Where's My Incentive?

The fact that Utah isn't known as a hub for game development frustrates many of the people that live and work here making games.  I frequently hear people say "We should demand financial incentives from the state!" and it's a topic we have debated at many prior UDEN meetings. I found myself responding to am impassioned thread on this topic on Facebook this week, so I thought I would re-share my comments on that thread here for those who might be interested.

FWIW, my 2c is that incentives are not a magic solution. Nor should we hope to build an industry on handouts (because when they inevitably go away, so does the industry). 

First, we need some bloody good answers to some tough questions...

The most important question is, why *should* taxpayers incent our industry? Because we will make the state lot of money in return, right? Surely if that were true we would have a thriving industry here already. We don't. Why did Disney leave? Microsoft? EA? Not a great track record on the surface. Local gov are very aware these companies left as are other big studios that might want to come here. What is our answer? 

What is the justification for incentives? We might say, look at Texas. Look at Montreal, New York. But when you do study them, you find the game communities collaborated significantly and found economic success *first*. Incentives followed as a means to boost the growth already initiated, they were not handouts to create an industry. 

This is why UDEN is trying to build a community, it's the foundational step towards getting an industry going. Truth is, its a long hard slog and despite a lot of talk, not many people are that interested in actually doing anything about the status quo.

And now it's my turn to vent!

Those developers in work are alright, thank you very much, no need to come to meetings or lift a finger, while those companies doing well are not championing this community. After all, whats in it for them?  What's their incentive? (see what I did there?)

How many of you reading this are UDEN members? It costs nothing and yet very few people that say they want to do something  have actually taken the trouble to click the button on a web page and join. How many meetings do you attend? Also free, we even feed you. Even if you dont like UDEN, how much time do you volunteer or how much collaboration have you instigated? How many of you have supported any UDEN or the local IGDA or Utah Indie Game Group initiatives? Until more of you care enough, don't expect things to change. But this is exactly what the devs in Austin, Montreal and NYC did do over many years, sharing expertise, doing biz dev, helping one another, working to promote the collective. Only when they showed economic success could they make the case for incentives. Until we can do that here and show economic success as an industry sector, there is no case for incentives. 

We have a lot of data and outcomes of many meetings with local gov officials (incl. the ‘other’ Guv) which we're happy to share. Incentives are like gasoline: put it on dry sticks and you get... damp sticks. Put it on sparks and you get a boom. We need to be the spark. I encourage anyone who wants to make this happen to register with UDEN right now, be an active member and help us make this a reality as a coordinated, concerted effort. Http://Www.utahden.org If you want to come and meet to discuss, see the data, hear the plans, we have an office in the basement of Access Salt Lake, 175W 200S, SLC. We are all volunteers and are there most Tuesdays and Thursdays. Http://www.facebook.com/utahden

How about some solutions?

You will have noticed UDEN trying multiple different things in addition to our regular networking meetings, such as the upcoming Trade Mission to Paris.  An important initiative we're trying to get off the ground is a UDEN sponsored apprenticeship program. It's not internship, it's inspired by the old 'journeyman' apprenticeships that were common in the days of trades and manufacturing, that prepared people for their chosen industry. We're thinking a structured program where the apprentices serve two years with a company, get to work on the company's projects and spend about 20% of the time there learning how the industry works, how to start a business, and getting them ready to start-up at the end of the apprenticeship. Ideally, UDEN would then invest in those startups and help them with biz dev, providing those startups also took on apprentices themselves, paying it forward. This does a number of things:

- provides a stipend in salary
- is a good alternative to outsourcing overseas
- kick starts the entertainment economy here and creates jobs
- instills the 'values' of being part of the community into all the apprentices

Better yet, this is the kind of program we believe we can get training grants to support as well as philanthropic donations.

This idea seems popular at state level, we just cant get an existing company to partner for the first cohort (we have been trying for a year). So Jeff Peters and I are starting a venture to be that first partner with UDEN, and assuming we can get funding for that, we hope to begin the program next year and use that as a blueprint to offer to all the local entertainment companies.

It's a long term plan, yes, but we arrived at it after years of banging heads against the very frustrations that this thread talks about. This would be a great initiative to get everyone to rally around, IMO. We're not giving up...yet!

Let us know what you think in the comments below...

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