area attractive to the industry. The area offers inexpensive housing, a temperate climate, and an abundance of entertainment; and perhaps most important, "People are very happy to have this industry in Baton Rouge, and go out of their way to make the new arrivals feel welcome."

Jacqueline Beauchamp, founder and CEO of Nerjyzed (pronounced EN-er-gized), moved her growing company from Texas to Baton Rouge, her hometown, two years ago. "It felt right. It literally felt right," she told Business Today in a June 2009 interview. "We had all of this new energy from the new mayor, the chamber, the Generation X, as I call it, of leadership that was starting to be put in place. They were driven to create a new Baton Rouge." Late last year, Nerjyzed debuted its premier product, "Doug Williams Black College Football Experience," the first sports video product to feature teams from Historically Black Colleges and Universities.

EA's Holt says hometown pride is part of what attracted his company to the city, and what will attract other digital entertainment companies as well. "There is an incredibly strong and vibrant culture in Louisiana that keeps people from moving to other states, or makes former residents long for home," he says. "It is my belief that many professionals from Louisiana working in other states would return home for the right kind of employment."  


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