Video game industry booming in UT

Local News

SALT LAKE CITY, Utah (ABC4 Utah) – They’ve been called entertaining, distracting, and even educational. No matter how you feel about video games the $34 billion industry can’t be ignored. Utah was named one of the top five best areas for growth in the industry.

The University of Utah’s Entertainment Arts and Engineering program is specifically designed for students to go into multiple areas of the video game field. Ashley Brown is an assistant professor in the program and notes the industry has made huge strides.

“We’ve outgrossed Hollywood in terms of entertainment income and revenue,” said Brown.

When people think about video games, they mostly consider console titles on systems like PlayStation or Xbox. Although PC gaming is actually number one with players. A mix of indie games along with game apps on phones have helped the industry boom.

Brown said the gaming industry has been surprisingly stable since the early 90s. This is mainly because those who grew up playing games didn’t give it up as adults. According to a report by the Entertainment Software Association the average age of a gamer is 35 years old.

“We have this narrative in our culture of ‘well you gotta get a real job, and you gotta be serious,” said Brown. “People are going ‘No I don’t, I’m gonna play video games with my kids.”

Brown points to the fact humans naturally love to play games and have for hundreds of years.

Kids have become a big market for video games especially apps on phones or tablets.

WildWorks is a video game company based in Salt Lake City which has 80 employees locally and nearly 100 more around the world. Clark Stacey is the CEO of company and says technology has taken the industry in a whole new direction.

“Gaming is now so much more bite-sized and can take place really anywhere,” said Stacey.

Stacey notes the expansion of cell phones around the world has also given his company a wide range of new customers.

“You know, India’s, huge population now huge smartphone growth, China, parts of the world that we have not reached before,” said Stacey. “It’s very interesting to see even with our own games, there’s paying customers in over 130 countries.”

WildWorks biggest hit has been their game Animal Jam. Which started online, but turned into an app now played by 80 million children worldwide. The game even unexpectedly sparked a toy line.

Stacey points to Animal Jam has a new way in which video games can have a positive and educational impact on children.

“The educational DNA that we build into our games is something that we take very seriously,” said Stacey. “We partner with Nat Geo and other institutions to create what we like to call entertainment with substance.”

Even with the success of gaming companies here in Utah, Stacey notes there some issues in the local industry that’s holding the area back.

Although local universities are churning out top tier talent, the institutions often lack the seed money given by donors to larger universities in California and elsewhere.

“They should be starting companies and staying here, and bringing that money and success to our local economy,” said Stacey. “But we don’t have the early stage or angel investment in digital media here in Utah yet.”

He said that makes it harder to stop new graduates from moving to Silicon Valley or other areas with a high investment in video games. Stacey jokes that once they see how expensive a house is in those areas he hopes to lure them back to Utah.

Experts point out that video games is a high-paying industry. Many kids are starting to get an early jump on designing the latest games.

“The tools are out there now for kids who are interested in games, who are interested in making games, to start really at any age,” said Stacey.

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