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HU aims to boost area gaming industry

When John Williamson started designing video games 15 years ago, he needed a $250,000 piece of computer equipment, licenses for each game he designed that ran between $5,000 and $10,000 each and the backing of millionaires to make his gaming visions happen.

This generation of game designers? All they need is an iPad.

“It’s a whole new world,” said Williamson, who will spend the next year at Harrisburg University of Science and Technology as a “game designer in residence.” “And that’s what makes it so exciting. Game designers have a whole new way to bring their visions to life.”

That ease with which designers can develop and then distribute their new games has led to a boom in the gaming design industry, and Harrisburg University sees it as a growth industry it can bring to the region. It hopes to hire two more game designers in residence this year with the intention of having them both mentoring students at the downtown campus and establishing a game design incubator for startup companies.

The hope is that some of the students Williamson and the other game designers mentor can graduate into an incubator with their ideas and then graduate from the incubator into the region’s private sector.

How to build an industry

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Charles Palmer, executive director for Harrisburg University’s Center for Advanced Entertainment and Learning Technologies, said the university has space devoted to establishing an incubator facility and already has one group interested in renting space.

The idea is to have two to four startups at a time at the incubator for between six and nine months, with a revolving door of startups taking any vacant space.

“We’ve got oodles of talent,” Palmer, a three-year professor at the school, said about students in the region. “You can see it when you teach students in computer science or in game design, then you watch them move to California or Texas or Washington as soon as they graduate. But I think we are in a position where we can attract — and keep — talent in this region now.”

That effort got a shot in arm in November when the Department of Economic and Community Development awarded Harrisburg University a $750,000 grant to collaborate with Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh and Drexel University in Philadelphia to establish the Pennsylvania Media Consortium.

The purpose of the grant is to grow job opportunities in the state’s digital entertainment and video gaming sector. There also will be outreach to help sell the region as a game design destination, including the school’s first “Game Jam” next weekend and a statewide gaming conference in Central Pennsylvania in the fall, Palmer said.

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